Last year, a friend of mine showed me a new shopping app: Wish. I couldn’t believe what I saw, most of the items on the app were free! As soon as I had turned the app on, I was immediately bombarded with inflatable bananas, plastic picnic boxes and even some fake flowers — all for free!
Unfortunately, lunch with my friend was going to have to be paid for.
“Have you already ordered something?” I asked, looking at the menu.
“Yes, it’s great, I gave my kitchen a makeover with it!” she said, thinking that I was talking about her insinuating app. She then proceeded to list all the free items she had acquired from Wish, although, I have to say the lunch menu remained more appealing to me.
Wish claims to have 100m users on the platform. They’re there because you can buy pretty much anything you want for knockdown prices. Since I started dabbling on it, I have bought an orange loo seat (1 euro, postage and packaging 7 euros), a hat with a bird on the top (free, postage and packaging 7 euros) and Postman Pat's black and white cat (1 euro with 4 euros P & P). I don't regret these purchases — I'm particularly smitten with the orange loo seat which is a talking point for all our guests but I do feel a slight twang of guilt and resentment each time I log onto Wish. Who are they to charge me 99 cents for a pink panda? Why didn't I think of an app that is printing money on autopilot?!
If the job of a marketing department is to make the customer want items that they don’t need or want, then the marketing guys at Wish have a thing or two to teach us. That’s why I sent in one of my top undercover agents to reveal the secrets that have customers pressing ‘buy’ before they even know what they’re doing. Secret agent, Gerry was tasked with infiltrating the Wish inner sanctum of Marketing deviousness: he was to attend the initiation given to new marketing employees. This is the report that he came back with…
Barry’s bootcamp: Everything tastes better when it is free
Gerry reporting here. Special agent for Solene on task to find the inner workings of the world’s most addictive new app.
Monday 8.59 a.m. I arrived at Wish HQ. There’s no sign outside saying Wish but I had infiltrated the organization and was on my way to my initiation as a new Marketing Agent.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived for ‘Wish Marketing: making stupid people buy sh*t they don´t need or want’ was the balloons tied to each chair and the gifts under them. The balloon was marked ´Take me, I’m yours’ whilst under the seat were a range of some of the oh so tempting items currently on offer on the homepage: plastic iPhone covers, drill bits, pet bath gloves. That will help next Christmas…
What's the difference between you and the customer? began a booming Barry, our new Marketing guru. There's an awkward silence which you would expect for the first morning of a course amongst total strangers.
"The customer has to pay postage and packaging!” Barry obviously finds this hilarious, he's bent over and barely able to communicate in decipherable speech. It is, however, a strategy that lures in hordes of customers, all after a bargain, for whom the words “Just pay shipping” does little to dampen their thirst for freebies and deals. I think I’ve just learn my first secret from Wish…
”Let's have some fun!” declares Barry. Oh god, what next? Barry pulls into the room eight bin liners of assorted gear from the app. “You've got two minutes — the person to look like the biggest jerk, wins a sticker!” Prick — too rude?
Aaron is pulling on some bright yellow tights with a large Dennis the Menace emblem; Claudia is pulling on a balaclava and sniper gear, Jane is pulling on a PVC Batman outfit but Dave ends up getting the prize for exposing far more than he should do for a nearly retired man wearing a naughty schoolgirl outfit.
"That's the spirit!" bellows Barry, “Keep it fun and they'll be back again and again and again.”
Back in the office, I thank my lucky stars for having such an agent as Gerry. I wonder how he survived his time at Barry’s Bootcamp? I turn to the app once again and try and work out what all the fun is about. There are items such as socks printed with “bring me a beer if you see this”; small banana models holding their manhoods; fake versions of implausible plants. It’s the online IKEA model: you go in with the intention of buying a lampshade and a bed, but you’re made to look at 1000’s of other items and you end up buying cement and halogen heaters because you’re made to feel that without it, your house is not the perfect house.
