At a press event in Tokyo on Thursday, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon and Walmart U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore announced a new strategic alliance between Walmart and Rakuten, the number one e-commerce company in Japan, after meeting with Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, according to an email from Walmart sent to Retail Dive.
The relationship will initially focus on two areas. For the first, in Japan, Rakuten and Seiyu GK, a subsidiary of Walmart, have reached a basic agreement in a joint venture for a new online grocery delivery service to be known as "Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper," according to a Walmart blog post. The new service will launch in the latter half of 2018.
Second, in the U.S., Walmart will be the exclusive mass retail partner for Rakuten's Kobo e-book and audiobook brand, offering Kobo's nearly six million titles later this year, according to a blog post. Customers can access e-book content through a Walmart/Kobo co-branded mobile app, a desktop app and Kobo e-readers, which will also be sold at Walmart later this year, Walmart said. Walmart will also sell digital book cards in more than 4,000 stores.
This tie-up represents a pretty clear challenge to Amazon, both in the U.S. and in Japan. In April, Amazon Japan G.K. launched a fresh food delivery service for Prime members, offering more than 100,000 food items, including meat, fish and vegetables, in six Tokyo neighborhoods, with plans for expansion, according to the Japan Times.
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. But Amazon's Kindle reader, which celebrated 10 years last year, remains popular, and the e-commerce giant has instituted a Kindle membership for unlimited access to more than a million e-books and thousands of audiobooks.
The company brought back its post-holiday "digital day" sale — an online event offering as much as 80% off of digital apps, games, movies, e-books and other items. And the more Amazon devices the company sells, the more enmeshes users become into Amazon's nexus.
Now Walmart aims to challenge that, with Rakuten's help. "Rakuten is a strong e-commerce business and we're excited to collaborate with the top online shopping destination in Japan," McMillon said in a company blog post. "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."