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Inside Jumia, ‘The Amazon of Uganda’.

Jumia is a pan-African e-commerce platform (online marketplace) that links sellers and buyers, as well as a logistics service that allows sellers to ship and deliver items to buyers, and a payment service that facilitates transactions between participants.

Jumia is a pan-African e-commerce platform (online marketplace) that links sellers and buyers, as well as a logistics service that allows sellers to ship and deliver items to buyers, and a payment service that facilitates transactions between participants.

For its role in transforming the e-commerce sector, Ron Kawamara, an experienced manager with a documented history of working in the internet industry, has dubbed Jumia “The Amazon of Uganda.” We got up with him, and here is what he had to say in an exclusive interview withBazzup News.

What can you tell us about yourself?

Ron Kawamara is my name. I’m the President and CEO of Jumia Uganda. I was born and raised in Uganda. Buhinga Primary School in Fort Portal was where I received my education. After that, I moved to Mbarara’s Ntare School for my O-levels, which I completed in 2003. That’s when I decided to leave Uganda.

Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles, California, was where I attended high school. The University of California, Berkeley, in San Francisco, was my next stop. Behavioral science was my first degree (Bachelor’s Degree). I also have a Political Science (and International Relations) degree, as well as a Development Economics degree. It was a five-year triple degree program.

Later, I went to Oxford University to pursue a Master of Science (MSc) in Development Studies (2013–2014). I returned to Uganda after that.

What were you doing before you joined Jumia?

My first employment was in California, for a firm named People-Connect (2011–May 2013). That company was assisting tech start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area, where companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and others are located. I performed a lot of internships with tech companies in the Bay Area. People-Connect assisted start-ups in locating individuals who were willing to work for a share of the company’s ownership. You can’t afford engineers if you’re a startup in California (who are highly paid). Software developers are quite costly. As a result, the company would hire people and instead of paying them a salary, they would be given stock in the company. That is how I became interested in technology. I had the opportunity to work with others and learn about the industry.

How did you wind up back here after studying overseas and having the opportunity to work for global firms/organizations?

It’s a long story how I ended up returning to Uganda. Before I had graduated Oxford, I secured a position at the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) through the UN Young Professionals Program (YPP). I canceled my promise to return to Uganda at the United Nations.

I was one of the five organizers of the Oxford-Africa Conference at Oxford, and I had to invite African business and political heavyweights. I had to make sure that Ugandans were represented as panelists and speakers because I was a Ugandan. I invited Sam Kutesa (then Foreign Affairs Minister), Winnie Byanyima (of Oxfam in Oxford), and Dr. Kizza Besigye, who had lately returned to Uganda from the United Kingdom. He was in the news all across the world at the time. So, at the time, inviting Besigye to Oxford was a huge coup for me. Winnie claimed that the only way to persuade Besigye to return to the UK was to pay him a personal visit at his Kasangati house (Wakiso district). After getting past police barricades, I took an aircraft from the United Kingdom and traveled to his home in Kasangati. I introduced myself to him and even purchased him a first-class ticket (British Airways) to attend the conference as a speaker. He concurred.

Ron Kawamara (Ron Kawamara)

We drank beverages with the guests, speakers, and students on the last day of the conference in a 200-year-old church that had been converted into a bar. I returned home to sleep later. I was exhausted. Winnie woke me up after around 20 minutes of sleep. “Kizza said hello,” she says, “and I believe we’ll go for those cocktails after all.” That’s where I met folks who worked for Hellofood, which later evolved into Jumia. That’s where we met. They informed me that there was an opportunity in Uganda, and that they were searching for someone to begin with. We were just six weeks away from graduating, so it was a good thing. I arrived in Kampala three months later. That’s how I found myself in Uganda. It was critical to return home.

When did Jumia get its start?

Jumia first opened its doors in Nigeria in 2012. I’m one of the few people who traveled to Uganda to launch Jumia. Jumia is currently ten years old, yet it is only nine years and a few months old in Uganda. Our anniversary dates back to when we first began in Nigeria. It was the first African country where Jumia was launched. We exclusively do business in Africa. Although it is pan-African, we have attracted worldwide investors.

