Top Wish Execs Share Plan for Winning Back Consumers, Beginning with ‘Wishmas’

Wish has a new CEO and new ambitions of returning to dominance.

When Wish debuted in 2010 it took the U.S. by storm, rising to the top of the app charts and garnering millions of fans, until consumers began to realize the cost of those ultra-low prices — long delivery times and often poor quality products. Now, 12 years later, the similarly meteoric rise of apps like Shein and Temu has proven there’s still demand for Wish’s original proposition. But as the OG value-shopping app tries to win back consumers, it has more than a few hurdles to overcome — not least of which is luring back lapsed consumers who now have new alternatives that don’t come with any negative history.

Wish has been in the midst of a massive turnaround effort for more than a year now, and in summer 2022, the app reintroduced itself to consumers with a rebrand and major marketing blitz. Now the platform is launching its first major sales event, dubbed “330” or “Wishmas.” From March 30 (3/30) to April 5, 2023, shoppers will have access to deals on thousands of products and free shipping on all orders over $10. And this is just the first of in a series of shopping events Wish has planned for 2023.

Joe Yan, CEO, Wish
Joe Yan, CEO, Wish

Central to Wish’s turnaround effort has also been a drawn-out reshuffling of its C-suite. Most recently, CEO Vijay Talwar was replaced just seven months into his tenure by Joe Yan, in an interim move that has now become a permanent appointment. As an operating partner at one of Wish’s longest-running investors, GGV Capital, Yan has long had an insider’s view of the business. Add to that his experience as a previous Wish executive, as well as his time spent at some of the biggest names in ecommerce and tech (Amazon, Alibaba, Google and Stripe, to name just a few) and he seems purpose-fit for the job.

Under Yan’s tenure the company has reduced shipping times dramatically and signed a new partnership with ShipSage to speed up U.S. deliveries even more; debuted a Deals Hub for merchants to help them increase their exposure on the platform; launched a pop-up shop in London in partnership with Klarna; introduced a new flat-rate shipping program to reduce customer friction; and ushered in the return of Wish to France after the app was delisted in that country in 2021 for product safety violations.

Vivian Liu, CFO and COO, Wish
Vivian Liu, CFO and COO, Wish

Vivian Liu, who has been key to many of these efforts, is bullish on Wish’s prospects in a fast-growing retail sector. A former CFO for Shutterfly and Lexmark, she joined as Wish’s CFO in November 2021 and added COO to her title in late 2022. “In cross-border ecommerce there’s a huge TAM [total addressable market] — it’s growing at double-digits,” said Liu. “You don’t have a lot of industries this size still growing so fast. So the opportunity is huge, and Wish has already been in the space for 12 years. We’ve built a lot of differentiation and strengths already, and we just need to continue building that strategy to serve the underserved successfully and really capture the max potential of this business.”

Yan and Liu sat down with Retail TouchPoints to detail how they plan to do that, including:

  • Leveraging its new tech-savvy leadership team;
  • Maintaining the same three transformation pillars that have guided the company’s turnaround thus far, but with an even sharper focus on execution;
  • Doubling down on its core differentiator — a fun, discovery-based ecommerce experience; and
  • Diversifying its merchant base, with a particular focus on local suppliers and products.

Retail TouchPoints: What’s your plan to bring Wish back to the forefront, especially with so many new competitors in the space now?

Joe Yan: Our strategic focus right now is to to keep improving the customer experience. Second, Vivian and her team are working very closely with our merchants globally to strengthen those relationships and continue improving the supplier quality. And thirdly, we need to continue to drive a more efficient operation, which includes logistics. These three key pillars won’t change, and then we plan to continue to differentiate ourselves from other platforms by using our personalization technology to give customers a more inspirational shopping experience.

Compared to one or two years ago, customers definitely have a very different shipping experience on Wish — time to door has decreased significantly, especially in the top markets. Now time-to-door is, on average, 15 days, and we also recently rolled out a flat-rate shipping program that really reduces a lot of friction.

Vivian Liu: I also think Wish has always had a differentiation compared to for instance, Amazon, because we are browsing based. When you go to Amazon, you pretty much know what you want to buy and just search for it. With Wish people spend more time browsing because it’s really fun to look at the app and the products we offer. A lot of people have no clear intention of what they want to buy when they first come to the app, and we are mobile-first, so [those two things] from day one have been a very clear differentiation for Wish.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to the fundamentals of shopping. You want competitive pricing, good quality products and a seamless shopping experience — that’s what we’ve been focusing on in the past 18 months and will continue to focus on going forward. The [product] quality in the past was not meeting expectations and shipping was too slow — it used to take four or five weeks for products to arrive. That has drastically changed in the past 18 months, and people are giving us overwhelmingly positive feedback in how the shipping is more predictable and timely. The product quality and the listing quality has also drastically improved and that is reflected in our refund and order cancellation rates, where we have seen a drastic reduction from a year-on-year standpoint. When people don’t ask for refunds, when they don’t cancel orders anymore, that tells us that we’re on the right track.

RTP: It doesn’t sound like the turnaround strategy has changed that much from that of the previous CEO — how does your approach differ from his?

