In November last year, e-Commerce platform Goods Express made an announcement to its Ugandan customers that it was shutting down "temporarily".
However, this eventually turned into a closure from the Ugandan market. To many, the company either rebranded or was acquired by Bazebo - it is hard to tell the difference.
But, confessions from a couple of customers indicate the process wasn't handled in the best way possible. Additionally, many claim the company could have closed with millions of shillings of its shoppers' money in their wallet.
Before closing, Goods Express advised its customers with cash in its wallet to use it to make purchases. "If you have funds in your wallet, you can still use those funds to place an order any time on or before November 10, 2017," Goods Express wrote.
Alternatively, if one didn't want to place an order or had their order placed but expired - they could opt to withdraw cash. "If you decide not to place your order or if the above date has expired, you may log into your wallet and request a cash withdrawal," the company added.
Also read: Jumia Uganda unveils the second warehouse for the first time
Yet, according to those I have spoken to, the company acted otherwise and that seems not to have been the case.
Many of these customers have preferred their identity to be kept anonymous as they signed a "tight" NDA with Okello Oryem and Advocates, the law firm handling the issue.
However, Nada Andersen - one of them - opened up to me about the issue and was okay with her identity being revealed.
According to her, the company said they were just carrying out a restructuring, not closing. "They said they were just restructuring and improving the website and this was confirmed by Miloš Ilić (now a Manager at Bazebo according to Nada)," she wrote.
They even went ahead and assured her that all the funds in her wallet would be transferred to the new platform. "They gave me information that my wallet will be automatically transferred to the new improved site," Nada said.
However, that wasn't the case. The company was actually closing. "Goods Express stopped working in November last year," she said. And this was just the beginning of a hectic journey to retrieve her cash out of the wallet.
"I called several times from January onwards to find out [about my money]," she said. Adding that even her last orders were delayed. "I waited for medicine for over two months."
The staff at that time - perhaps for Bazebo - also did little to help her. Many were telling her they weren't working with Goods Express even when the branding there was for Goods Express.
"Staff had mixed and confusing answers because they were saying they had nothing to do with Goods Express yet shops still had the same signage."
Eventually, she was informed that she had to contact a lawyer. "Finally I was told that I need to call a lawyer. Alfred Okello Oryem." Though, he also wasn't receiving her calls, replying to them, her emails or messages.
"I first called, sent emails then almost gave up," she wrote.
Until she posted everything online, no action had been taken. "It was only after blasting Miloš on Facebook that I was able to get a response from Oryem. Maybe a coincidence?"
Like all that received their money, she had to sign a contract - perhaps an NDA - and her cash was remitted. "Once Oryem had my details, I had to sign a contract and he then sent me Mobile Money."
However, this was too much work for someone following up on their payments. Because, according to Nada, she followed up with Okello Oryem for over a month until she gave up.
"I first wrote to the lawyer on 17th January 2018, thereafter wrote a reminder e-mail on 3rd February and 8th February with no response."
Also read: We’re grossing over $50 Million annually with Ezeemoney – Kevin Lubega
It was only three months later that she was able to get in touch with Okello Oryem. "Finally, I got in touch with the lawyer, Mr. Oryem, on 25th May 2018 or thereabouts."
But even then, she had to do some back and forth as she "had to send a boda to his office with a copy of my ID and he had to verify the amount owed to me."
She finally received her funds in June - which was over 7 months from when the company closed.
According to Nada, others who were not as tenacious as her or had "small" amounts in their wallets must have given up altogether. "I am sure quite a few people with small balances just gave up chasing," she wrote.
"Having to send a boda with my ID copy, then to sign a contract and send it with a boda - mind you, from town to Ntinda - these are practical issues that not everyone was able to afford."
She said that Goods Express "handled everything very unprofessionally" and believes that the company "deliberately frustrated their customers."
This is because "Goods Express had an option on the website to request the refund via Mobile Money". However, according to Nada, "this never worked yet it was the easiest option."
This could lead one to think that maybe the company didn't have money to repay those who had already converted their cash into credit.
Nada also thinks the fall of Goods Express stems from a fall-out between the Ugandan partner with his Nigerian partner.
"The problem stems from the owner, who fell out with his Nigerian partner and decided to set up the same business at the very same premises, employing the very same people."
She also thinks Bazebo won't be any better given the same people running it are the ones that led Goods Express Uganda to its fall. "Unfortunately the same team is running Bazebo now," she wrote.
At the time we had the WhatsApp conversation [17/07/2018], she had tried placing orders on Bazebo but the experience wasn't pleasing.
"I am using Bazebo service for the first time this week [but] website gives you one price [and] when you go to checkout you are slapped with a huge shipping cost. When you finally pay they call you to tell you the item is in Hong Kong and will take six weeks to arrive. It's completely bizarre."
Unfortunately, when we visited Bazebo to clarify the issue, we were informed that it is the CEO - Moses Ihoza - who handles communication and therefore the only person who can comment on the issue.
They also told me that he was out of the country and would return within a week. That was three weeks ago. Repeated emails to him were ignored.
This week, when I contacted them again, one of the staff volunteered to tell me that he won't comment on the issue.
"It's unfortunate we are no longer Goods Express and our boss will not be of help for anything related to the company in question. [For] any details required about that company kindly contact the lawyer in charge- Okello Oryem Alfred. He will provide you with [the] necessary information you require," the Bazebo staff wrote.
However, I had earlier tried contacting Okello Oryem even before having the conversation with Nada Andersen. Though, all my messages and calls have been ignored.
Yesterday [07/08/2018], I visited the law firms' offices in Ntinda twice. The receptionist requested that I leave my contact details behind and Okello would call me. That didn't happen. I tried calling him - twice - my calls were ignored.
This means I wasn't able to establish exactly how many people had their cash locked in the wallet or how many have been refunded. However, two other people I spoke to had already got their refunds but the process was either worse or the same as Nada's.
This particular incident should serve as a lesson to all startups when it comes to communication during times when everything seems to be falling apart.
However, in particular, it should serve as a critical lesson to those running or look to run e-wallets. We all want a cashless economy - because of its benefits - but such incidents will only push users further away from giving up their cash.