Walmart is looking to blunt Amazon’s Kindle e-reader business — and its fresh food delivery service in Japan — through a new alliance with Rakuten, that country’s Internet conglomerate.
Under the deal, Walmart will begin selling e-books and audiobooks later this year through Rakuten’s Kobo e-reading service, which provides nearly 6 million titles in 190 countries.
Walmart will also begin carrying Rakuten’s line of Kobo e-readers, which includes the Aura, Aura H2O and Aura One models, online and in stores.
According to Scott Hilton, chief revenue officer of Walmart U.S. e-commerce, the digital book deal will be exclusive to Walmart within the U.S. mass-merchant channel, and will be fully integrated into the discounter’s website.
“Working with Rakuten Kobo enables us to quickly and efficiently launch a full e-book and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com to provide our customers with additional choices alongside our assortment of physical books,” and to serve as a digital adjunct to its Vudu streaming service, he said.
Rakuten upped its U.S. presence eight years ago with its acquisition of Buy.com, a CE e-tail pioneer. The Japanese e-commerce powerhouse casts a wide product net that spans food, fitness, books, baby products, pet supplies and other consumer goods, and essentially transformed Buy.com into a marketplace platform for third-party sellers with a virtual assortment of over 18 million items. The company’s U.S. arm placed 39th on TWICE’s Top 100 CE Retailers Report, with $262 million in tech sales in 2016.
An online grocery delivery service joint venture between Rakuten and Walmart subsidiary Seiyu GK will launch in the third quarter.
In other Walmart news, between 400 and 500 headquarters staffers were laid off this week as part of a planned 1,000-person downsizing, Bloomberg reported. Affected departments included marketing, HR, merchandising and real estate, with the second round of pink slips to follow next year. That’s when the company will consolidate its headquarters real estate to make way for a new corporate campus.
Also getting the ax are some 10,000 Sam’s Club workers at 63 stores marked for closure, raising Walmart’s total workforce reductions to 34,500 employees since 2016, according to The Wall Street Journal.