How to Build a Marketplace like Wish and Make It Thrive

Over the past few years e-commerce has transformed the way we buy and sell online. Online shopping is currently one of the largest – and most steadily growing – industries on the web and on mobile platforms. Naturally, app developers are excited by the prospects that mobile commerce platforms can bring.

A shopping platform doesn’t seem like a very big deal product-wise if we ignore the technical complexity that developing a marketplace may entail.  A typical marketplace doesn’t hold any responsibility for shipping products advertised on its mobile platform. It’s neither liable for any content posted in the app, nor does it have any control over the items listed.

All you need to do to get your mobile commerce business up and running is to find buyers and connect them with shoppers… then you’re good to go! Not difficult at all. But wait, why then do so many shopping apps fail? And why do even big names in e-commerce like Wish struggle to retain their users?

In this article we want to give insights about how to create a mobile marketplace  app by examining what one of the largest shopping platforms,, did well and where it failed. In the end, we will list some tips that can guide you through your own shopping app development experience.

how to develop an app like Wish

Wish, a mobile commerce platform

Wish is a leading mobile shopping app that belongs to San-Francisco based ContextLogic. It grew from a wish-list app that allowed users to recommend products to others. Based on a user’s wishes the app matched participating merchants with potential customers, and sent out discounts for specific products.

Steep discounts and extremely good bargains remained to be the main distinctive feature of ContextLogic’s product. The Wish app that we know now, however, evolved into a shopping platform that works with retailers and wholesalers offering everything from from wool sweaters to Chanel no. 5, duct tape to MacBook Airs, and even home decor.

Wish positions itself as a mediator between merchants and buyers, but each merchant carries individual responsibility for providing e-commerce services to their clients. In other words, the Wish app only connects buyers and sellers, but isn’t directly involved in any transactions between them.

The company works with manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, crafters, creators, and artists, but applies measures that prevent merchants from redirecting buyers from the Wish app to their own store or company website.

Within the five years that Wish has been on the market they have already raised more than $578.7 million in funding, and exhibit continued growth.

What is so special about the Wish business model that makes their products thrive in a very competitive e-commerce market? What would it take to make an app like Wish?

Wish business model

Two years ago Wish worked as a personalised coupon service, but now it’s a rapidly developing platform that primarily functions on the iOS and Android mobile platforms.

When Wish co-founders Peter Szulczewski and Danny Zhang describe their recipe for success, they say that they used the principle of mall browsing to attract potential clients. What do they mean by “mall browsing?”

Imagine you enter a store and see a wide variety of goods from different categories all of which look pretty attractive. You don’t need all the chips and soap and furniture nicely displayed in front of you, but there is always something special that pushes you towards a buying decision.

Many of us do not write shopping lists, and we tend to decide what we will buy only when we actually see the item. This principle has been successfully in use and generating serious revenue for brick-and-mortar businesses like Walmart for quite a while. It is all about displaying goods in the right way and targeting impulsive buyers, or people who care about low prices more than they they care about specific brands or a product’s pedigree.

To sum up, there are three main strategies that Wish relies on:

  • concentrating on mobile platforms;
  • targeting impulsive buyers and offering a wide variety of goods;
  • and offering steep discounts so that nobody is able to compete with Wish prices.

One more strategic decision that characterizes Wish is a multi-app approach. There are six mobile commerce applications that belong to the Wish platform, each of which sells different products. Let’s briefly describe them.

wish app for shopping

Wish shopping apps

1. Wish "Shopping made fun" is the most advertised app that offers a lot of different product categories (Makeup and Beauty, Gadgets, Watches, Fashion, Shoes, Wallets and Bags, etc.)

2. Geek "Smarter Shopping" is a sub-division offering mostly high-tech devices  including phones, watches, smartwatches, torchlights, etc and certain accessories for them.

3. Mama "Thoughtful shopping"  is identical to the Wish app in a lot of ways, but it targets young women and mothers-to-be with a selection of maternity clothes and goods for babies and toddlers.

4. Cute "Beauty shopping" concentrates on beauty products, cosmetics, accessories and clothes.

5. Home "Design and Decor" offers a wide selection of home accessories and is divided into subclasses based on the part of the house, such as “kitchen,” “bedroom,” “bathroom,” etc.

6. Unlike eBay and Amazon, Wish also has a Wish for merchants, a separate mobile app designed specifically for sellers. To register in the app, merchants need to provide the following information:

  • personal data including an email address
  • company information including items they are intending to sell by categories and a revenue share that is already pre-set at 15%
  • business address details

Once the registration is completed, sellers can use Wish for Merchants to monitor their accounts. It’s important to note that Wish app customers can rate both stores and their products in the app.

Google Play shows the same list of apps plus ScreamPrice (with a tagline “Happy Shopping”) that seems to be almost identical to the Wish app and targets the same audience, though this app is absent in the App Store.

Today a lot of popular social networks and websites tend to use a multi-app principle: for example, Facebook offers a separate messenger app for phones and tablets, because they discovered that by creating several apps where each is performing a single function they cater to their users’ need in a better way.

Wish, on the contrary, is all about creating numerous “clones” of their main app. These “clones” theoretically offer different goods, but in reality mostly provide better exposure to the same bulk of items. Even when users plan to shop for a particular type of item (let’s say you are looking for curtains in the Home and Decor app) they are likely to be tempted by attractive things that were not initially on their mind.

