February 28, 2012, 2:20 PM

Royal Ahold makes a big acquisition to diversify online

Ahold will purchase Dutch mass merchant Bol.com for $470 million.

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Royal Ahold N.V. plans to triple its e-commerce sales to about 1.5 billion euro ($2.01 billion) by 2016—and the Dutch grocery chain conglomerate is making a key acquisition to get there.

Royal Ahold, which owns and operates European grocery store and drugstore chains such as Albert Heijn and Etos and U.S.-based online grocer Peapod LLC, No. 47 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is purchasing Bol.com, another Dutch online mass merchant, for about 350 million euros ($469.8 million).

Bol.com grew web sales about 18.2% to 376 million euros ($504.8 million) in 2011 from about 318 million euros in 2010 ($426.9 million). The retailer initially sold books and related merchandise online, but in recent years has diversified into other categories, for instance adding consumer electronics last year.

Bol.com, No. 37 in the Internet Retailer Top 300 Europe has a substantial customer base in its home market of the Netherlands, says Ahold CEO Dick Boer. “Bol.com is the most visited retail web site in the Netherlands serving 3.4 million active customers,” says Boer. “Almost half of all Dutch customers who purchased products online shopped at Bol.com in 2011, buying more than 17 million products.”

With more diversification, Ahold now has a platform to go after a more diverse set of European web shoppers, says Boer. “Its capabilities and operations in non-food categories will broaden our assortment and increase our online presence, adding to the existing online food offering,” Boer says.

Ahold will pay cash for Bol.com and expects the deal to close in the second quarter.

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