Investors show strong interest in eBay Korea

A potential shortlist of firms interested in buying eBay Korea is emerging as the U.S.-based ecommerce giant launches a process to sell its South Korean operations.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, which are running the sale process, will send out information packages on the company to prospective buyers in the coming weeks, according to industry sources. They are expected to receive indicative offers in the middle of next month.

More than 10 potential buyers have reportedly shown interest in eBay Korea. Among them are strategic investors such as Kakao Corp, Qoo10 and Lotte Group as well as private equity firm MBK Partners.

Kakao Corp is likely to submit an offer through its subsidiary, Kakao Commerce, which operates gifts services in the country’s top messaging app Kakao Talk.

Kakao Commerce’s gross merchandise value (GMV) reached 3 trillion won ($2.7 billion) last year, but it mostly came from sales of mobile gift coupons, not actual products. The takeover of eBay Korea, which has a GMV of 20 trillion won, would allow Kakao Commerce to broaden its product offerings and also to emerge as the second largest player in the country’s ecommerce market.

MBK Partners is reportedly considering buying eBay Korea to create synergy with South Korean supermarket chain Homeplus, which the private equity firm acquired from U.K. retail giant Tesco for 4 billion pounds ($5.7 billion) in 2015.

The firm may want to strengthen online retail services by acquiring eBay Korea, industry watchers said. The combination also could be tempting for eBay Korea, which is weak in grocery and fresh food delivery services.

Qoo10 is another of the industry players named as a potential buyer. The Singapore-based ecommerce company was founded in 2010 as a joint venture between eBay and Ku Young-bae, founder of Gmarket.

Ku has a longstanding relationship with the U.S. company. He is considering buying eBay Korea, which has been operating Gmarket since it acquired the platform in 2009, and combining it with Qoo10, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Retail giants in traditional markets have also shown interest in buying the company to strengthen their online businesses. They include Lotte, which recently launched its own ecommerce service Lotte On.

About 11% of eBay’s total revenue comes from its South Korean operations, whose revenue has continued to grow from 951.8 billion won in 2017 to 981.1 trillion won in 2018 and 1.06 trillion won in 2019. Operating income was volatile in the same period, with 62.3 billion won in 2017, 48.5 billion won in 2018 and 61.5 billion won in 2019.

EBay Korea is the only profitable firm in the local ecommerce market, having been in the black for 15 consecutive years. This, combined with a vast volume of customer data, is likely to boost its appeal. (Reporting by Si-eun Park and Byung-yoon Kim)