Yan: As with any business, execution is the key. For example, we recently appointed a Chief Product Officer. Previously, we had two separate product officers, one focusing on the front-end consumer product and another focusing more on the backend, [handling] merchants and logistics. It makes sense to have a dedicated effort and focus in some areas, but we found that because of the nature of ecommerce this is something you cannot do in a siloed way — you need to combine the front end and the backend. That’s why we’ve consolidated our product organization so we can have better alignment and collaboration across the product function, and also so the product team can be an enabler and work closely with other functions, including the operations team led by Vivian.

Liu: Among our new goals, we always want to bring people back organically. In the past, we have spent a lot on digital ads on Google and Facebook, re-engaging our buyers and bringing them back, but that’s very, very expensive. We want Wish to have a place in people’s mind, so when they think about XYZ they think of us because they like the experience and they come back on their own.

A big part of that is user trust, and we have done a lot in building that trust, but how we take that to the next level is tied to the next 12 to 18 months. Our customer NPS score clearly reflects the improvements we’ve made on the supply side — it has doubled since we launched the turnaround — but there’s more to be done. So this year, the focus on the supply side will be very much about the product quality itself. We want to bring the best-quality products at a very competitive price to our buyers and that’s the reason we have established a category management function, which didn’t exist a year ago. A merchandising function also didn’t exist. Those two new functions were created to make sure we have the best quality in the most strategic categories and to make sure that we connect with our shoppers more directly with merchandising and promotions to bring them back more organically.

Yan: Exactly. When people come to Wish, they want to buy the good stuff — that’s the only way you can really substantially drive organic user growth and that’s why we keep reinforcing the importance of quality on the supply side. We believe that if we continue to drive the supply-side quality improvement, they will satisfy our customer and they will keep coming back.

Performance ads have played a big role in Wish’s user growth over the past few years, and they will still play a role, but we want to see how we can drive more efficiency. That includes [looking at] other paid marketing channels in addition to Meta and Google. And in unpaid channels we still have room to improve, for example, email notifications, incentives, rewards and merchandising. We believe those things, combined together with [our other efforts] will help us build a flywheel [that will lead to] unit economic improvement and operational efficiency improvement.

Liu: If you look at the past four months cumulatively, the Wish app has had 1 billion downloads globally, so there’s a huge customer base and a lot of [lapsed users] have returned already. This is where the execution really matters. We know that email notification should be a big part of the unpaid user growth strategy for us, but when we look at what we have done in email [in the past], there is a lot more to be done. Under our new Chief Product Officer that will really ramp up, finding many different ways of re-engaging turned users and bringing them back.

RTP: But paid marketing will certainly play some part in that effort to bring back lapsed users, right?

Yan: Definitely. We are developing new channels to see how [we can get the word out] and drive more customer awareness. Last year, we did our rebranding campaign and this year, we have a robust branding campaign in place to tell customers what’s new to Wish and that we are changing a lot of things. One example is the 330 Wishmas sales event this week. We have over 500,000 discounted offers, so it’s a very big event. This is the kind of the thing that will create some of those synergies between the internal product improvement and marketing.

RTP: You mentioned Amazon earlier, but your real competition now, which didn’t exist 12 years ago, is other platforms very similar to Wish, like Shein and Temu. How are you differentiating yourself from them?

Yan: We have been doing a lot of work around our value propositions — affordability, discovery and personalization — and we believe these continue to be our biggest differentiators compared to other platforms. Most of the other ecommerce marketplaces, even today, are still pretty much search-driven. From day one when Wish was founded, we insisted on providing a personalized, discovery-based experience and giving customers a more entertaining, fun shopping experience.

We also have a first-mover advantage here. As a global company that is U.S. headquartered, we already have a lot of merchants globally. Compared to 10 years ago, the global supply chain landscape has changed a lot. Now we not only have our merchants from China and Asia, we also have a large base of merchants from Europe and the U.S. as well. We’ve also been operating in 60 countries for many years, so we have a much broader user base across the world than [these newer platforms].

Liu: We want to create an identity for Wish so that when people think about this concept [of discovery-based, fun shopping] they think of Wish — that’s the ultimate goal. Also, Shein is Gen Z, that’s very clear. Our demographic group skews more toward Gen X and millennials, so a little more on the mature side and [more closely aligned with] ‘Home and Life,’ which is what we want to be known for. We’ve started that journey already, building out our collections and merchandising. It’s about pleasure in life, which ties back to the fun shopping experiences that Wish has been known for for many years.

Also, as Joe mentioned, we have a very large product selection. Temu has a very different supply model — they have a lot more direct control over the supply and they hand-select what they want to sell on the platform. Every model has its pros and cons, but that model is more difficult to scale. We’re 3P, meaning Wish is an open platform for merchants. We are invite-only, we only select and invite good merchants to the platform, but we don’t necessarily pick what they can or cannot sell.

RTP: Can you tell me more about the new partnership with Baselinker in Europe — is this a move to expand your pool of merchants beyond China? 

Liu: We actually have a global merchant base, more than most people realize. Besides China, Europe is actually our largest merchant base, and then the U.S. And we also recently expanded into Vietnam as a long-term complement to the merchandise from China.

Our goal longer-term is to make it even more diverse, particularly for the U.S. and European markets. The customer behaviors and preferences [in those markets] are very different compared to the rest of the world, and we need a much more localized supply strategy there. Cross-border is our DNA, that’s how we started and that will continue to be very important, but we plan to build a differentiated supply strategy for all our major markets that will include local merchandise.