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Africa’s Amazon hopeful Jumia retreats from big expansion

Jumia Technologies AG

Africa’s Amazon hopeful Jumia retreats from big expansion

One-time unicorn quits Rwanda after Cameroon and Tanzania as US-listed shares fall 90% from high

Jumia, the pan-African ecommerce company, will close its business in Rwanda, just weeks after it exited Cameroon and Tanzania, in the latest sign of retrenchment for the one-time unicorn whose share price has fallen nearly 90 per cent from its high after listing in Wall Street in April.

The closures bring Jumia’s footprint in Africa to 11 countries and point to the difficulty of running an ecommerce business across a continent with weak infrastructure, under-developed logistics and a general lack of trust in online shopping.

It also puts a dent in what the Rocket Internet-backed company has long touted as one of its key advantages: scale.

Sacha Poignonnec, co-chief executive, said the exits were routine, as the company reassesses its markets, products and services. He noted that in the past, it had left countries such as Mozambique and closed its ride-hailing business. On Tuesday, Jumia also said it is in effect shutting its travel website.

“It’s a continuity of recent changes and the strategy is very much for us, it’s very simple, we are engaged in taking Jumia to profitability and drive penetration of JumiaPay,” he said, referring to the company’s payments platform.

“Sometimes we make decisions to change the scope of countries or categories . . . but it is in the normal life of a company to adjust the focus, but the strategy remains very much the same.”

Small businesses on Instagram are beginning to eat into Jumia . . .[by] doing things faster, cheaper and with a sense of security

Uzoma Dozie, tech investor

The company said the moves were part of a “portfolio optimisation strategy” it announced in November.

Mr Poignonnec emphasised the need to control costs. Losses grew to €54.6m in the third quarter from €40.6m a year earlier, while revenues missed analyst estimates for the second time in three quarters. Jumia has run up more than $1bn in losses since launching in 2012 in Nigeria.

But Mr Poignonnec cited the success of Amazon, China’s Alibaba and Latin America’s Mercado Libre as proof that the model Jumia is pursuing can work. He pointed to Jumia’s rising customer and seller numbers as positive signs.

As part of its growth strategy, the company has shifted focus toward its JumiaPay fintech platform, on which transaction volume nearly doubled to €32m in the third quarter from a year earlier.

Fintech is the hottest tech sector in Africa, with nearly $400m pouring into three Nigeria-based start-ups in a week in November as venture capital firms bet on companies trying to bring online the roughly 99 per cent of African transactions that are done in cash. Jumia believes its payments service will be key to unlocking ecommerce.

Investors have so far been unconvinced.

Jumia listed on the New York Stock Exchange to great fanfare in April, becoming the first Africa-focused start-up worth more than $1bn. Shares peaked at $49.77 weeks after their debut but have steadily fallen to $5.96, giving it a market capitalisation of just $458.3m, about a tenth of its all-time high.

In May shares fell by roughly a quarter after the short seller Citron Research released a report accusing the company of fraud, which it denied.

Observers said Jumia faces competition from companies that ship to Africa from overseas, such as Amazon, and local small businesses that are increasingly offering online shopping.

“If I want an iPhone, Jumia will say it takes 21 days, and Amazon will send it in a week, they will remove the VAT and deliver it straight to my door,” said Uzoma Dozie, a tech investor who was chief executive of Nigeria’s Diamond Bank.

“With Jumia it’s a different story altogether — it will cost more, it will arrive later and then there is the trust issue.”

He also pointed to the advantages small sellers have over a behemoth such as Jumia.

“Small businesses on Instagram are beginning to eat into Jumia . . .[by] doing things faster, cheaper and with a sense of security,” he said. People are willing to buy on Instagram because “when you go to Instagram, they see pictures of people they know wearing the clothes — there’s not that social aspect to it on Jumia, which is more transactional”.

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