For those of us in the know, Wish is a very nifty little app which sells goods worldwide at a fraction of the cost. In fact, many goods sold by the plethora of third parties are free and only require the user to pay for shipping (as well as the import duties relevant to their country).

As an attractive alternative to Amazon, Wish has taken the world by storm. But there is a catch – one which has made Amazon the giant it is today and which Wish has managed to skim on for the sake of cheap prices – customer service.

It all goes well, until it doesn’t

As a South African I’d jumped onto the Wish train as readily as the next consumer. I’d purchased numerous items – some of which arrived just as stated, some of which arrived and was nothing like the advertised and some which didn’t arrive at all.

Here’s where Wish gets it right. If you can prove that your item differs from that which is sold, they refund you – the same with items which never arrive. Of course this doesn’t refund your import duties, but it still warms the heart to think that a company cares enough and relies on their consumers to such an extent that refunds are actioned so swiftly.

The downside, of course, is that unlike companies like Amazon, you may wait a few months or your purchases to arrive.

But that is not the biggest downside – for another thing Amazon excels at which Wish lacks almost completely is client service.

Authentication in the time of dumbed-down service

So, although my Wish account had been linked to my email, I’d opted (as I’d done so many times before) to log in via Facebook. Due to some personal reasons, however, I’d deleted my Facebook account, not giving it a second thought. After all – anyone who works with apps and websites understand that authentication can easily be changed or altered with fairly little tech intervention.

But no, sir – Wish forces its users to maintain Facebook accounts. In fact, although you’d purchased products from Wish’s third parties using their app, you almost get the sense that you’re not allowed to check out of Facebook at all. It’s kind of like the Hotel California. Now, Facebook may be happy for this little coincidence which keeps certain users on their platform – but it deserves noting that this is not in line with the social media giant’s own policies which grant users autonomy over the way in which they use the platform and whether or not they use it at all.

One might think that contacting customer service may be an alternative, but having gone through the process, it is clear that they have a standard response to all queries of this kind – which is to log back into your (completely deleted) Facebook profile. I’d managed at one point to at least get a hold of someone who suggested I send all the tracking/order numbers through to her for a manual search on her side. But that swiftly nosedove as the next person to respond to my mail once more asked me to log back into Facebook. And so it continued for the past two months. In fact, although I’d requested access to Wish’s legal eagles – seeing as there is clearly a consumer rights issue developing here, the only response was that they don’t have phone numbers and that I should log back into my Facebook account – yes, indeed, the non-existent account which I’d been telling them time and again I no longer have.

The dark side of international shopping

Now here’s where Wish manages to take people for a ride. Thinking that consumers are scattered across the world, the shopping platform seems to put forth that they are above and beyond the long arm of any laws and that clients can be denied access to purchased goods or services due to a third party (Facebook). The problem, of course, is that the platform is not owned or sold by Facebook – and therefore any authentication or service issues should have nothing to do with a third-party.

Furthermore – where a sale is made between two parties, any party has the right to challenge the other as to the legitimacy of services or products sold or purchased.

Perhaps its founders Peter Szulczewski and Danny Zhang had not anticipated any queries of this sort. Or perhaps they had not budgeted for actual client service staff – opting instead for random names spewing computer-generated responses back at users as another way of cutting their costs. It all seems to be an exercise in cost-cutting anyway.

You get what you pay for

Wish knows, of course, that people who want to get goods from abroad for peanuts are not about to wage legal wars over $1 eye-makeup or vinyl stickers. With a legal department which is non-existent and a maze of client service staff acting more like bots than bots themselves, the platform is insulated from legal disputes as they are unreachable and untouchable in these murky international shopping waters.

As a consumer you should therefore resign yourself to the fact that you get what you pay for with Wish – cheap goods and an easy-to-use platform. And that is it, and that is all. You will not get service or speed, and should your authentication for the application fail, it cannot be restored, nor will the company be willing to assist in tracking products already purchased. How could they? They don’t even own telephones!

Compare this to Amazon customer service and punctuality – where goods arrive early and you can deal with real people who give you real answers to real client queries.

Conclusion of this cautionary tale

The conclusion, of course, is that you shouldn’t expect too much, nor spend bucketloads on your Wish cart. Use it as you use your gaming apps – for a bit of fun and cheap entertainment, but resist taking them too seriously or expecting more than they can offer for you will be disappointed.