March 2021 | by Lili & Felix
The coronavirus hasn’t been kind to most industries. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, businesses small and large had to find new ways to adapt. Some, due to their nature, industry, or even sheer luck, managed that better than others.
Restaurants, however, are definitely amongst the hardest-hid businesses of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a study conducted in over 80 countries, restaurants have lost around 53% of their clients since the start of the pandemic. In March and April of 2020, when the COVID-19 restrictions first came into effect, that number reached the lowest possible figure: 100%.
Considering how fast COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions hit the world, it’s no surprise that restaurants (and everybody else) was caught unprepared. Restaurants are by nature geared towards hosting people on their premises. While even in pre-corona times many restaurants used to offer take-out or delivery, the amount of this compared to in-house dining is usually very low.
When restaurant owners realized that the pandemic and its restrictions were here to stay, they looked for a solution that could tie them over until they were able to fully reopen again. Offering take-out and delivery seemed like a natural solution.
However, not many restaurants are equipped to deal with deliveries on such a massive scale. After all, a big part of the whole client experience of eating out, is in fact, eating out. But since clients may not want to trek to the other part of town to simply pick up their food and scurry back home before it gets cold, restaurants had to find a quick fix to the delivery problem.
And this is where Lieferando came in.
Lieferando is the brand name Just Eat Takeaway uses in Germany and Austria. Founded in 2000, Just Eat Takeaway is a Dutch-Danish food-delivery company currently active in 23 countries in the world.
As an online marketplace for food and drinks, Just Eat Takeaway connects restaurants and customers, facilitating ordering, payments, and even delivery. According to their website, Just Eat Takeaway uses a hybrid business model. This lets restaurants that have the capacities deliver their food themselves, while taking care of delivery for those restaurants that are unable to do so. It’s supposed to be a win-win-win situation for restaurants, customers, and Just Eat Takeaway as well.
Just Eat Takeaway has been one of the winners of the pandemic. While it was definitely a popular company in even pre-corona times, the restrictions forced people who regularly ate out to order delivery from their favourite restaurants. And this is exactly the opportunity Just Eat Takeaway needed.
According to the publicly listed company’s latest report, their orders in 2020 expanded by 42%, while their delivery orders grew by 107%. And their revenue? By 54%.
Notice the distinction between orders and delivery orders? We’ll come back to that later.
Just Eat Takeaway is dominant in many markets to the point that authorities have started investigations due to claims of diminished competition and monopoly. In Germany alone, Just Eat Takeaway has bought up four rival companies between 2014 and 2019, including foodora.de and pizza.de, and rebranded them as Lieferando.
But being big is not the sole problem. In fact, it seems that Lieferando wants to be even bigger, and doesn’t shy away from shady methods to reach its goal.
Technically, Lieferando gets paid in two cases. If the company’s driver delivers the food, Lieferando gets 30% of the price. This is what the financial report refers to as “delivery orders.”
In the second case, if the order comes through Lieferando but it’s a take-away or the restaurant’s own driver delivers the food, Lieferando gets 13%. This latter is called “orders”, and as we’ve seen from the report, they’re on the rise as well.
But why? In case of take-aways and restaurant-based deliveries, why are the orders coming through Lieferando and not the restaurants’ own websites?
Illustration for question: are the websites supposedly belonging to the restaurant actually created by Lieferando
Well, it could be because the restaurants’ own websites are increasingly hard to find, thanks to the shadow websites built by Lieferando. As the German broadcasting company Bayerischer Rundfunk with data provided by our partner DomainTools uncovered, Lieferando and its parent company created over 120.000 SEO-optimized websites all over Europe that mirror restaurants’ websites. Take a look at the examples below.
When searching for “pizza döner store” in Germany, Google first lists Lieferando, then a website that may or may not be the restaurant’s original site.
Screenshot: google search results for "pizza doener store".
Once you click on the link of the “restaurant” website, you see the little icon of Lieferando on the left, which means that you have indeed landed on a shadow website created by the food delivery giant.
