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FIELD NOTES: Be careful what you Wish for

In the Frasier episode “A Tsar Is Born,” Martin, Niles and Frasier get into an argument (what are the odds?) about which television show to watch. Frasier and Niles want to watch a highbrow PBS presentation, while Martin wants to watch a game show. It takes them a few minutes to realize they are talking about the same program, “Antiques Roadshow.” There are similarly mixed opinions about my favorite online comedy show, which streams live daily and is watched by millions of people, many of whom believe they are visiting a shopping site. 

I love “The Onion,” and the comedy specials on Netflix and Amazon Prime are often hilarious, but for my money, is far and away the funniest thing on the internet. Whether consciously or not, the site combines humor, sex, violence, mystery, and gambling in one neat package. It is effectively the Las Vegas of online shopping: You can laugh at the ridiculous products, peruse hundreds of highly innovative X-rated goods, buy a variety of means to hurt or kill your fellow humans, delve into the mystery of the $12 bicycle or the $7 drone, and wager that you can derive the legitimate deals from the outright scams. It’s a one-stop entertainment extravaganza. 

I was first drawn to the site in 2018. I kept seeing an ad for ridiculously low-priced and hideously ugly hiking pants in my Facebook feed. I clicked on the link and was immediately transported to the land of Wish, where nothing is what it seems, and all your dreams come true. Those hiking pants used a common Wish ploy, the bait-and-switch. While some weird sizes – 28X38 anyone? – were indeed offered at the low price advertised, the sizes any normally proportioned human being would wear were priced more in line with what you’d expect to pay in a store.

I didn’t buy the pants but made the mistake of clicking around the site, filling my virtual shopping cart with a half-dozen small, inexpensive items, and clicked the BUY button. Wish makes it abundantly clear that they are not an express delivery service. Most of the items are shipped directly from overseas and take anywhere from four to six weeks to arrive. My first order consisted of a multitool pen, a ceramic blade pocket knife, a leather bracelet, a pair of earrings, and an enamel pin. All the items arrived within a month or so, to varying levels of fulfillment. It is important to note that I had zero expectations for any of these products, so I am grading on a curve, but the pen, knife, and pin were all okay. In fact, I ordered another of the pens a few weeks later. The bracelet and earrings were utterly useless, the sort of things you might get from a gumball machine. 

The fundamental rule of Wish is that 99.999 percent of the time, when a deal appears too good to be true, it is. There are no giveaways or astoundingly good deals on Wish. Items listed as “free” typically have hefty shipping fees, and there is almost always a catch to products that are listed well below the expected price point. When the shipping costs are figured in, the goods on the site that are not scams sell for roughly their market value. You might get a bit of a break on something here or there, but nothing is going for pennies on the dollar, as the advertising might suggest. 

So why even bother? Well, as I said, there is a humorous element to many of the listings, and some of the products are genuinely bizarre. (Pro tip: If you look at something and have no idea what it is or what it does, assume it’s drug paraphernalia or “adult” devices and move on.) When I first started visiting the site back in 2018, many listings seemed to imply the sale of illegal substances – things like a “Reusable Plastic Bag with Special Seeds” for $10. I suspect what you got was a small bag of zinnia seeds … but I might be wrong about that.  

Another scam that used to be pretty prevalent was selling a “reproduction” of a gun, car or airplane, which turned out to be a poorly Xeroxed photo of the item. I’m reasonably sure no one expected to get an actual Lamborghini for $3, but I suspect many thought the reproduction was a scale model of some sort. Wish has cleaned this blatant scamming up some, but you still have to pay attention to the fine print and make sure you know exactly what you’re ordering. 

My personal rule is that I only buy items with a total cost – item + shipping – of $10 or less, and I place the order with the lowest expectations. Occasionally, though, you do get a gem in the slurry. I bought a carbon-fiber money-clip wallet for $5 plus shipping and have carried it for two years now. Functionally, it might be the best wallet I’ve ever owned. I have also purchased a couple of pocket knives that were decent enough for the cost, and the pens, as mentioned earlier, work fine. The fishing line and lures I’ve bought through the site have also been okay, and a telescoping fishing rod, although of inferior quality, survived long enough to serve its purpose as a throwaway option on an overseas trip. On the other side of the ledger, the $5 chronograph watch, $2 sunglasses, and $7 solar charger were almost laughably bad.  

So, yeah, it’s a mixed bag of scams, lemons, and the occasional diamond in the rough, but if you go into it with the right attitude, Wish can be a fun way to kill a few minutes, get a good laugh, and maybe even find a carbon-fiber wallet you didn’t know you needed. 


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