eCommerce

Nigerian eCommerce platform, MallforAfrica, has shut down operations, possible rebranding could be imminent

November 02, 2021 · 12 min read
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Africa-focused eCommerce platform, MallforAfrica seems to have suspended operations in Nigeria. From our latest inquiries, the company might be shutting down, and a total rebranding could be on the horizon.

According to some public sources, Nigerian-born brothers and experienced entrepreneurs, Chris and Tope Folayan, founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to help people shop online for groceries, electronics, and other items. 

It received backing from notable investors, partnered with reputable US and UK stores, and in a few years, became one of Africa’s most popular eCommerce platforms. In 2015, Fortune actually described its presence, alongside Jumia and Konga, as heralding an eCommerce boom in Africa. 

However, while Africa’s online activity increased, Jumia and Konga had their fair share of struggles. But both companies, and MallforAfrica, continued to grow.

In 2018, Chris told TechCrunch that the company was shipping to 17 African countries. With a DHL partnership, that number could have reached 34 countries. At a time when eCommerce companies were shutting down, MallforAfrica was striking partnerships to speed up growth.

In our chat with Chris in 2020, he revealed expansion plans to the Middle East and Latin America. 

However, MallforAfrica seems to have followed the likes of Dealdey and Gloo in shutting down its eCommerce operations. Even though it claims it’s temporary, some signs suggest a rebranding and a relaunch could be on the way.

The facts as we know them

First off, its app is no longer on the Google Play Store or Apple Store. Customers can no longer log in, and the company has stopped taking orders. 

MallforAfrica is missing on the Android store
MallforAfrica is also absent on the Apple store

“I used them about five times in 2019. I didn’t use them again until this month when I tried to order, but I found out that I could not check out,” says Kelechi*, one of the customers we spoke to. 

There have also been complaints from customers unable to withdraw their funds and have gotten no response from MallforAfrica. None of the aggrieved customers agreed to comment on the issue as of the time of publishing this article. 

Source: Facebook
Source: Instagram

A cursory glance at major social media platforms reveals that despite customer complaints as recent as two weeks ago, MallforAfrica has not posted on social media since September 30, 2021. 

In Nigeria (@mallforafricanigeria), MallforAfrica stopped responding to people on Instagram on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. Though this shot below shows a customer complaining about losing $122, comments have been disabled for the post. 

Source: Instagram

Customers made similar comments on Facebook, but it stopped responding there on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. Its last tweet was on Tuesday, June 3, 2021, but it’s plausible that it stopped posting on Twitter because of Nigeria’s Twitter ban, which took effect on Wednesday, June 4, 2021.  

This, however, doesn’t explain the silence on Facebook and Instagram since September. 

Posing as a customer, we tried reaching out to MallforAfrica Nigeria via email to understand why we couldn’t log in. Here’s the response we got:

“We would like to inform you that we are temporarily not accepting orders at this time. This is as a result of the unstable forex rate in Nigeria and some CBN policies.” 

Indeed, Nigeria’s currency has been fluctuating, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has come up with some unpredictable policies. But, the company’s issues do not seem limited to Nigeria. 

MallforAfrica East Africa last made an Instagram post on Thursday, September 30, 2021, and there’s been total silence across all its major platforms since. Interestingly, there are still complaints about poor services from its East African users. 

Fortunately, it appears that a customer in the region still received an order, even though he hasn’t been able to place a new one since. 

“I made two orders on Monday, September 13, 2021, and they were delivered on Friday, October 29, 2021. On their website, it says 14 days,” says Neza.*

Neza revealed that they brought only one item on September 29, but when they tried to contact customer service via email and WhatsApp, they did nothing to resolve the issue. Even though Neza eventually received the item, they swear they’ll not be using the platform again. 

Citing similar reasons to those listed in the mail we received from the customer agent, a source close to the issue at MallforAfrica reveals that the company will most likely shut down completely. 

“The issue with forex and CBN policies affected the company, and investors pulled out. The site is currently down, and it is most likely that the MallforAfrica brand will shut down completely and come back as a new brand,” the source claims.

Our source, however, maintains that all orders made before the website went down are being fulfilled, and customers could still get their items from pickup centres. But no new orders will be placed before the rebranding. 

Despite the complaints about losses, our source is optimistic that people will be able to place orders soon.  

We reached out to Chris Folayan (CEO), Helios Investment Partners (MallforAfrica’s major investor), and DHL (Its most recent publicly announced investor), for official statements to verify this claim, but only Chris and DHL have responded as of press time. 

“MallforAfrica is temporarily closed, that is true, but we pray and trust in God to have it back up and running in the very near future, better than ever. No date as of yet to announce. But we will keep everyone posted,” Chris confirms. 

As for lost customer funds, Chris reveals that the company is working on refunding them, but it is taking longer than usual due to reduced staff size. 

“Many (the customers) have been with us for 10 years, and we are not in the business of letting our customers down. Never have and never will. We would never turn our backs on our customers, and you don’t build such a loyal customer base by letting them down.”

However, Chris firmly denies any claim that investors have pulled out, and he maintains that the company still has a great relationship with investors. 

