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Making Sense Of Online Shopping In Uganda

Online shopping platforms have been operating for close to a decade in Uganda but became more important when the COVID-19 Pandemic struck four years ago.

In recent years, platforms like Jumia, Kikuubo online, Kikuu and Jiji, among others have become a point of choice for many Ugandans. However, the importance is challenged by the lack of efficiency and abuse by unscrupulous individuals who hide behind the same banner to defraud unsuspecting buyers.

Many Ugandans remain skeptical about sending money to people who are unknown to them while others have mixed feelings about buying an item they haven’t seen or touched prior but only put trust into a company, whose physical presence, is unknown.

Early this month, a Ugandan lady who wanted to surprise her mother with a New Year’s gift of an iPhone 12 was instead bitterly surprised after she realised she had dealt with a non-existent online shop in Kenya. Instead of the more than 2.5 million Shillings which she was being told to spend on the phone in Uganda, she opted for one that would purportedly cost her 750,000 Shillings, and coming from “abroad” – Kenya.

Having come across an advert on Instagram by “Blessed Apple Centre Official” abbreviated as BACO, with “New Year Special Offers”, she immediately went on to ask for details of the phone she was looking for, together with her particulars; name, location, email address and phone number.

The lady made a part payment of 400,000 Shillings from her MTN phone number to a Safaricom account +254717125815 registered in the name of Pius Kasivu Mbai. She was then told it would be shipped at no cost via DHL to her doorstep in Uganda within four to five hours.

Moments later, she got a message from another number +254706231047 purportedly from “DHL Kenya Agency” advising that they had received her package from “a mobile phone company, with all shipping and other costs paid”.

She was however, told to pay “a taxation fee of 287,777 Shillings for Kenya Revenue Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority Customs and VAT” through the said ” DHL Kenya Agency” phone number, in the name of George Mwangi Kariuki.

Her phone records show that she paid 287,000 Shillings twice to the given number, and another 300,000 Shillings, in all spending more than 1.2 million Shillings before becoming suspicious and doing due diligence on the companies. In the process, she learned that there is nothing like “DHL Kenya Agency” or “Blessed Apple Centre Official”.

The copy of a business permit issued by Nairobi City County was actually in the name, “Apple Solution Center Official”. She had ignored all the red flags including the cost of a phone, “free shipping costs by DHL” and “doorstep delivery”, all at 750,000 Uganda Shillings for an iPhone 12.

Online shoppers in Kampala gave varying views on the available platforms but mostly agreed that it was better to deal with an established company like Jumia, where it is seemingly easier to complain and expect a positive response.

They also hailed the company for its engaging and responsive social media communication channels, as well as measures put in place to protect their clients. These include secure payment options, a secure (encrypted) website, verified sellers, buyer protection, returns and exchanges and other fraud prevention measures.

However, several users also presented frustrations, especially regarding refunds when a transaction is not completed. Some said they waited for up to two weeks for a refund.

Dr Hu Wen, who had just received his refund explained the ordeal of getting sorted and wondered if all the Jumia customers had to present proof of payment before their money could be refunded. He said even after complaining the delay was becoming unbearable.

“After my order was cancelled I found my payment was not refunded and I didn’t get any communication. Two days ago, I got the proof of payment after I got my statement from MTN,” he explained.

Asked why he sought help from the media instead of going to Jumia, Dr Wen said he had sent several messages through Live Help, WhatsApp, and phone contacts but in all attempts, he was asked the same questions and it seemed like a new case was opened. Dr Wen said there seemed to be poor communication between the different departments within the company.

“The problem is you need to find your way, not their (initiative),” Dr Wen said.

Lyz Zaninka, the Jumia Group Brand Campaign Manager said when an order is cancelled, the refund process is automatically triggered. “This will take up to five days to have the money refunded,” she said.

But Complaints to the company show that some clients have been waiting for more than three weeks for their refund. Many also complain that whenever a call to the customer care desk is made, they open a fresh case and similar questions and promises are started afresh.

Another peculiar case is of a customer who said he was called late on Saturday and together, they scheduled a delivery on Monday. But on the agreed day, he was told that the order had been cancelled because he had not responded to the call.

“How can you call a customer in the night and then cancel their orders because they couldn’t pick up? After waiting for such orders for more than three weeks? The delivery guy called me on Saturday, we agreed he would deliver on Monday. Instead, at 7 a.m. I received a message that the order had been cancelled, 1 hour later I called customer care they said there was nothing they could do. Did someone offer more money?”

Other customers have complained about violations in delivery agreements.”They tell you that they will deliver in the morning, only to call you at night!” one of the customers told Uganda Radio Network.

One Host Daniel said he made an order on December 24 and “made payment to confirm the order.” However, the sa,e order was cancelled as soon as the payment went through. By January 10, he was still appealing for a refund and said that each time he calls, he is informed that the finance team will work on the matter within two working hours.

“We followed up on your request, and we want to inform you that we have already escalated to the Jumia pay team for follow-up,” they will say, adding that once the issue has been resolved the feedback will be shared.” But Host said this has gone on for too long.

Sseruyange Edrine, another X user complained, “JumiaUG the more you’ve been supported the more fake you’ve become, after a period of three weeks close to a month when I am demanding my money which you know very well that I paid to you, today you’ve come back with funny statements… that the cover of the net is torn!”

“Kindly accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused. Please note the issue has been escalated, and we shall share feedback within 16 working hours,” says the company in a familiar response.

Our reporter asked another official at Jumia if there was a problem with the payment service provider, MTN, to which the answer was “No”.

Customers also complained about delivery company, Glovo, especially their inability to reach them as soon as they have an issue, as there are no known contact phone numbers. The app company says, “There is no need to dial numbers, everything is in the app”.

The mobility of the people especially in Kampala also makes it worse, with one expecting a delivery at their place of work. But sometimes, by the time the delivery personnel arrives, the work premises are already closed.

“You complain to the delivery boy because the food you had ordered arrived hours later and cold, or even when the package is damaged. And he tells you he was in the garage because the motorcycle got a problem!” one client said.

“When I got an issue with my order and a Nigerian called me, he handled it. I tried contacting whatever sites Glovo uses in Uganda but no one came through,” another user stated.

Condala, an e-commerce service company in Kampala urges online shoppers to look out for secure payment methods, and secure websites, use strong and unique passwords, be wary of email scams and use a “two-factor authentication” process.

“This involves using an extra layer of security that requires you to provide a second form of identification before logging into an account,” says Condala in an advice.

The common red flags experts give of an online scam include a much lower cost of the item compared to what is on the rest of the market, and the cost of shipping, especially when using an established company like DHL and fictitious company names imitating the known brands.

In the case of the iPhone case, for example, the victims are faulted for accepting to transact on WhatsApp, because “established corporations like DHL do not do that! ”Big companies also will most likely send payment vouchers and not text messages asking for payment.

Another indicator, the experts say, is when the purported seller starts adding other costs that were not mentioned at the beginning, for example, taxes, shipping and commissions, while it is also uncommon for a company abroad to give quotations of a product in the currency of the destination country.


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