Why did you choose Jumia?

Jumia, like Google, is a neutral term. We needed a word that could be used in a variety of cultures. You don’t want to use a word that is neutral in Uganda but very insulting or has a negative connotation in Senegal. So we needed a word that was both original and neutral, with an African ring to it.

What is Jumia’s purpose?

Jumia is an online marketplace that allows users to order things for their homes and have them delivered to them.

Jumia has locations all around the world.

Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Tunisia are among the countries we’ve visited.

Outside of Kampala, where else do you operate in Uganda?

Our products and services are available in every corner of Uganda. Customers in Gulu, Fort Portal, and Kabale can purchase the same things as Kampala residents. Although we have a distribution network, all of our products are concentrated in Kampala. Customers order from upcountry and have it delivered to their door or picked up at one of our local pickup points.

What exactly do you have to offer?

We have six million different, one-of-a-kind items. Jumia features an infinite number of products, including any produced item available on the local market. This is Jumia’s major e-commerce portal, which sells phones, televisions, appliances, fashion, and other items around the country. The Amazon of Uganda is our name.

On the other side, “Jumia Food” focuses on food and supermarket deliveries. This is exclusively available in Kampala and Entebbe. Essentially, we provide a platform for restaurants’ consumers to place orders. You can access the Jumai food portal and search for restaurants and stores before making a decision. We develop a virtual menu, and clients can choose what they want from it. The order is promptly relayed to the restaurant, and the meal is delivered to the customer. Through our advertising channels, we assist restaurants in reaching out to their customers (online ads). We deliver to customers, receive payment, and send to vendors together with our commission.

What about the cost of living?

Our products are reasonably priced. We have a significant cost advantage. While supermarkets have additional fees to consider, we only have a warehouse that does not require an air conditioner or a desirable location such as Acacia Mall. We work directly with distributors and manufacturers who want to reach customers outside of their own geographic area. This indicates that they are more supportive of us in terms of price. These distributors and manufacturers own this store. It isn’t our property. We simply provide them with a platform. Jumia will always have a price advantage because of this.

What further services does Jumia provide?

We offer an app called “JumiaPay” that allows clients to pay for services like DStv, utilities (water and electricity), Netflix, and other things using their Jumia wallet. You can use Mobile Money or a Visa Card to top up your account. Now we’re going to introduce another service. Some of the utilities are not yet available, but we are nearing completion.

Starting an online business must have been difficult; how have you managed over the years?

It was difficult when we first launched the company since no one was buying or selling online. We had to overcome obstacles such as a lack of trust between vendors and customers, and we had to educate both the customer and the vendor about the benefits of buying and selling online. We needed to spend money on logistics. We have established a platform for you, we have already built a distribution network for you, we create a shop for you, discover a market for you, and deliver for you instead of you having to build a website to reach your clients.

It’s a nice idea, but getting started was difficult. It was challenging due to a lack of faith in Ugandan products. People had been duped, therefore we needed to modify their behavior by offering a reasonable price, including a warranty, and allowing you to check and confirm that what you got was correct. Since then, e-commerce has grown in popularity. Customers who have utilized the service in the past are returning in large numbers.

Because of varying market expectations, this trip has been difficult. It’s not easy to capture something in a photograph and portray it in the same way that someone who sees and touches a product in a store would. We had sizing issues…what I consider medium may not be the same for you. As a result, it was tough to come up with a better way to explain the products.

How did you come up with a solution to this issue?

There was some learning on our part and some learning on the part of the clients. Customers’ feedback was also used to help customers make better judgments, which resulted in some learning. We tried hard to display product ratings, vendor ratings, and other information. It empowers you as a customer with as much knowledge as possible when you buy what other customers have bought previously and supplied feedback (comments). Most crucial, we want customers to purchase brands they are familiar with. We wish to provide you with a wide range of options. To assist you in making a better decision, we provide you with the pricing, rating, and what customers have to say about the product.

