Japanese eCommerce titan Rakuten has taken a stake in Chinese online shopping discounts site Fanli.

The stake, less than 10 per cent, comes in the form of an undisclosed amount of series C funding into the start-up. The announcement states that Fanli is now valued at approximately US$1 billion, making it China’s newest start-up unicorn.

Fanli is a very minor player among the dozens of well-established eCommerce stores in China, but it claims to be the largest that focuses on rebate-based loyalty shopping. It connects shoppers with discounts on an array of third-party stores, such as Alibaba’s Taobao, JD.com, Ctrip, and the Apple online store.

Rakuten said in a press release that the stake in Fanli is essentially a strategic way to tie the Chinese start-up to Rakuten’s duo of US-based discount stores, Ebates.cn and Extrabux. Rakuten acquired Ebates – which allows Chinese shoppers to buy things from US ecommerce sites with discounts – last September for US$1 billion.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Ebates, will join Fanli’s board of directors.

“This investment in Fanli reflects Rakuten and Ebates’ ongoing interest in the rapidly evolving Chinese market,” said Johnson.

“As the market continues to mature we believe consumers will demand world-class shopping experiences. Rakuten and Ebates hope to support Fanli’s vision of fulfilling this role and exploring potential collaborations in China and abroad.”

Rakuten has long struggled to find a foothold in China up against homegrown rivals like Alibaba and JD. Rakuten’s own China joint-venture store with Baidu was shuttered in 2012.

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