Wish is emblematic of a growing trend in e-commerce: shoppers buying directly from Chinese manufacturers and merchants. Wish and sites like AliExpress, LightInTheBox, and even Amazon have enabled more Chinese sellers to penetrate the U.S. market, where they compete with U.S. manufacturers and U.S. retailers who themselves have been importing goods from China. Though the products from these sites take longer to arrive because they’re coming from overseas, some analysts think sites like Wish represent the future of shopping. Wish is, according to Forbes, worth $8.5 billion, about the same as Macy’s, J.C. Penney, and Sears combined. Its valuation has more than doubled since a year ago, when it received $500 million in funding. Its logo now appears on the jerseys of the Los Angeles Lakers.
These sites represent a different type of shopping than customers have engaged in for decades, even with the rise of e-commerce. For much of the 20th century, shoppers would drive to a store, browse through rows of goods, and then buy the clothes or headphones or cameras they wanted and then drive home. Then, they would browse the websites of stores and retailers and order clothes or headphones or cameras delivered to their doorsteps. But now, these new sites are helping consumers skip that retailer middleman; the websites are themselves the retail middleman. People can buy cheap stuff like bikinis or drones directly from the manufacturer or seller, no matter where that retailer is based.
“As long as retail has existed, you’ve always had retailers sell to customers, because many manufacturers were unfit to do so,” Juozas Kaziukėnas, the founder and CEO of Marketplace Pulse, an e-commerce research site, told me. “But over time, as information has spread and it becomes easier, you have manufacturers selling, too.” Kaziukėnas estimates that as many as one-third of Amazon’s sellers are based in China. Often, Chinese sellers will ship products in bulk to the United States, where they’ll sit in warehouses operated by Amazon, Wish, or other companies, until U.S. companies order them, he said.
Though it’s difficult to track just how much the direct-from-China market has grown, the number of packages received from overseas in the United States has exploded in recent years. The U.S. Postal Service delivered 175 million letters and packages from overseas in the first three months of 2018, up from 97 million in the same period in 2013, according to the USPS. The Postal Service makes it easy for Chinese sellers to ship cheaply to the United States: Under a program called ePacket, merchants can ship items that weigh less than 4.4 pounds, and receive tracking and delivery confirmation services for a low rate. Often, it costs less to ship a package to a U.S. destination from China than it does to ship that item domestically.