A spokesperson for DHL declined to comment on Link Commerce’s activities and told us to contact Folayan instead. They also didn’t address the claim that DHL has pulled out.

It is important to note that, on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, DHL announced that Africa eShop, an online platform developed using MallforAfrica’s technology, would be shutting down by the month’s end.

Source: DHL

That announcement was definitely a sign that something was wrong after our preliminary investigations. 

Nonetheless, based on our independent findings, which you would see in due course, we’ll lean towards Chris’ assertion regarding investors.

Though Chris and our source seem to provide both gloom and hope, we couldn’t help but wonder where it went wrong for one of the shining gems of eCommerce in Africa.

The growth of an eCommerce giant

Several Google searches from the previous years revealed many interesting and, sometimes confusing facts. Here we go.

When was MallforAfrica founded? 

Firstly, the exact year MallforAfrica was founded is not clear. Most media houses like TechCrunch and the New York Times go with 2011, but LinkedIn claims it’s 2010, a year earlier. Crunchbase, however, claims it’s 2012, the date we used last year in our interview. 

The earliest online record of incorporation we could find shows that MallforAfrica was registered on July 16, 2013, with the Corporate and Business Registration Department of Mauritius. The website lists Akinmade Ayodeji Ibrahim, Boyjonauth Vishma Dharshini, Folayan Oluwarotimi Christopher, and Folayan Temitope Ibiyemi-Olakunle as company directors. 

It also names Intercontinental Trust Limited, a Mauritius-registered financial services provider, as the management company and secretary. 

Poole Simon Hilliard and  Joomun Mohammad Ali, the other people mentioned, joined MallforAfrica as directors in 2016 and 2017, respectively. So far, we’ve only introduced Christopher Folayan and Tope Folayan as co-founders, but the others are important to the story as well.

Source; Corporate and Business Registration Department Mauritius

After the founders launched the company, it didn’t seem to gain much traction. The earliest online record we could find was MallforAfrica’s first tweet in June 2012, announcing a website called mallforafricaplus.com (disabled).  

The series of Tweets it made received little engagement, but that all changed in 2013. 

Source: Twitter

Private equity firm, Helios Investment Partners reveals on its website that it provided growth capital for MallforAfrica in July 2013. This coincides with MallforAfrica’s earliest online record of incorporation — July 16, 2013.

It is also noteworthy that Boyjonauth Vishma Dharshini is a non-executive Director at Helios Towers and a Director at Intercontinental Trust Limited. Simon Poole also held a similar title at Helios Towers and was an operating partner at Helios.

Fun fact: Helios Towers is a telecommunications company and is one of Helios’ portfolio companies. Intercontinental Trust Limited has Helios as one of its clients.

From then on, the company began to gain traction as it received coverage from the likes of CNN in 2014 (the earliest available record we found), the New York Times (2015), and Fortune in 2015. 

The promise was simple. Build trust and connect African shoppers to some of the world’s biggest online retail platforms. As a result of fraud, most of these platforms banned Africans, but MallforAfrica came as the middleman, taking on the risks of fraud on one end and handling shipping on the other. 

MallforAfrica’s apparent boom

From then on, MallforAfrica struck several partnerships with stores like BestBuy, eBay, Macy’s, Barney’s, and Bloomingdales. Fortune reports that the company racked up $17 million in sales in 2014. 

In 2017, the company announced a partnership with logistics giant, DHL, to further cross-border deliveries, and in 2018, they partnered to launch marketplace.com, a fashion shopping platform that is now offline. 

In 2019, DHL launched Africa eShop (now defunct) using MallforAfrica’s technology. We’re going to stop here because it gets a bit confusing going forward. 

You see, as MallforAfrica’s business began to blossom, it decided to add a new vertical to its operations, and that birthed a company now called Link Commerce. 

How Link Commerce was formed

During last years’ interview, Chris explained the relationship between Link Commerce, MallforAfrica, and DHL’s Africa eShop. 

“Last year, DHL wanted to replicate MallforAfrica, brand it as theirs, and take it across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). So, what we did was to develop Africa eShop for them. And now, DHL is doing basically what MallforAfrica does, but the difference is that eShop is in 37 countries in SSA while MallforAfrica is in only 4 countries — Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria,” he said. 

Conflicting info? — In 2018, TechCrunch quoted Folayan as saying that MallforAfrica shipped to 17 countries. We are not sure exactly why this happened, but Chris has confirmed to us once more that it’s actually four.

A look at Link Commerce’s registration documents in the UK actually paints a clearer picture. 

On September 30, 2016, Simon Poole, one of MallforAfrica’s Directors, filed to register a company called Mall for the World LTD in the UK, in partnership with MallforAfrica Mauritius. 

Source; Companies House, UK

Both parties had significant control over the company, with MallforAfrica Mauritius owning 75% of the company’s shares. There was no mention of the brothers at this time.

Fast-forward 10 months later to July 10, 2017, and the founder brothers, Chris and Tope Folayan were appointed as directors in the company. And on the same day, the company announced the termination of Poole’s directorship. 

