- American Express has acquired Japanese startup Pocket Concierge, a reservation and payment platform for high-end restaurants, for an undisclosed amount, according to TechCrunch.
- Pocket Concierge, which competes with OpenTable, currently works with 800 restaurants and is available in Japanese, English and Chinese.
- The platform will continue to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary and plans to integrate its technology into American Express' card membership services.
The American Express acquisition could easily help Pocket Concierge further its goal of creating a platform where people from around the world can enjoy Japan's food culture without worrying about language or payment barriers. Its platform could also translate beyond Japan. It enables consumers to make and confirm reservations and includes establishments with waiting lists.
But at the moment, American Express is honed in on the opportunity in Japan. Acquiring local companies can allow foreign companies to enter a new market and unlock new value, according to James Riney, head of Pocket Concierge investor 500 Startups Japan.
Right now, this type of M&A activity is uncommon, he said. Expect that to change as consumers — and businesses — become more globalized. U.S Bank VP John K. Walsh predicts that global growth in the next four years will surpass average growth from the past 20 years. With this trajectory, financial institutions leading the foreign acquisition movement make plenty of sense to help consumers navigate language and financial barriers.
However, this acquisition also illustrates a consumer trend toward exclusivity, experience and value. American Express plans to offer cardholders additional access to top restaurants in Japan following this acquisition, according to a press release. JP Morgan Chase partnered with chef Thomas Keller to offer Chase Sapphire diners preferred access, mobile reservations and pre-payment at his restaurants.
Meanwhile, Resy launched a new dining program with Capital One in six cities — called Off Menu Week — that offers diners the chance to experience seasonal and off-menu dishes at select restaurants for a week. This concept was developed to provide consumers with greater connections to their favorite eateries beyond the typical Restaurant Week experience. Capital One credit cardholders gained a few days' advantage over the wider public and access to reservations to hard-to-get tables in select cities.
These partnerships should especially appeal to younger consumers, who tend to prefer personalized and unique products and experiences. Further, 71% of consumers admit they are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences.
A third narrative from this acquisition — as well as the Chase and Resy/Capital One promotions — is that larger companies are now relying more heavily on startups either through acquisitions or partnerships in an attempt to be more nimble, absorb growing competitors and offer competencies beyond their core. American Express offers a big differentiator for high-end consumers in Japan because it now has a dedicated presence in that space, for example. This wouldn't be the case — at least not as clearly — without the Pocket Concierge acquisition.