SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s No. 1 mobile carrier SK Telecom Co., retail giant Lotte Group and others submitted preliminary bids on Tuesday to buy eBay Korea in a deal that could fetch some 5 trillion won (US$4.42 billion) and bring a seismic change to the fiercely competitive e-commerce sector, industry sources said.

Emart Inc., a discount store chain affiliated with retail conglomerate Shinsegae Group, and private equity firm MBK Partners, the largest shareholder of discount store chain Homeplus, joined the competition for the nation’s No. 3 e-commerce operator, they added.

Top mobile messenger operator Kakao Corp., widely expected to joined the race, decided at the last minute not to bid.

The preliminary bids for eBay Korea, which operates major online shopping sites, including Gmarket, Auction and G9, came as major players are seeking merger and acquisition (M&As) and business cooperation to survive in the country’s e-commerce and retail sectors.

This file image shows eBay Korea’s logo. (Yonhap)

 Annual transactions on eBay Korea’s online shopping sites reached some 20 trillion won last year, which means the acquisition could help a winner stand on par with top portal operator Naver and e-commerce giant Coupang. The value of annual e-commerce transactions on Naver was estimated at 27 trillion won last year.

Lotte is seeking to boost its online mall Lotte ON, and Shinsegae wants to expand its online mall SSG.Com.

SK Telecom, the operator of online mall 11Street, also hopes to tighten its grip on the e-commerce market, they noted.

Earlier in the day, Naver and Shinsegae agreed to a share swap deal valued at 250 billion won to strengthen their foothold in the e-commerce sector.

Last week, Coupang made a successful debut on the New York Stock Exchange.

Coupang’s initial public offering, which raised $4.6 billion, was the largest by a foreign company on Wall Street since China’s Alibaba in 2014.