When we first started the company, it was difficult to find the right employees with the necessary skills. Although the labor force is a product, the lack of e-commerce players prompted us to train employees in those specialized abilities. This has proven to be beneficial. Customers were educated, vendors were educated, and we were educated.

In a market rife with fake/counterfeit goods, how have you secured quality?

We face an immediate penalty of Shs250,000 if a customer claims the product is substandard, phony, or not real. The penalty for any merchandise returned is Shs250,000, even if the product costs Shs10,000. In addition to being penalized, the shop will be deactivated until you provide us the product’s certificate of origin. The shop will be reacted to, but your rating will be reduced, and customers will be aware that this person is untrustworthy.

This is how we got rid of the fakes. We collaborate with vendors to ensure that the greatest items are available for the customer. We have quality assurance teams. Because it is a marketplace, there is also competition. They are competing not only on price, but also on quality and customer feedback. We have a free market economy. As a result, the bad ones are naturally filtered out.

A Jumia distribution center

How far has e-commerce progressed in Uganda?

Uganda is, in my opinion, one of the fastest-growing markets. In terms of technology, worldwide trends in electronics, fashion, and other areas, Ugandans are early adopters. In Uganda, we’ve observed a substantial increase in online enterprises. Likewise, our vendors are quick to adjust. As a result, e-commerce is thriving. It is rapidly expanding. People are shopping online, and we expect the industry to expand in the next years.

Have you felt any pressure from the market’s newcomers?

E-commerce, in my opinion, is rising, but it is still extremely modest. The majority of Ugandans continue to shop in person, where they may handle the goods, haggle/negotiate, purchase, and then return home. As a result, the internet space is extremely limited. Our competitor isn’t other online businesses; it’s the client who goes to a store to buy items in person. That is my opponent. And I’m going to win that competition by informing people about the benefits of shopping online, such as how convenient, inexpensive, and secure it is.

What is the best way to give this type of education?

It’s a combination of factors, to be sure. We believe that if we do things correctly, people will notice. Customers will return to Jumia if they receive the best pricing, have their items delivered fast, and the products are authentic. And they’ll tell their friends and relatives about it. That is the most essential educational motivator. Second, we are always investing in the awareness market in order to reach out to a larger audience with our message. We are always investing in technology to expand our reach, and we believe it is paying off.

What was your reaction to the Covid-19 (lockdown) situation?

Clearly, e-commerce was on the rise. For those selling, the lockdown was extremely inconvenient because stores were closed, highways were restricted, and customers were confined to their houses. It discovered Jumia in a ready-to-use state. We were all set. We had already established our distribution networks around the country, developed our technology, and assembled a top-notch workforce. Jumia was available to assist anyone who wanted to shop online. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in Jumia usage. We saw a lot of new customers come to Jumia who had never bought online before. We’ve seen merchants who previously had no interest in selling online now use Jumia as a selling platform. This accelerated what had been going quite well. The lockdown served as a catalyst for us.

Does this apply to Jumia? Most online businesses are hampered by internet issues.

Absolutely. We consider the internet to be similar to a motorway. It is a community of people, and to go there, you must travel on a special highway. However, if the highway has tolls, where you must pay Shs10,000 every 10 kilometers, getting to the next location will be more expensive.

The country has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world. Even those who have it find it exceedingly expensive when it has been penetrated. It’s pricey since it’s one of the costliest internet per mbps rates available to clients worldwide. We’ve also erected obstacles by imposing an internet tax. We had an ICT minister four years ago who promised that more hotspots would be built around Kampala and that they would be free. We decide to introduce an internet tax four years later, in the middle of Covid-19 lockdown, when people are at home and students are studying online.

The most difficult obstacle is the internet. It is a trade obstacle. During the elections, there were shutdowns that caused business to be affected. Those were the issues that we had to deal with. Imagine losing ten days of revenue; that’s billions of shillings.

