Published: Sat, January 27, 2018
Culture | By Henry Herrera

Walmart teams with Rakuten for e-books

Walmart teams with Rakuten for e-books

The new online grocery delivery service in Japan will be known as "Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper" through a joint venture between Rakuten and Walmart´s Japanese subsidiary Seiyu.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. president and CEO Doug McMillon and Rakuten, Inc.

While e-book sales at Amazon have diminished somewhat after tussles with publishers led to higher prices, the e-commerce giant has dominated that market in the U.S. Rival Barnes & Noble has failed to make a dent as its struggling Nook unit never really gained traction. Walmart acquired online retailer Jet.com and announced free same-day shipping in NY, and partnered with Deliv to offer same-day grocery delivery services in San Jose, California.

Beginning in the second half of the year, the service will offer groceries such as fresh produce; a "convenient lineup" of goods like cut vegetables, partially-prepared foods, and meal kits; and popular local gourmet products from merchants on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace, Walmart said. "We look forward to expanding our grocery footprint in Japan and launching a new offering of eBooks and audiobooks for our customers in the U.S".

The launch of the new e-commerce business is the U.S. firm's latest attempt to crack a competitive overseas market, by teaming up with a popular local partner.

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The deal "enables us to quickly and efficiently launch a full eBook and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com", Scott Hilton, chief revenue officer for Wal-Mart's USA e-commerce unit, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

"As global leaders in e-commerce and offline shopping, Rakuten and Walmart are uniquely positioned to empower our customers around the world with innovative services", said Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani.

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the USA print edition of The Wall Street Journal (January 26, 2018). The partnership will include opening a combined e-commerce fulfillment center in the Tokyo area to deliver groceries to a wider area. Customers will be able to use accumulated points on any of Rakuten's services. Walmart also plans to sell "e-book cards" in its stores, which seem to be physical cards customers can buy while shopping at a Walmart store that contain a download code for access to an e-book or audiobook after they leave the store. In 2016, Japan was the second-largest market outside the USA for Amazon, following Germany, with sales of $10.8 billion. Kobo already has apps across these platforms, but it seems the two companies will make new apps for Walmart customers in the United States to use.

There's no official launch date for the Walmart-Kobo partnership, and we don't yet know whether it will be offering a subscription model, but we expect to see ebook readers on shelves later this year.

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