Screenshot of website created by Lieferando for pizza and doener store restaurant. Icon from Lieferando on google search console and reference "powered by Lieferando"
The physical address listed under ‘contact’, however, belongs to the restaurant itself.
Screenshot: physical adress of pizza and doener store under "Kontakt" on Lieferando owend website
Different restaurant, same MO.
Screenshot of website created by Lieferando for doener pizza company restaurant. Icon from Lieferando on google search console and reference "powered by Lieferando"
A website that looks like it belongs to the restaurant itself when, in fact, it leads back to Lieferando.
Screenshot: physical adress of doener pizza company under "Kontakt" on Lieferando owend website
A customer at first glance wouldn’t be able to tell that they hadn’t landed on the restaurant’s real website. When they place their order, it goes through Lieferando, and even if they pick up their order themselves, the restaurant still has to hand over 13% to Lieferando.
This can be considered an unfair practice, because Lieferando has more resources and skills at hand to develop SEO-optimized websites that are favoured by Google, thus diminishing restaurants’ own web presence and opportunities to generate revenue. For an industry already on its knees and bearing the heavy burden of the pandemic, the results could be catastrophic.
When Bayerische Rundfunk asked the company, Lieferando claimed the shadow websites were an additional service to help restaurants that may not have their own websites. Which is fine, as long as restaurants that don’t need this service are able to opt out of it easily. Or even learn about it in the first place.
Our partner, DomainTools, was delivering data to the investigation uncovering Lieferando’s scheme. Bayerischer Rundfunk approached them with the case after a few shadow websites were discovered. DomainTools’ databases were used to find out if there were any others.
Using software tools PhishEye and Iris with searchable domain databases, DomainTools quickly revealed the scale of the scheme. Without tools like these, finding over 120.000 websites would have been considerably harder, if not downright impossible.
"I love working with PhishEye and Iris. These tools help us discover the owners behind domains, how many other domains they operate, how long they’ve been violating brands’ rights, and much more. Together with our other tools, PhishEye and Iris make our work much more effective."
Thanks to the investigation and the resulting media attention, customers (and restaurants!) are now aware of the issue. This allows them to help their favourite restaurants by ordering from them directly.
However, the issue is very complicated. Smaller restaurants especially have a hard time with allocating resources to marketing, which is why they’re quite dependent on Lieferando’s services. Even the creation and maintenance of websites.
It would be highly desirable to find a solution for coexistence that leaves restaurants breathing space while Lieferando gets its profit as well. After all, none could exist without the other, especially in pandemic times.
Lieferando’s example shows how easy it is to register a domain in basically any name, and how much damage this can do to brands. Short of taking the exact same domain, any variation works as long as it manages to convince customers that they have landed on the brand’s website. Yourwebsite.com or your-website.com? A tiny change, and what a huge difference.
As online brand protection experts, we at globaleyez know exactly how important it is to protect your domain. Registering a similar domain name and stealing your brand image takes little time and effort for counterfeiters or other malevolent actors. This is why we developed our domain monitoring service.
We continuously check whether new domain registrations involve your brand name. We can distinguish between harmless and malevolent actors, like a fan page dedicated to your products and the site of a counterfeiter aimed at ripping you off. Once we have all the data, we can help you enforce your rights and demand the takedown of the fraudulent domain.
Our experience, infrastructure, and industry-wide partnerships allow us to act fast and efficiently.
"The long-time partnership with DomainTools brings together their extremely rich set of domain data and analysis tools with our proven expertise to defend our clients requirements in the international domain space, including background checks and takedown of infringing domains."
The next steps in the Lieferando saga remain to be seen. Currently, cartel law experts in various countries, Germany included, continue to monitor Lieferando’s activities to determine whether anti-cartel legislation applies in their case. Whatever they decide, restaurants will most likely have a tough time to draw customers to their own sites and avoid giving a percentage of their earnings to Lieferando.
One thing is clear, though. Fraudsters and other dishonest actors don’t only aim at large, globally known brands. Any and every business may be a target. This means that online brand protection is not a luxury. In fact, it’s a necessity for businesses that don’t want to fall victim to counterfeiting, copyright infringement, and all the other dangers online marketplaces present today.