Rakuten, Japan’s largest online marketplace, is to expand into the home territory of its global rivals Amazon and Ebay with a $250m deal for Buy.com, an e-commerce company based in California.

Rakuten had sales of $3.2bn in 2009, primarily through its Rakuten Ichiba online marketplace and entertainment site, which provides the internet sales and services for more than 33,000 merchants. It also provides e-commerce services for larger Japanese retailers.

Buy.com, a privately held company set up in 1997, is similar to Amazon in operating both as a retailer and a marketplace for third-party merchants, a business it launched three years ago. It also operates e-commerce sites in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Canada.

Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and chief executive of Rakuten, said the acquisition of Buy.com was part of efforts “to accelerate our global expansion”.

Rakuten announced in January that it was setting up a subsidiary in China with Baidu, the most popular Chinese language search engine, to open an internet shopping marketplace, in its first move outside Japan. It has also begun holding company meetings and board meetings in English at its headquarters as part of an effort to internationalise its business.

The company says its objective is to create a world of “borderless e-commerce” that will “enable consumers anywhere on the globe to buy products sold by merchants based in any country”.

Buy.com, which does not publish its sales figures, reported in March that its third-party marketplace business had expanded by more than 140 per cent during the past year. Both Walmart.com and Sears.com have also set up third-party marketplace businesses in the past year. Walmart is also including third-party selling capacity in its new global digital platform.

Amazon, which had annual sales of $24.5bn last year, also does not break out details of sales by third-party merchants. It is also looking at the potential of enabling customers to buy from sellers in different countries, under its new “Sell Globally” programme.

Amazon says its “long-term vision is that any seller anywhere can start selling items in less than 60 seconds to consumers anywhere from any Amazon marketplace”.

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