Japan's second-ranked mobile telco to buy convenience store chain from Mitsubishi

KDDI wants to snack on data about who buys what at which of Lawson's 14,600 stores

Japan's second-largest convenience store will be taken private by its second-largest mobile carrier, which will operate it as a joint venture with Mitsubishi and try to cash in on a combination of shopping and location data.

The carrier is KDDI, which owns around 30 percent of the Japanese mobile market and took in $38 billion of revenue in its most recently completed financial year.

The convenience store chain is Lawson which, with 14,600 stores, is second only to 7-Eleven. In 2022 The Register noted its decision to rebrand some stores as "Green Lawson" and pack them full of automated tech – plus an on-screen avatar connected to remote workers who could handle trickier transactions.

Lawson is currently listed independently, but remains a subsidiary of diversified industrial giant Mitsubishi.

On Tuesday, KDDI offered to acquire 50 percent of Lawson shares and Mitsubishi agreed. The resulting deal will see Lawson go private and be operated jointly by KDDI and Mitsubishi.

We imagine many readers might have been wondering why a telco wants to own half of a convenience store chain.

KDDI has offered three reasons, one of which is that it will merge its 2,000-odd stores with Lawsons, giving the convenience store extra scale. All stores will sell KDDI products, and seeing as the carrier is diversifying into financial services and sales of tickets to entertainment experiences it will gain a colossal retail footprint.

Another reason is to gather and use data. KDDI has kindly admitted that info about its customers and their locations – plus Lawson's customer purchase data – “will be integrated, leading to establishment of one of the largest customer data platforms in Japan, utilized for data analysis."

KDDI is also keen to "expand economic zones of loyalty point program" – a direct quote from KDDI's English language statement rather than a machine translation artefact.

The carrier envisages "Developing services for KDDI and Lawson customers to provide good shopping deals, expanding customer visits to Lawson stores." KDDI also has an IT services limb, and will apply its expertise to making Lawson more efficient.

Plenty of Lawson stores are drive-in affairs with self-serve fuelling facilities, and they'll have solar panels installed to make clean 'leccy. KDDI also imagines getting into the circular economy business by processing used oil dumped at Lawson stores to fuel (pardon the pun) a biodiesel operation.

The offer values Lawson at ¥10,360 ($70) per share and the whole deal at $3.4 billion. Lawson shares popped by around 16 percent to settle just below the planned acquisition price.

The deal should de done by September, at which point Lawson will have exited the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Japanese citizens can look forward to having their purchasing patterns observed as never before. The deal may also impact consumers in China, where Lawson operates thousands of stores, in addition to the hundreds it runs in Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines.

A pair of stores in Hawai'i is the extent of its US operations, although the chain originated stateside. Many other US stores use the Lawson name, but are operated by another unrelated entity. ®

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