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Wish – a case study in eCommerce User eXperience (UX) for half-a-billion people

You know that popular saying: Why is the app called the Wish?

Because you wish you didn’t buy that.

But is this really true? How come this app got more than 500 million users across the world if it’s THAT bad.

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The main question arises – Why is it so popular and what can we learn from it?

The story of Wish

Wish is an ultra bargain eCommerce marketplace – filled with no-name products shipped directly from Chinese merchants (200,000 of them!).  It’s a pretty good ratio – big enough product selection to attract customers, but not too overcrowded to eliminate competitiveness. The company takes a 15 % cut of each sale and, to a lesser extent, collects fees from sellers in exchange for promoting their products. 

Wish was the most-downloaded shopping app in the world in 2019, and the fourth-largest online marketplace in the U.S. by sales. It markets around three million items each day — with roughly a third of its order volume coming from the U.S. As a result, the company was valued at over $11 billion after its last funding round in 2019, getting Szulczewski, a net worth of $1.8 billion. Plus, there are more than 90 million Wish enthusiasts that use it at least once a month. 

Prices cut to the bone

Open the shopping app Wish and pick – from 2 meters long Christmas air-blown decorations, across glow-in-the-dark earrings to a few dozen varieties of kitchen sponge holders, for a price of a penny you can make all of your wishes come true. Rock-bottom prices were the distinction that has made Wish the no.1 shopping app in 42 different countries.

Its customized homepage makes it easy for customers to navigate, browse, and buy from a wide range of products without becoming frustrated or bored. The key is in browsing technologies that visually personalize shopping for each individual rather than relying on a search bar format. It’s all in favor of its business model – the focus on the price. The company does not even bother to dive into additional services like offering next-day delivery. Wish was built to provide inexpensive, direct-to-consumer products at the lowest possible price and that’s the formula they’re sticking with. 

Wish is not directly involved in any transaction that takes place between both parties. It means sellers are accountable for delivering eCommerce services to the clients. Moreover, it doesn’t have any control over the items listed in the app, which can be rather risky at times. Products are usually smaller items that are cheaper to ship, aided by an agreement between China Post and the U.S. Postal Service which lowers costs of shipping for goods weighing less than 2kg. Wish offers Express Shipping in 5 days, as well as standard shipping that takes 2-3 weeks, for customers who prioritize savings over the speed of delivery. However, shipping ranges from 11 days to 22 days for many items, which means it can take a month to get your item. The slow shipping, therefore, is one of the main Wish`s disadvantages. 

What makes it stand out?

Wish encourages shoppers’ activity on the platform in various ways. More than 10 million users place 2 + million orders per day, with the average customer spending at least 20 minutes on the app daily. Most users discovered the app in its early years through Facebook and Instagram, where it still regularly ranks among the platforms’ top advertisers. It uses a combination of psychological tactics to generate clicks, engagement and sales. For example, the shopping feed displays no product titles, which intrigues a shopper’s curiosity and entices them to click listings and find out more. They also target impulsive buyers, Wish`s marketing tactics are pretty much based on a “now or never” strategy – their often odd items are not made to sleep on. 

How do their tricks get them more clicks?

Wish-list shopping feed

Shoppers that download the Wish app or visit the website can scroll shopping feed that is personalized to each user’s browsing and buying behavior. That customized feed is highly engaging and addictive for users, and at the same time makes it easy for sellers to get their products in front of new audiences. It is exclusively focused on visual browsing without additional context like brand name, item name and a brief description of the product which is its distinctiveness.

Mobile first functionality

Much of Wish’s success is down to its mobile-first functionality. Mobile commerce is growing at a rate 3 x faster  than desktop one. Wish’s developers took inspiration from the engagement generated by Instagram’s infinite feed and Facebook’s mobile games to make it highly-addictive and useful on-the-go. Mobile-first is a logical priority because it’s particularly popular among younger audiences, 60% of Wish customers are Millennials and Gen Z. However, they make an intuitive shopping feed platform relevant and engaging for all ages.


Wish committedly uses one of the useful eCommerce marketing tactics – gamification. It`s wheel of fortune-style game, Blitz Buy, integrates a layer of gamification to offer consumers additional discounts on top-selling items. It appeals to a shopper’s competitive streak and drives conversions when they win. When users open an app, they usually feel rewarded for it one way or another.

Secret discounts create intrigue and convince shoppers to add more items to their basket to unlock deals – at which point they’re more likely to convert to take advantage. That makes using a Wish app more than shopping, it becomes an experience. 


If you download the Wish app, you will not simply put it off your mind. Wish sends you a couple of notifications a day when it reminds you of their discounts and the latest items you viewed. Notifications are usually very tempting so chances are you will re-open the app to check out the details. In addition to the regular savings, there are also daily and hourly deals and you can count on being notified of them too. 

However, that is far from the preferred (and correct) way to make a connection with the customers. Notifications can become a huge turning point in your user`s sympathy and using them as a tool for overwhelming, if not “harassing” potential buyers is never, ever a good idea. And will surely backfire sooner or later. Turning the notifications off will get the business incomparable further. That way you are showing respect for your customers by practicing what you preach – and your eCommerce will find huge benefits from it.


Wish receives 500,000 reviews per day – far more than Amazon and eBay. These reviews help users establish trust and overcome fears about buying from the marketplace, making them more likely to convert and return. Shipping times and selection are still varied based on what you are looking for, but there are more Wish app reviews that can help you get a good deal and avoid bad purchases. The stars indicating the reviews is a hidden signifier that affords to link to more reviews. Upon clicking on the icon, the user is redirected to a page with more reviews and filters. The only issue is that sometimes users aren’t seeing the reviews they want to see on the product review page. 

