EXCLUSIVE: Nigeria’s foremost online retailers, Jumia, Konga, at war

Segun Aganga
Minister of Trade and Investment, Segun Aganga.

A war of attrition has broken out between Jumia and Konga with both retailers now set for a showdown

Both are barely two years old in Nigeria, but the cold war brewing between the nation’s foremost online retailers, Jumia and Konga, is threatening to hit the court room.

Owned by Berlin-based Rocket Internet, Jumia Nigeria opened its e-commerce operations in 2012. It has since risen to become a major player in online retail shopping in Nigeria. The company says it now controls 70 per cent of the Nigerian online retail market and has dealt with close to a million customers since it began operations.

One month after Jumia Nigeria launched, Konga.com began its operations to tap into the largely untapped Nigerian online retail shopping. The company currently describes itself as “Nigeria’s largest online mall.”

Disputed domain names

After commencing its Nigeria operations in June 2012 and just before Konga launched, Rocket Internet proceeded to register about 10 domain names related to Konga outside Nigeria, a move the Konga management said was designed to “stifle” its growth outside Nigeria.

The domain names, registered by one Arnt Jeschke on behalf of Rocket Internet, include konga.cd (Cote d’Ivoire); konga.cm (Cameroun); konga.ly(Libya); konga.ma (Mauritius); konga.mu (Morocco); konga.mw (Malawi); konga.sc (Seychelles); konga.sh (Saint Helena); konga.co.ke (Kenya); and konga.co.za (South Africa).

Ifeanyi Abraham, Public Relations Strategist at Konga.com, described Rocket Internet’s registration of the domain names as “destructive competition.”

“This company (Rocket Internet) has proceeded to buy and sit on the domain names of Konga across the continent,” Mr. Abraham said.

“These domain names were taken even before Konga had even had the chance to breathe, and we can see them trying to do the same by establishing businesses in different other areas where Nigerians/Africans are trying to innovate.

“They have registered 11 domain names related to Konga outside Nigeria and are taking other steps to stifle the growth of Nigerian businesses in the sectors they want to dominate,” Mr. Abraham added.

With 56 million internet subscribers and 120 million active cell phone lines as at September 2013, according to the Nigerian Communication Commission, e-commerce has continued to witness an impressive growth over the past few years.

“Since it was first noticed and it got reported on TechLoy (a technology news website) and we have gone ahead to request for these domain names without getting them returned,” said Mr. Abraham.

“We are going ahead with legal actions in the different jurisdictions where these domain names were registered,” he added.

Stiff competition

Both online vendors report over 100,000 unique daily visitors, thus helping to grow Nigeria’s online shopping value by 25 per cent; from N49.9 billion in 2010 to N62.4 billion in 2011, according to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister, while presenting President Goodluck Jonathan’s mid-term report last year.

On a recent visit to Jumia Nigeria’s office at Ikeja, Lagos, dozens of staff worked from their computers inside an open, air-conditioned office that doubles as a warehouse.

Two smartly dressed young graduates, who had arrived for a scheduled job interview, filled the visitors’ register at the security post outside the building. In the space for ‘Purpose of Visit’ in the book, one of them spelt ‘Jumai’ instead of ‘Jumia.’

Such mistakes are common for prospective customers searching for Jumia online for the first time, Afam Anyika, Jumia’s Head of Offline Marketing, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Last year, as the cold war over the domain was gathering momentum, a Google search for ‘Jumai’ redirected to konga.com, a move perceived as retaliatory from the latter, Jumia officials said.

Mr. Anyika said that they didn’t raise dust over the act, as with numerous other acts from other business competitors.

Jumia wouldn’t comment on why it registered domain names bearing Konga’s name.

“There’s no comment from Jumia on this. We are constantly are focused on the customers and our operations and staying number one in this market,” Mr. Anyika said.

Alexa, an internet data provider, ranks both companies neck and neck in its Top 500 websites in Nigeria. Jumia, at an 18th position, is followed closely by Konga at Number 19.

Mr. Anyika said they are yet to receive any notice of legal action as threatened by Konga.

“This year we are focusing on customer appreciation. We will be two in June. We’ve had series of similar complaints in the past but we’ve chosen to ignore all of them. We don’t want to be distracted,” Mr. Anyika added.

The U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 states that people who register domain names that are trademarks with the sole aim of selling the rights of the domain name to the trademark owner is liable to civil action.

In Italy, the registration of a domain name which is identical to a trademark infringes unfair competition rules and trademark law.

Although the incident did not happen in Nigeria, the country does not appear to have a Registration Authority for the assignment and management of domain names within the country, according to Paul Usoro, a Communications lawyer.

“In Nigeria, we do have Copyright and trademark laws (no competition law yet) but there has been no instance of adjudication thereon in regard to domain name registration mainly because no attention has been paid to this yet in Nigeria,” Mr. Usoro said.


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