How Wish Built (and Fumbled) a Dollar Store for the Internet

Consumers have complained to the Better Business Bureau about Wish products that never arrived or were unrecognizable when they did. France, which was one of Wish’s largest markets, ordered search engines and mobile app stores last fall to remove the company from their online listings, citing the presence of dangerous appliances and other products. Merchants on Wish faced lawsuits from companies like Peanuts Worldwide, which owns characters from the popular comic strip, claiming trademark infringement and counterfeiting.

Female shoppers complained about being shown ads for products designed for male genitalia. Ads that showed an animated penis appeared on apps that could appeal to children, including a game called Crazy Cake Swap. Those ads drew scrutiny from British advertising regulators, as did ads promising unsubstantiated discounts of up to 98 percent for sneakers, as well as ads featuring a baby’s exposed bottom and a woman in a corset with her breasts partly revealed.

“It’s a strategy that’s more similar to spam than actually trying to hit a target market,” Mx. Grygiel said. (Wish said it was tightening its advertising controls, promoting products only from top-rated merchants and filtering out in appropriate ads.)

Still, Wish, which is run by a parent company called ContextLogic, did well early in the pandemic, as stay-at-home mandates stifled competition from physical retailers. But last year, as shoppers were venturing out more and becoming less engaged on Wish, digital advertising was also becoming more expensive, causing the company to scale back its spending. (It said it planned to pick up the pace this summer.)

Pressure also built internally at Wish for years.

Managers were constantly shifted around — like chess pieces, one employee said — which resulted in high turnover among workers fed up with the upheaval. Many employees complained that the company was not equipped to handle the orders that poured in early in the pandemic, and colleagues burned out under the intense stress and long hours.

Employees said their peers were often ignored or made to wait after raising concerns about quality control issues, such as the lack of standardized product sizing for merchants. Listings for weapons and other illegal products were often not removed, they said. Neither were many misleading listings, like one that appeared to offer a refrigerator for $1 but was actually selling the magnets shown in the photo of the appliance.

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