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Wal-Mart buying remaining stake in China’s Yihaodian

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart wants to make a bigger play for Chinese consumers online.

The world’s largest retailer purchased the remaining stake it didn’t own in China’s Yihaodian, an online retailer. Wal-Mart is attempting to follow consumers as they migrate to the Internet in China, a country where the retailer has struggled to adjust to buying habits and local competition.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Yihaodian, founded in 2008, sells more than 8 million products.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. previously held about 51 percent of Yihaodian. The company bought the remaining shares from financial services group Ping An of China and its co-founders, former Chairman Gang Yu and former CEO Junling Liu. The pair said this month they are leaving Yihaodian but will assist in the transition, with Yu serving as chairman emeritus and Liu as strategic executive adviser.

Wang Lu, president and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce in Asia, will head Yihaodian as part of his overall responsibilities.

“We’re excited about the team at Yihaodian and their strong local e-commerce experience,” said Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Global e-commerce in statement. “This local experience, combined with Wal-Mart’s global source and our strong retail presence and supply chain, will allow us to deliver low prices on the products customers need.”

The Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer, which opened its first store in China nearly 20 years ago, has struggled with slow and uneven growth but it’s making the market a top priority. After rapid store expansion a few years ago, Wal-Mart is closing some stores and focusing on making its fleet of about 400 stores more profitable. It still plans to build 115 more stores by 2017. But given the seismic shift among Chinese shoppers online to buying a wide range of items including groceries. Wal-Mart aims to accelerate its online business as well as link its online services to its stores.

China’s e-commerce market has huge potential. By the end of 2013, the country’s total online sales hit $307 billion, eclipsing the U.S. to become the world’s largest e-commerce market, according to Forrester Research. Forrester estimates that strong momentum will continue and expects that China’s online retail sales will exceed $1 trillion by the end of 2019. But Yihaodian is a small player compared with market leaders Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. and its rival, JD. com.

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AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman contributed to this report in New York.

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