Photo: Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon dropped by a Seiyu store in Yokohama, Japan, to celebrate the launch of a new strategic alliance.

Customers shopping at a Seiyu supermarket in Yokohama, Japan, may have spotted some special visitors today, when Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon dropped by the retailer’s Ichigao store, to spend time with store staff and check out the fresh produce and ready meals on offer. The reason for their visit: to celebrate the announcement of an innovative new online grocery delivery service in Japan—one which the two global business leaders expect to be fruitful.

At a press conference held at Rakuten’s Crimson House headquarters earlier in the day, Mickey and McMillon announced plans for Rakuten and Walmart to collaborate in the U.S. and Japan —including an agreement between Rakuten and Seiyu GK, a subsidiary of Walmart, to launch an online grocery delivery service, “Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper,” later this year in Japan.

Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon shaking hands at a press conference announcing the formation of a strategic alliance between Rakuten and Walmart in Tokyo, Japan.

Mikitani and McMillon shaking hands at a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, announcing a strategic alliance between Rakuten and Walmart.

“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 Mikitani. “We are excited to align with Walmart because of its commitment to creating the best solutions to serve customers with low prices,” he added.

Speaking in front of a capacity crowd of domestic and international media, Mickey and McMillon also announced their intention to form an exclusive retail alliance between Walmart and global eReading service Rakuten Kobo to sell eBooks and audiobooks later this year.

“Rakuten is a strong e-commerce business and we’re excited to collaborate with the top online consumer shopping destination in Japan,” said McMillon. “Here in Japan and everywhere we operate, we’re constantly exploring new ways to make every day easier for customers by offering great experiences in stores, online, via mobile—no matter how customers want to shop. 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.”

With their shared goal of empowering people around the world to save money and live better, the two organizations are optimistic that their collaborations will make a difference in the day-to-day lives of their busy customers in the U.S. and Japan.

Addressing the increasing demand for online grocery shopping in Japan

As the number of double-income households grows in Japan, demand for online grocery delivery services is increasing exponentially, but it has proved difficult for the industry to keep up with the growing needs for fulfillment capacity. In addition, the shift to online grocery shopping is driving a change in the consumption patterns of online shoppers, increasing demand for highly convenient products unique to online grocery stores, such as ready-meal kits.

Rakuten Netsuper will offer a variety of fresh produce, ready-meal kits, and local gourmet products from merchants on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace.

Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper will offer a variety of fresh produce, ready-meal kits, and local gourmet products from merchants on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace.

Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper will aim to increase fulfillment capacity, enrich the merchandise offering and improve convenience for the customer. The service will aim to increase capacity in 2018 with the establishment of a dedicated fulfilment center, in addition to offering deliveries from Seiyu stores.

The new service’s merchandise offering will showcase Seiyu’s twin strengths of “quality” and “low prices.” To serve the needs of customers increasingly short on time for preparation, the service will include not only fresh produce and daily consumables but also a rich lineup of convenient items such as cut vegetables, partially-prepared foods and ready-meal kits, as well as popular local gourmet products from merchants on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace.

Furthermore, the new service will utilize Rakuten’s deep expertise in ecommerce to offer a site with an optimized user experience, as well as leveraging big data and AI to offer a more personalized merchandise offering.

Customers using the new service will enjoy the benefit of being able to earn and use Rakuten Super Points.

Offering eBooks in the U.S.

Through an alliance with Rakuten Kobo, Walmart will become the exclusive mass retailer of the Kobo brand in the U.S.  Walmart.com will offer eBooks and audiobooks for sale with later this year.

All eBook content will be accessible through a Walmart/Kobo co-branded app on all iOS and Android devices, a desktop app and Kobo e-Readers, which will also be sold at Walmart later this year.

Photo: Rakuten Kobo eReader - Rakuten and Walmart collaboration will address the increasing demand for online grocery shopping in Japan and empower US Booklovers to read more.

Through an alliance with Rakuten Kobo, Walmart will become the exclusive mass retailer of the Kobo brand in the U.S.

With a catalogue of nearly six million titles from thousands of publishers and hundreds of thousands of authors, Kobo is the eBooks partner for retailers around the world who want a turnkey solution to add eBooks to their own offering, and to ensure their customers can read anything, any time, and in any format. In partnering with Walmart in the U.S., Kobo will reach a whole new group of passionate readers.

“Walmart is one of the top retailers in the world, and one of the largest booksellers. Our strategy from day one has been to partner with the world’s best retailers, so that they can easily offer their customers the option of reading digitally. This informs the software and devices we create, the books and authors we promote and also the partnerships we build,” said Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn. “For us, this is another great opportunity to serve book lovers at Walmart, those people who make reading an important part of their lives.”

While customers in Japan and the U.S. look forward to the launch of the two services later this year, Mikitani also talked about his outlook for the future. “We’re excited to take our technology and knowhow in e-commerce to the next level through this exciting alliance with Walmart,” said Mikitani. “In line with our mission to empower individuals and society through innovation and entrepreneurship, our collaboration with a leading global company like Walmart is another reason that we’re optimistic about the future of ecommerce and digital media in a rapidly changing world.”