Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Jumia Travel’s bait-and-switch marketing, by Gimba Kakanda 

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Somebody has to do the Lord’s work and warn Nigerians about this systemic exploitation of customers, which our business environment has enabled and sustained, by that online travel agency called Jumia Travel. I don’t want them to get away with doing this again, and again, with neither an apology nor damages for such violation.

I patronised Jumia Travel for reasons other than being a local enterprise, albeit founded by non-Nigerians, that required our collective patronage. I prefer dealing with agents with a known address, identity, and track records, not websites whose owners I don’t know. And a friend of mine, Zahrah, was about to head to court with having been similarly betrayed by the platform. Even though I had not been exactly pleased in my purchases via Jumia I kept the faith. But what they did to me yesterday, December 15, has shattered any benefit of the doubt that I had harboured since our last unpleasant encounter.

About three months ago I booked Abuja – London flight on the platform, and made payment via online transfer as instructed by their agent. A few hours later, their agent called and explained that the rate had increased. I transferred the added amount without protest. Why? I was almost late for school, with registration deadlines staring me in the face, and there was neither time nor energy to start booking process anew.

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My experience yesterday was a deja vu, and I accept the blame for being the first Nigerian to “carry last,” twice bitten. I booked a London – Abuja flight on their platform and received an email quoting what to pay, which I did. I spoke to one of their agents and confirmed the amount before doing so. Then, as if practising from an old bait-and-switch script, I got a call from the agent, saying the rate had increased and that I had to add over N100,000. For a split second, it seemed like a prank, only that she was calling from Jumia!

I found the model suspicious, for it seems like a deliberate ploy to mislead and attract customers. You don’t run a business by making the few who believe in you appear like idiots. This Mavrodi School of Business idea might have worked and had gullible believers in the Nigerian system like me trapped, but it’s established that every scam has an expiry date.

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Angered by this brazen undermining of my intelligence, I asked the agent for an immediate refund, forwarded my bank details, and waited, refreshing my mailbox every 20 minutes to confirm notification of refund. I took to my social media platform and shared my grouse. Of course being a beneficiary of this ancient and state-approved impunity, they didn’t respond until it began to attract engagements.

I woke up today, December 16, to an infuriating email from them – that my money won’t be refunded until 3 – 5 working days. My day was ruined before it even began, and my rage was because we didn’t really have a transaction. I only wired money to them out of trust, and what a sensible partner would’ve done was reversing it immediately they confirmed their rate had changed, and noting I was unwilling to continue with the scam.

If I had nothing to book another flight, the consequences would’ve been a tragedy I don’t even want to imagine. It’s devastating that despite attempts to regulate business in the country, some of us are wired to embrace such infractions with a defeatist mindset.

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In a reaction to one of my tweets, a Twitter user questioned my intelligence for falling for Jumia’s advertised platform. A Nigerian is, by such disturbing orientation, expected to distrust an enterprise valued at over a billion dollars and, even more importantly, the largest e-commerce platform on the continent? I don’t know.

The critic’s reasoning would’ve made more sense if I had no any history of patronising Jumia. In fact, last September, about a week before I booked my ticket to London, I bought a 4-terabyte hard disk, impressed by the purchase of a similar item on the platform a month earlier. So it’s unfair to conclude that one was merely gullible by trusting such platforms. What has happened is an everyday story and experience of Nigerians, and that’s expected isn’t the national pastime of blaming the victim, but an institutional response to correct it.

Mr Kakanda is a postgraduate student of International Relations, London School of Economics, and tweets from @gimbakakanda

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