Walmart to begin selling e-books, e-readers through Japanese partner

  • Walmart is beginning to sell e-books and audiobooks on its website.
  • In working with Rakuten, the company will also launch a new online grocery delivery service in Japan later this year.
  • The news builds on Walmart's efforts to grow both online and outside of the U.S., as competition with Amazon intensifies.
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Walmart is again treading on Amazon's turf.

The big-box retailer is partnering with Rakuten, a Tokyo-based e-commerce business, to sell e-books and audiobooks on Walmart.com, a category that's never been offered on the website before.

Toronto-based Rakuten Kobo, a subsidiary of Rakuten, will bring its catalog of more than 6 million e-book titles to the retailer's website, alongside Walmart's physical books. It will also begin selling its e-readers, similar to Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook, to Walmart customers later this year. The e-books will also be accessible through a Walmart/Kobo co-branded smartphone and desktop app.

Walmart will become Rakuten's exclusive mass retail partner for the Kobo brand in the U.S., the companies announced on Thursday.

"We're excited to collaborate with the top online shopping destination in Japan," Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in prepared remarks.

The news builds on Walmart's efforts to grow its e-commerce business and expand outside of the U.S., where certain markets are over-saturated. In working with Rakuten, Walmart will also launch a new online grocery delivery service in Japan beginning in the third quarter of this year.

Seiyu GK, a subsidiary of Walmart, will be forming a joint venture with Rakuten to sell groceries, where online orders are fulfilled from Seiyu's stores. The service will be known as "Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper," and the companies will also be creating a dedicated fulfillment center in the area to meet demand.

In 2002, Walmart acquired a 6.1 percent stake in Seiyu, one of the largest supermarket chains in Japan. In 2005, the company acquired a majority interest, making Seiyu a Walmart subsidiary. Seiyu shares were delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2008.

Walmart has made similar alliances in China with JD.com, the second-largest Chinese e-commerce company behind Alibaba.

In 2016, the two announced plans to leverage their supply chains overseas, where Walmart's stores (Sam's Club included) would be promoted on JD.com, and their brands would be cross-promoted. Most recently, Walmart and JD.com have worked together to back a new blockchain effort in China that's focused on food safety and traceability throughout the entire delivery process.

"We want to be the destination for customers no matter how they want to shop ... which includes adding new categories, products and brands," Scott Hilton, the chief revenue officer of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce business, said in regard to Thursday's announcement. "Stay tuned, there is more to come."