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South Korea's Coupang launches trial operation in Japan

E-commerce giant's first overseas foray focuses on food delivery in Tokyo ward

Coupang is expanding beyond its home market of South Korea. (Photo by Kotaro Hosokawa)

SEOUL -- South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang is operating in Japan, marking the first time its service has been available outside the company's home market.

The Seoul-based company opened Tuesday on a trial basis in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward. Coupang utilizes a small building as a distribution center and starts deliveries as soon as orders are received from nearby customers.

In addition to fresh vegetables, meat and fish sold at general supermarkets, the service will offer a wide range of processed foods and daily necessities. As of Friday morning, the product lineup included more than 70 kinds of fruits and vegetables, four kinds of meat and 10 bento lunch box choices.

Coupang operates more than 100 distribution centers in South Korea and employs more than 40,000. In less than 10 years, it has grown into the country's largest online shopping business with sales approaching $12 billion.

The company's Rocket Delivery service promises to hand over orders within 24 hours. The service has helped the company become South Korea's largest online retailer, boasting 14.85 million customers.

Now, Coupang wants to take its expertise and experience in high-speed deliveries to a nearby foreign market.

The test operation's business model is similar to that of food home deliveries. Gig-worker drivers register through an app, and Coupang requests their services when an order is placed.

The company expects to have an easy time securing these workers in the Tokyo metropolitan area thanks to the penetration of Uber Eats and other food delivery services.

Coupang told Nikkei it "is still in the testing stage." Future plans such as area expansion are undisclosed.

The company has the backing of Masayoshi Son's SoftBank Group and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in March. Coupang appears to be collaborating with SoftBank and Yahoo in expanding into Japan.

A versatile online shopping service utilizing gig workers has the potential to generate new demand in Japan.

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