Exclusive Filter Options

Wish spoils consumers with numerous useful filters to search out the most suitable products Customers can select the products from a particular category and apply the filters of color, product rating, and tags. 

Free items  

There is a special section on the Wish app where you can choose from a wide variety of free items and only pay shipping. It looks very appealing and out-of-ordinary for many customers.

No account – no browsing

Until you register you cannot see any of the deals, so you’ll need to sign up to figure out if you’re interested in buying a thing or two. Unlike many other eCommerce apps, you cannot even browse without an account.


Onboarding UX is the design of a flow that gives the user a guided introduction to the product, sets up some initial preferences, or points out critical UI elements in an interface. That’s precisely what Wish uses on its app. Some of the other onboarding examples are Pinterest board and Apple Music. Also, it’s a designed series of interactions and instructions that help the user dive easily into the product’s experience. It is simple as a greeting or as complex as a series of guided tasks that users have to complete.

Image icons

Each product contains many images and the image icon is the main identifier of the product because it often lacks the real description. Images are one of the most important parts of Wish` identity because they are considered a user`s “hook”.


The Wish has deep navigation that is 4, 5 or even 6 levels below the app’s home screen. However, that sometimes increases the time needed to get a task done which impatient mobile users can see as a flaw. 

So what’s the difference between Wish and other China based global eCommerce?

Does this whole Wish story remind you of AliExpress, their big competitor?

AliExpress and Wish are both big, well-known, and relatively safe platforms with tons of loyal customers. They’re more reliable than DHgate, for instance, which is, basically, Chinese eBay. They don’t get that many negative reviews as well, and their customer base has been steadily increasing within the past years.

AliExpress belongs to Alibaba Group, a Chinese company, and has become popular with American and European clients relatively recently. Wish, however, is closer to eBay in that aspect. The company’s HQ is located in the USA, and they are mostly focused on American and European users. However, that doesn’t seem to stop them from providing their visitors with products from the Chinese factories. AliExpress and Wish work with, more or less, the same manufacturers, meaning that you’ll see no drastic difference in the quality of products.

The AliExpress commission rate is only 0.05, meaning that the seller has to pay only 5% for each transaction. The Wish app charges a 10% commission for every purchase, which is twice as much. Some sellers are also present at both platforms at the same time and are of the opinion that the one who has to pay for the higher commission is the buyer.

WooCommerce made its own twist on it with Product Vendors and its freedom to define vendors. It makes the commission either 0 or X depending on the store owner agreement with his sellers. It also allows vendors to manage their own products and commissions can only be assigned once the order is completed.

Major eCommerce platforms vs. Chinese sellers

Major U.S eCommerce platforms like eBay and Amazon were getting a lot of backlash after introducing Chinese sellers to its platform. Some accusations have gone as far as to claim that Chinese sellers have ruined eBay.

On the official eBay community page, this is one of the many posts that warns about Chinese sellers:

“Buyers beware – they use the bait and switch with the pictures they post compared to what they ship out and then they string you along with false promises of a refund until you pass the buyer protection deadlines. If you are smart, do not buy from any China sellers.”

However, it also suggests that eBay couldn`t be of much help.

So what’s that all about?

China knows how to play an eCommerce game. The two largest sites in China, and are proud of its $67 billion and $40 billion in revenue. Combined, it is over 40% more than Amazon’s one. When you throw in China’s rich manufacturing background, it’s not a surprise that the ambition of selling on major eCommerce platforms is very common. 

That itself is not an issue, however, selling strategies being used by some Chinese sellers are. Even more, if you consider that Amazon announced that third-party sellers make up 58% of all of Amazon’s sales. Some of the methods include fake reviews, counterfeit products, sabotaging competitors’ product listings, and even stealing internal Amazon data. Many Chinese sellers operate secure and top of the notch eBay businesses but there are also quite a lot of them who invariably try to skirt around the rules giving all Chinese sellers a bad name. 

There are, of course, sellers of all kinds of nationalities that can employ questionable selling tactics. it’s more of a bad reputation that makes a frown on most users’ faces. 

Therefore, the Wish app can raise suspicion from the very start simply because it is known there are Chinese sellers behind it. Is it simply a generalization or truth, that incident can explain why some shoppers are put back without actually trying the Wish app?

The other side of the medal

The catch is that Wish shopping still has some risks. While the company is legit, its merchandise may not be. For example, the $15 AirPods on the app are very likely not manufactured by Apple. It’s hard to know if the products are genuine until you order and receive them. However, you’re not going to find major companies selling on Wish. 

Another thing that stands out is unrealistic enormous discounts for basic products, for example; everyday items with their original price of 200 $ going 95% discount to come to its regular price. It confuses users and can make them feel rather cheated. 

Wish has also been criticized for listing poor-quality goods, a common concern among major eCommerce sites that feature independent sellers. Plus, customers have complained about the lack of communication from sellers and quality. Therefore, To make it right, Wish organized a community of about 10,000 Wish users to expose unsatisfactory dealers in exchange for free goods and discounts. 

All in all, Wish is a fun ride that generally has some perks. It allows people from every continent and socio-economic status to connect through eCommerce which is a bonus in itself. However, this case study has directed attention to their questionable UX tactics we can`t get on board with. And the Wish app is no exception. Many eCommerce platforms use this kind of “grey area” practice in thirst for income. For a credible brand, legitimate and well-founded strategies are the only way to get a trustworthy environment. Good examples are natural, legit user reviews Wish uses to confirm the quality of the products and increase trust in its brand and sellers. Implementing more similar methods would make a difference in the overall perspective of this eCommerce platform. 

Want to make the best of your eCommerce? Let us help you!

Tena Gašparac
Tena Gašparac Copywriter and Content Maker

Into art and theatre, Tena brings that classical mindset into the ever evolving modern tech ecosystem

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