Here's what it's like to shop on Wish, the $8.7 billion site that sells Chinese goods at rock-bottom prices

Wish versus Amazon

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This is the first page shoppers see when logging on to Wish.com.

  • Wish is a platform that nearly exclusively sells goods produced in China for rock-bottom prices.
  • The company's CEO told Forbes earlier this month that he rebuffed possible acquisition interest from Amazon in 2016.
  • I shopped on Wish to see how it differs from its rivals.

For those used to purchasing on large online shopping websites, Wish can be a bit of an adjustment.

None of the merchandise looks particularly attractive, and the prices are rock-bottom. Some items are literally free and only require paying for shipping. It's like an online dollar store for buying things from online merchants in places like China.

Started in 2010 by CEO Peter Szulczewski, a former Google engineer, the site has grown to pull in $1.9 billion in sales, as of 2018, and was valued at $8.7 billion in its latest round of funding, according to Forbes.

Competitors have taken note of that success. Szulczewski told Forbes earlier this month that he rebuffed possible acquisition interest from Amazon in 2016. An Amazon spokesperson told the magazine that the company does not comment on speculation.

There are, of course, problems with this model. Wish doesn't sell anything directly, and some third-party merchants will end up switching out products with a cheaper model, or even send an empty package. Quality assurance is difficult, and wait times from order to receipt can be lengthy for customers. Negative reviews of Wish are spread far and wide across the internet.

I shopped on Wish to see what it's really like:

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Navigating to Wish.com, the experience started off like any other.

Navigating to Wish.com, the experience started off like any other.

While signing up or logging in, Wish treats you to a preview of the deals in store.

While signing up or logging in, Wish treats you to a preview of the deals in store.

Upon creating my account, I was assaulted by several pop-ups. The first told me there was an extra 10% off today for new members.

Upon creating my account, I was assaulted by several pop-ups. The first told me there was an extra 10% off today for new members.

The second informed me of a program that encouraged me to log on every day and collect a "stamp." If I get seven by April 21, I can earn up to 50% off.

The second informed me of a program that encouraged me to log on every day and collect a "stamp." If I get seven by April 21, I can earn up to 50% off.

Finally we got to the goods, and I was ... unimpressed. It's a mix of gaudy sweatshirts, ugly shoes, and thematic sunglasses.

Finally we got to the goods, and I was ... unimpressed. It's a mix of gaudy sweatshirts, ugly shoes, and thematic sunglasses.

Everything was absurdly ugly and absurdly cheap.

Everything was absurdly ugly and absurdly cheap.

Some steampunk-looking glasses caught my eye. They were only $8 and even promised UV protection.

Some steampunk-looking glasses caught my eye. They were only $8 and even promised UV protection.

There's an element of gamification in everything with Wish. If I added these sunglasses to my cart before this timer ran out, I could get an EVEN lower price!

There's an element of gamification in everything with Wish. If I added these sunglasses to my cart before this timer ran out, I could get an EVEN lower price!

I checked the reviews first. They seemed really good. Suspiciously good, in fact. I noticed a lot reviews using the same phrases and words.

I checked the reviews first. They seemed really good. Suspiciously good, in fact. I noticed a lot reviews using the same phrases and words.

I added the sunglasses to my cart anyway. They're only $8 after all. I was immediately faced with a 60-minute timer to check out. If I didn't do it by then, the price would rise.

I added the sunglasses to my cart anyway. They're only $8 after all. I was immediately faced with a 60-minute timer to check out. If I didn't do it by then, the price would rise.

I decided to humor this. I went to my cart to see the final price before checking out. Wish had added $2 for shipping, but with my extra discount of 40 cents, I was still under $10.

I decided to humor this. I went to my cart to see the final price before checking out. Wish had added $2 for shipping, but with my extra discount of 40 cents, I was still under $10.

I decided I'm not ready to check out yet. I wanted to see what else is out there.

I decided I'm not ready to check out yet. I wanted to see what else is out there.

Yeah, it was still not much. Some stretchy jeans, a flower-shaped mold for fried eggs, some more sunglasses, and an Apple Watch knockoff.

Yeah, it was still not much. Some stretchy jeans, a flower-shaped mold for fried eggs, some more sunglasses, and an Apple Watch knockoff.

I also decided to check out the other tabs on the site. One was "Blitz Buy," where I could spin a wheel to see an assortment of extra discounted items.

I also decided to check out the other tabs on the site. One was "Blitz Buy," where I could spin a wheel to see an assortment of extra discounted items.

I won! I think. I had "unlocked" 20 products.

I won! I think. I had "unlocked" 20 products.

There's a timer here, too. I only had 10 minutes to choose from these 20 items. The pressure!

There's a timer here, too. I only had 10 minutes to choose from these 20 items. The pressure!

But there's nothing here I want. This stuff looked exactly the same as the other page. It also didn't appear to be any cheaper.

But there's nothing here I want. This stuff looked exactly the same as the other page. It also didn't appear to be any cheaper.

The next tab offered a selection of products that offered what the site billed as faster shipping: five to seven days. This Lenovo laptop was one of the only name-brand products I found on the site.

The next tab offered a selection of products that offered what the site billed as faster shipping: five to seven days. This Lenovo laptop was one of the only name-brand products I found on the site.

I also saw an iPad on the site, which looked like it might be one of the first models Apple ever released. Something tells me Wish is not an authorized Apple seller.

I also saw an iPad on the site, which looked like it might be one of the first models Apple ever released. Something tells me Wish is not an authorized Apple seller.

Navigating back to the main page, I saw the sunglasses I still had in my cart. "Almost gone!" it said.

Navigating back to the main page, I saw the sunglasses I still had in my cart. "Almost gone!" it said.

Wish does have a buyer guarantee, but it remains to be seen how it honors it.

Wish does have a buyer guarantee, but it remains to be seen how it honors it.

The rest of the checkout process was pretty simple.

The rest of the checkout process was pretty simple.

Finally, I was finished.

Finally, I was finished.

One surprise, though. My order may not arrive until April 28 — more than a full month from now. Two-day shipping, it is not. Stay tuned for an update when and if I receive the glasses.

One surprise, though. My order may not arrive until April 28 — more than a full month from now. Two-day shipping, it is not. Stay tuned for an update when and if I receive the glasses.

The next day, I got an email that my order had been shipped, and it has been bouncing around China since then. My order's arrival date did not change.

The next day, I got an email that my order had been shipped, and it has been bouncing around China since then. My order's arrival date did not change.

Final thoughts:

Wish is far from the everything store. It takes a gimmicky approach to commerce, trying to make consumers feel special through psychological tricks. The products it sells also seem untested and suspect — cheap, but potentially not even worth the low prices they're being sold for.

To shop on the site is to experience a strangely persistent gamification, involving sifting through mountains of stuff to find something that may or may not appear as good as it did in the photos when it arrives in a month.

Still, the low prices and low shipping fees are a major draw. Shoppers do love low prices.


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