Yahoo Japan edges closer to snapping up majority stake in Zozo

The $3.7bn deal will allow Yahoo Japan to take control of flamboyant entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa’s Zozo

Yahoo Japan has agreed to pay as much as $3.7 billion (Dh13.58bn) to take control of flamboyant entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa’s Zozo, stepping up competition against Amazon.com and Rakuten in one of Asia’s largest online retail arenas.

Mr Maezawa, the outspoken billionaire who’s set to become the first paying passenger aboard Elon Musk’s SpaceX ride around the moon, will sell some of his own shares in the online fashion mall and step down as chief executive Thursday to make way for director Kotaro Sawada.

The surprise deal could shake up the domestic e-commerce landscape while bolstering the prospects of Yahoo Japan, whose biggest shareholder is the local telecommunications arm of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group. Zozo, which had a market value of 675bn yen ($6.3bn) before the announcement, has already carved out a niche in fashion against aggressive rivals like Amazon.

Yahoo Japan’s shares rose as much as 5.7 per cent in Tokyo, their biggest intraday jump since May 9, while Zozo surged 19 per cent. Among the country’s online retailers, Rakuten fell as much as 3.2 per cent while Mercari slipped 2 per cent. Investors feared the deal will intensify competition, said Masayuki Otani, chief market strategist at Securities Japan in Tokyo.

“It’s a plus for Yahoo Japan and would help expand their e-commerce operations,” said Mitsushige Akino, an executive officer with Ichiyoshi Asset Management in Tokyo. “Zozo gets the financial backup it needs for its new venture and overseas expansion.”

Yahoo Japan offered 2,620 yen per share, a 21 per cent premium to Zozo’s last close that sent the online mall’s stock soaring. The cost of the acquisition could go as high as 400.7bn yen, giving the acquirer a 50.1 per cent slice of Zozo.

Mr Maezawa is one of the Japan’s most colorful entrepreneurs. In May, he said on Twitter that he’s selling parts of his notable art collection to raise money, intending to use the funds to finance more lavish cash giveaways to his Twitter supporters, which have earned him millions of followers.

“I myself will be setting off on a new path,” he tweeted after the Yahoo Japan deal’s announcement. Mr Maezawa had been investing in developing a custom clothing brand, seeking to attract customers through innovative ways of taking individual measurements. His company shipped about 3 million so-called Zozosuits, polka-dot spandex outfits for taking body measurements with the help of a smartphone. But the business was shut down in March. He also said the company plans to launch a foot-measuring device called Zozomat in the fall.

Zozo’s founder made a name and fortune for himself by defying the norms of Japanese society.

He skipped college, moved to California to play in a rock band and started his own e-commerce company. He built shopping website Zozotown, a popular destination for younger consumers, from a mail-order music album business. Mr Maezawa has a net worth of $1.5bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but he has tweeted claiming to “have no money. I spend it so quickly.”

Published: September 12, 2019 12:30 PM

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