In September 2018, the UK companies registrar sent a warning that Mall for the World would be dissolved. While the exact reason was not stated, the warning (a compulsory strike-off) is usually given due to non-compliance or failure to file accounts on time

A month later, the company published a notice that Simon Poole was no longer a person of significant control in Mall for the World. Two days later, the UK Company Registrar suspended the strike-off notice. Also, shortly after this, Mall for the World filed its accounts. 

On March 8, 2019, the company announced that it was terminating Temitope Folayan’s (co-founding brother) appointment as director. On the 22nd of the same month, the registrar announced that MallforAfrica Mauritius ceased to be an entity with significant control of the UK-based company — Mall for the World. Apparently, this actually happened on September 30, 2016. The day the Mall for the World was incorporated.

On April 11, 2019, TechCrunch announced that DHL had launched Africa eShop, using MallforAfrica’s white-label service, Link Commerce.

A day later, Mall for the World filed for a change of name to Link Commerce with the UK registry. 

To be clear, the board of directors at MallforAfrica Mauritius joined to form Mall for the World in the UK. Shortly after it announced the termination of one of the co-founder’s appointments as director, it changed its name to Link Commerce. 

From then on, MallforAfrica positioned Link Commerce as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, which it used to build eCommerce platforms for other businesses as it did with DHL. 

“Think of MallforAfrica and Africa eShop but branded with some other name in different parts of the world. That’s how we’re expanding, and that’s what eCommerce is about,” Chris said last year. 

Note: The Africa eShop platform and MallforAfrica shared many similarities.}

Weird fact: Link Commerce (Formerly Mall for the World) seems to change its official address every year. It has done so from 2016 to date. If you have any idea why a company might decide to do this, then we’d love to chat.

MallforAfrica’s Nigerian addresses are mostly pickup locations. Google shows something different, its website shows a different address, and Crunchbase says the company’s HQ is in Kano, Nigeria. 

On February 13, 2020, the company announced Temitope Lawani, a Managing Partner at Helios Investment as a director. It welcomed Simon Poole back into the fold, and Hennie Heymans, Chief Executive of DHL Express Sub Saharan Africa, joined the company as a  director.

A month later, DHL publicly announced that it had acquired a stake in Link Commerce. Chris also hinted that this was part of the plan. Based on DHL’s records, 255 shares gave it a 9% stake in the company. 

Where did it go wrong?

It is not clear what actually happened at Link Commerce or MallforAfrica. While the latter seems to be having issues, DHL’s eShop shutdown could indicate that there are problems at the top with Link Commerce. 

Chris, however, completely denies this assertion.

“False 100%. Nothing more to add because there is no truth to that statement,” he declares. 

While one would think this might be related to Healthplus story, Chris maintains that the investors have been amazing, and are not unhappy at all. 

“We have seen great growth year on year. But we all realized that the Nigerian economy has had an impact on expected growth and projections. So what do you do when that happens? You pause, regroup, rethink strategy, then hit the market with a revolutionary way to improve e-commerce for all despite economic challenges,” he states with full optimism. 

The company’s exact financial situation is currently unclear. Between 2018 and 2019, its liabilities far outweighed its assets, and its financials were reading negatives. This was a poor showing compared to the positive numbers from previous years. 

With the arrival of the global pandemic in 2020 and the disruptions to supply chains across the globe, there’s no telling what the numbers would look like when (or if it ever) releases its 2020 financials. 

Note: Small companies are not required to declare profit and loss in the UK, so we have to make educated guesses with their asset and liability statements.

While our source claimed that investors pulled out, up until this point (March 2021), it seems like Helios has simply taken even more control of the company, and DHL acquired  more shares in Link Commerce.

According to Link Commerce’s shareholder filing, Helios now has 1,640 ordinary shares, the highest in the company. Its Class A1 shares also mean it has the most voting rights. By comparison, Chris Folayan has 374 Class A2 shares. 

Fun note: Ayomide Akinmade Ibrahim, one of the first directors at MallforAfrica Mauritius and a shareholder at Link Commerce, does not seem to have much of an online presence. We simply haven’t found anyone that fits his profile exactly, but the closest we got is linked to Hickam Ventures. Still not sure this is our person.  

Interestingly, Link Commerce announced Lawani’s termination of appointment as a director in May 2021.

For now, what is really going on at Link Commerce is anyone’s guess, but Chris promises a full-scale rebound in due time. 

“Don’t count us out of the ring yet customers and all our amazing well-wishers. This is an intermission to something great that is coming soon. We have a great relationship with our investors, and we truly admire and appreciate them.”

“We apologize for the pause but sometimes these things are needed to set a new higher bar for the future. We revolutionized how eCommerce was done in Nigeria 10 years ago. Watch what we do next.”

However, there are other details that need to add up, and we need to make sense of the information we just received. Chris has promised to fill in the blanks this week. Keep your eyes peeled.

This is a developing story. Shocking right?

Emmanuel

Emmanuel Paul

Author

Writer and Narrator.  Tech, business and policy analysis is my daily bread. Looking to chat? Catch up with me, @eruskkii, on Twitter or send a mail to emmanuel@techpoint.africa

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