Home Health Rise and decline of Wish. History of the ecommerce of chicken helmets and other frivolities

Rise and decline of Wish. History of the ecommerce of chicken helmets and other frivolities

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Rise and decline of Wish.  History of the ecommerce of chicken helmets and other frivolities

There was a time in our digital life when, in every feed of Facebook, at one point it was quite common to see advertisements for at least singular objects. A sandwich-shaped pillow, a chicken helmet, a head of Matt Damon: there was no item that could not be sponsored and sold by Wish. And it worked, so much so that the US newspaper Vox called the company “the next potential Walmart.”

The imperfect is a must because the fortunes of the company founded in 2013 by Peter Szulczewski they seem to have stopped. The company is back from a difficult last year, which saw a drop in users from 101 to 24 million and a 76% drop in revenues. Numbers that have significantly lowered the value of the shares, down to $ 2 from 24 in 2020.

What happened? To understand this, it can be useful to take a step back and tell the story of a real legend – a sort of living meme – of our last years of digital life.

Wish’s recipe: algorithms and online advertising

Interesting stories don’t always start with a specific project. In 2010, Peter Szulczewski is a former Google engineer who, together with former Yahoo Danny Zhang, founded a company called ContextLogic.

The startup starts with an ambitious goal, for those years: to develop a system of artificial intelligence able to suggest news and tweets to users based on their interests. Szulczewski and Zhang see, in particular, an interesting space in the online advertising. The idea is to use deep learning to help advertisers figure out which product to show to which people. In short, how to customize ads.

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How the idea of ​​Wish was born

And it is with this goal in mind that Wish was born in 2013, an app designed to suggest shopping ideas to potentially interested users. A kind of Pinterest, where to save the products and receive purchase advice. At the base there is an important intuition: in a context in which the information available to people is in fact infinite, systems are needed that can suggest them the most interesting items to buy.

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In fact, the idea works. What doesn’t work is the business model, which is based on a commission on sales brought by Wish to the retailers of the items that are on the app. This is what leads Szulczewski and Zhang to imagine the internalization of the process: the app must also become an e-commerce platform. The two begin contacting a number of unbranded retailers, the ones that produce and distribute cheap items from electronics to gadgets, and begin offering them the chance to sell their products on the app.

What happens next is quite well known: Wish is gaining more and more popularity. The recipe for success has a lot to do with the beginning of this story, with ContextLogic’s first insights. The application spends $ 1 billion on advertising on social networks and uses a system that can select the most suitable articles based on the user who sees the ad.

The algorithm it doesn’t always work well, to be clear. But this attempt to match categories of interest to a huge range of products, coming from vendors not always verified, generates attention, ironies and pages of memes dedicated to the most absurd items. In short, Wish becomes a brand with an extremely strong identity, for better or for worse.

The problems: from delays to product quality

However, identity and recognition are not always enough for a digital company. Over the years, Wish has accumulated a number of complaints for products that have never arrived, other than ordered, flawed. Delivery delays have always been a problem, but supply problems caused by the pandemic are making the situation increasingly difficult to sustain.


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France, one of the platform’s main markets, even orders to remove the application from mobile stores and search engines, thanks to a series of products – toys, in particular – sold on the platform that do not comply with European regulations. At the same time, some of the sellers on the platform come accused of fraud in the sale of products clearly inspired by recognizable brands. After all, the company does not make any checks: it is a simple intermediary between the user and the final seller.

Along with this, it changes the face of online advertising. Profiling, thanks also to Apple’s moves, becomes more difficult and reaching many people with advertising is increasingly expensive. In short, that model based almost on spam no longer works: it no longer attracts people’s attention and does not meet their expectations.

So we come to today and the sales and reputation crisis. Currently, the platform is led by Vijay Talwar, a former Footlocker and Nike, who took over from founder Peter Szulczewski. The company is working on a product verification system: in the intentions of the company, sellers will have to be evaluated based on user reviews and rewarded in case of better performance.

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