With Wish, the emotional selling point is not perfection it’s more about being the world’s funniest person. Of course, your dinner party is going to be dull unless you buy…a mermaid glass set and/or karma sutra charades. Being there is a journey, it becomes a game. You try to collect stickers to get discounts, you turn a wheel to see if you can get free items. Gamification has been proven to work really well.
Gamification is certainly one of the reasons behind Tinder’s success — the simple process of swipe left or swipe right is not far removed from a game like Tetris where different sized objects have to be put in the correct configuration in a race against time. Gamification creates an emotional connection with the customer. The addictive nature of these apps comes from the participation — you actually have something to do! The mission in Wish is to find the best bargain in those two minutes before you get off the metro. However, just as in Tinder, appearances can be deceiving as I am well aware from the quantity of erroneous purchases that are gathering dust in the garage.
Impulse buying — Create FOMO
Back at Wish HQ — 10:45
Gerry here. I’ve been in the seminar room for nearly an hour and a half listening to Barry. The effects of my morning coffee are definitely wearing thin. Barry’s relentlessness stirs me once more from my daydreams of The Great Escape…The music from some coffee advert starts playing, a trolley with the enticing smelling aromas is wheeled into the seminar room. I feel like I want to dive into the cauldron of velvety coffee.
"Not so fast,"says Barry, pushing me back to my seat. "This coffee is only available if you sign up to my Platinum edition mentorship scheme. Who’s a member here?"
I curse myself for not subscribing to Barry’s extortionate service.
"What I’m doing, Gerry is teaching you a lesson. We humans are emotional animals — we hate missing out on things, we always want what other people have got. Look at Nathan there, drinking his rich coffee. All this is, guys, is FOMO."
He looks at us like we should definitely know what FOMO stands for.
"For those of those of you who don’t know: Fear of Missing Out. Use it and wreak havoc!"
I press pause on Gerry’s recording — I’m so glad I didn’t go there myself — and look again at the app. “Almost gone” appears on many pictures, making you rush into buying items you didn’t know the existence of the day before. A sense of panic washes over you and within a couple of clicks, you have bought an item that you definitely didn’t need. Wish also masters coupons and discounts with items with imminent expiry dates. Spin a wheel to see what you have won, use codes to get discounts.
Spin, shop, save. Save? How am I saving? The app never misses an opportunity to offer you something. But, the range of actions that makes you stay on the app is all designed around the timer. Salespeople all agree that closing a deal fast is the best way to win it: Wish embraces that. Barry did too — he’s got three new subscribers.
Reminders lead to retention
After a long enough break to seriously think of running away from Barry and his impressionable young tribe, I force myself to return for more. Before long he has us chanting the Wish central precept: ‘Reminders lead to retention. Reminders lead to retention.’ Barry calls up onto the stage a volunteer. Maybe hypnosis — embarrassing/humorous moment.
Whilst Wish does not use hypnotism, it does send you two or three emails per day to tempt you with an array of impressive discounts. They pick things “just for you”. They aggressively use Facebook ads, from your wall to your messenger feed. One of the big struggles of marketers is not only to acquire customers but to retain them. From what I’ve seen, Wish does this by: offering a personalized experience. For example, if I look for a child’s cap with a stitched on dinosaur guess what I’ll see all over your Facebook.
Secondly, they use a huge advertising budget. In 2017, it spent 100m on Facebook ads alone.
They also hired famous French footballers for their ad during the World Cup. The video that has 100m views on Youtube though, has less than 100 likes, which may lead us to assume that bots probably watched the video a fair amount…Such a huge budget in advertising can help to get customers but rather it helps to retain them long term seems an open question.
Gerry told me that the coffee would be better with milk and sugar, which were thankfully free today. “Where is the sugar I asked, confused as I couldn’t see it”
You need to pay the waiter a delivery charge!
I looked around and everyone was drinking milk around me, cheering .. I had two choices, surrender and pay or say goodbye to milk!
Gerry laughed as he gave me the milk and coffee.
Co-written with Benjamin Dudgeon