Walmart readies Japan exit with sale of majority share in Seiyu

American retail chain appears ready to pull out of the Japanese market after it announces plans to sell 85% of its shares in local supermarket chain, Seiyu, to Rakuten and KKR.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Walmart appears ready to pull of the Japanese market after it announces plans to sell 85% of its shares in local supermarket chain Seiyu, to Rakuten and KKR. Estimated to be worth ¥172.5 billion ($1.65 billion), the deal will see Seiyu's new owners focus on the company's digital channels and integrated offline-online user experience. 

Under the agreement, Japanese investment firm KKR will purchase a 65% stake while local e-commerce operator Rakuten will own a 20% share. Walmart will retain a 15% stake in Seiyu, the partners said in a statement Monday. 

The American retail chain in 2002 had acquired a 6.1% share in Seiyu, before acquiring a majority stake in 2005 and all remaining shares in 2008. Seiyu was delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange and subsumed as a wholly-owned Walmart subsidiary. 

In 2018, Walmart inked an alliance with Rakuten to tap each other's resources and grow their customer base in both countries. The partnership included the launch of an online grocery delivery service in Japan in late-2018.

Rakuten would establish a new subsidiary to manage its Seiyu investment, which would focus on retailer digital transformation, the partners said. 

"The new ownership structure enables Seiyu to take advantage of KKR, Rakuten, and Walmart's combined retail expertise and innovation as a standalone company and accelerate its digital transformation to further benefit both Seiyu's customers and business partners," they said, adding that they would support Seiyu's efforts to become "Japan's leading omnichannel retailer".

Specifically, KKR and Rakuten would look to drive their investment in digital channels to facilitate "app-based shopping, payment, and delivery" services as well as launch new cashless payment options. They also would aim to improve customer service across online and offline channels. 

Established in 1963, Seiyu serves 7 million customers weekly and operates more than 300 outlets across Japan, including Kyushu and Hokkaido. 

Its existing partnership with Rakuten saw the supermarket chain pilot a drone delivery service to Japanese island Sarushima in July 2019 as well as a driverless delivery van service in September that same year. Earlier this month, Rakuten launched its Japan Direct service on Walmart Marketplace. 

KKR would tap its Asia private equity fund to facilitate its Seiyu investment. The acquisition deal was subject to regulatory approvals and expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.

Walmart reported a 97% increase in its US e-commerce sales for its second quarter, fuelled by its online grocery businesses.


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