How are you going to deal with this?

Our task is to concentrate on the things we can influence. Of course, we’ve communicated our concerns to policymakers. We’d like them to meet us in the middle. We want them to see technology and e-commerce as legitimate business opportunities. Some of the most successful businesses founded in the last 20 years have been technology-based. They’re being dubbed the “second Industrial Revolution” because they’ve created more money in the last 20 years than in the previous 100. Take a look at Apple’s market capitalisation; it exceeds Italy’s GDP. The market valuation of Facebook is 365 billion dollars. It’s equivalent to ten times Uganda’s GDP. That is the technology’s worth.

The issue is that we want access to technology but not to develop it. We are technology consumers. We may not be able to produce a phone at a lower cost than China or the United States, but we can certainly develop effective software to address Uganda’s challenges. We will have investors once we have a solution to those problems.

What is the secret of Jumia’s success?

Our success, in my opinion, has been in increasing our customer experience. Running an online business is difficult. There are difficulties in logistics, technology, content, and other areas. Despite these obstacles, we have remained committed to providing an exceptional client experience, beginning with product quality and ending with delivery.

Ron cuts an anniversary cake with the Jumia crew.

Second, we are excellent at what we do. In Uganda, we have a solid pricing leadership position and are the lowest priced on practically everything we sell. This gives us the upper hand. Third, we cover the entire country of Uganda. No one else can even come close to achieving that level of success.

The excitement around Jumia is fueled by Black Friday. Let us know about it!

Black Friday is a program in which we reward our customers with product reductions. The Jumia anniversary, which is currently taking place, is our first Black Friday. It began on June 13 and will end on July 3. Because we’re celebrating our tenth anniversary, this one is extra special. Discounts of up to 60% are available. We’re rewarding our customers while also offering vendors a chance to get customers excited about their brands. It’s the equivalent of our Black Friday in November.

For our customers, we negotiate thousands of discounts. Importers, producers, and distributors are among the people with whom we deal. We use Black Friday as a sales campaign (to give struggling businesses an opportunity to sell) or a customer discount promotion. We do it for tech merchants in March (Tech Week), then for all vendors on Jumia’s anniversary in June, and then again in November.

What types of promos do you have going on?

The discounts range from 30 percent to 60 percent off on supermarket items, phones, and televisions, among other items.

Do you participate in any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives?

For us, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is critical. In Naguru, we work with a group of young mothers. These are children who were impregnated when they were very young. We provide them with resources and assist them in caring for their children. We also intend to improve their digital abilities so that they can operate computers. We also intend to collaborate with institutions so that future grads may come and train with Jumia while gaining valuable experience.

What opportunities and prospects do you see for the future?

There are opportunities everywhere. If you’re doing it the old way, there’s an easier and more efficient way to do it over the internet, as I often tell folks. Who would have guessed that email would put the post office out of business 100 years ago? We’ve progressed from emails to WhatsApp and then to video messaging. You can talk on video on WhatsApp and it will be recorded in real time. Technology is altering the way we live, work, and travel.

What recommendations would you provide to someone who is interested in starting an online business?

People who use the internet have a lot of room to expand their consumer base. If you’re an insurance company, putting your product online will almost certainly allow you to reach a larger audience in Uganda. Online is where people are if you’re a shipping firm, a hotel, or anything else. It resembles a city. Because there are more people living in Kampala, the city receives more business. People are now on Facebook or surfing the web (Google), thus you can make money by locating them. People who watch TV, listen to the radio, or engage in any other form of media are outnumbering those who do not. Uganda’s online community is the country’s largest.

If you don’t go online, you’re missing out. Jumia is the place to go if you’re an artist, a fashion designer, a novelist, or a craftsperson. Because we have already created a platform that can reach Ugandans, you will be able to reach a larger audience on Jumia. Jumia is a search engine. It brings together all of the things that clients require in one spot. This implies that you combine the supply and demand.


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