It is necessary to note that the strategy of creating many variants of an app may attract some clients while inevitably irritating others. I personally prefer apps that offer a clearly described product and do not have any “surprises.” When I go shopping online I cherish my time too much to be willingly browsing through numerous items I do not need.

The most successful shopping app in the Wish line of products is the app with the tagline “Shopping made fun.” It has a simple and user-friendly interface with menus which look strikingly familiar to social networking mobile apps (Facebook, in particular). Let’s look at the major features of “Shopping made fun.”

Product discovery

To make sure that every user finds exactly what they are looking for, the  main Wish app uses a set of personalized filters. When users sign up for the Wish app they are greeted with a message saying “Tell us about yourself. We’ll find products you’ll love!”

wish shopping app development

I decided to see how it works for myself and proceeded answering a set of questions (date of birth, gender, shopping preferences). At the very end of the short questionnaire I was asked to choose several categories of goods.

I chose two categories: home decor and kitchen appliances. Nevertheless, final search results seemed somewhat wider. I got the impression that the Wish app only marginally narrowed search results based on my input, and that their system of recommendations isn’t as much about personalized product discovery as it is about gaining more exposure for their products.

People are most likely to browse mobile apps on the go and make quick impulsive decisions, which means that by showing you as many different items as possible, the Wish app wins where other e-commerce businesses lose.

Szulchewski says that Wish’s successful recipe comes from the fact that all their clients are feeding useful data back into the system not only when they choose goods they like but also when they reject options that they do not like. The company developed an optimization algorithm that gets new data on a massive scale and quickly learns how to offer the most relevant goods to each customer.

You can easily track users’ likes and dislikes thanks to an animation interface similar to Tinder’s, a feature now used in many different types of apps including shopping platforms.

In the Fancy app, for example, quick card-based interactions are far more effective at getting attention and urging users to take action. If this idea sounds interesting, keep in mind that we can offer this functionality through an open-source component written in Swift, so you can grab it for your own iOS shopping app development. You can also read our articles Koloda animation Version 1 and Version 2 to learn more about the process of the animation’s design and development.

Wish doesn’t use the magic Tinder’s component, but they have quite a lot of useful filters that help users find shopping items. You can choose items by categories and apply three types of filters: tags, color, and product rating.

Shopping cart & payment options

When users see items on the Wish app they have two options – save the item to their wishlist or add it to their shopping cart by pressing “buy.”

People are spoiled by the fast and convenient check-out provided by Amazon and Ebay and tend to expect the same level of usability from other e-commerce projects.

Payment processing functionality is the most difficult component to implement, and Wish has already faced some issues related to that. Judging from customer reviews, it used to be impossible to pay for your purchase with PayPal, for example. But Wish upgraded their system and now it lets users use PayPal or a credit card to pay for products, though it takes 15% from each sale.

Read our article: How to build a system of recommendations based on mashine learning technology?

Delivery and tracking

Marketplace app development is not just about technology stack and marketing. To develop a shopping app one has to know how to deal with delivery and tracking. Wish is similar to eBay in that it requires sellers and merchants to handle shipping. Wish states that their delivery will take from 17 to 25 days, but customers’ feedback indicates that in many cases it takes longer than that.

Moreover, it appears that the reason for poor reviews on Google Play and the App Store is most often an unreliable and very slow delivery. It would also significantly improve Wish service quality if they introduced a solution for mobile apps that could make it easier for clients to track their parcels, even if the company doesn’t take any responsibility for delivery services.

At the same time, the Wish management seems to be aware of the issue and is ready to tackle it. They recently announced that they are planning to rent warehouses in the USA for a limited number of goods, thus cutting down the delivery time.

Today, there are about 100 million registered accounts and the number has tripled since 2014. It means that on the one hand Wish is a thriving business venture, but on the other hand, it’s getting more and more difficult for the company to monitor the quality of their services as they grow.

Read also: Fashion mobile commerce app development

What can we learn from Wish?

Tip #1

User-friendly and colorful design attracts attention but will not help you keep a client if the delivery is weak.


Customer support should work like a clock. Users may be willing to sacrifice fast delivery for a good bargain, but make sure they get what they pay for.


Multiplying your product by creating “clone apps” may help with growing the number of clients, but make sure you can offer something unique in each of your apps or websites.


Create your own system of badges and rewards not just for customers but also for sellers, and make your users compete the way business owners do offline. Do not let a single bad seller drag your app rating down.


Payment options should be clear and reliable. People are more likely to trust systems like PayPal than an unknown checkout system whose reliability and security may be questionable.

You should definitely check out our article: How to build a grocery shopping list app?

Even though Wish customer reviews are somewhat contradictory (with a lot of people complaining about shipment delays), the project itself shows steady growth and can serve as a good example of how to generate sales and efficiently compete on the market. Considering all aspects of how Wish developed their business you will be able to build a mobile app like Wish, but with improved perfromance and better customer experience.

4.0/ 5.0
Article rating
Remember those Facebook reactions? Well, we aren't Facebook but we love reactions too. They can give us valuable insights on how to improve what we're doing. Would you tell us how you feel about this article?
Check out Autoportal case study

Learn how to port online marketplace for cars to iOS and Android

Read the case study

We use cookies to personalize our service and to improve your experience on the website and its subdomains. We also use this information for analytics.

More info