For investors of discount e-commerce marketplace Wish, the past six months have been one heck of a bumpy ride. Following its mid-December IPO at $24 a share -- trading under the name of its parent company, ContextLogic (WISH 1.38%) -- the stock climbed to $33 a share in January. But since then, the price has plunged by 77%, hitting a low of $7.52 on June 7. It has pared those losses a bit in the past week, but it would still need to more than double in price just to get back to its debut price.

So why did Wish fall? Bears are highlighting the company's decelerating revenue and user growth, coupled with its widening net losses. They're also comparing Wish to other e-commerce players that are growing more quickly -- and in many cases, profitably. Wish also offered weak guidance for the current quarter, which hasn't helped matters. 

These are all legitimate concerns. But bears seem to be overly focused on short-term headwinds while failing to note two key factors that will shape the future of this e-commerce platform.

Young woman shopping online.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Wish has a track record of innovation and evolution

Last year was a strong one for e-commerce players around the world. Pandemic lockdowns and social distancing accelerated the adoption of online retail among both merchants and consumers. As a result, Amazon, Etsy, Shopify, and MercadoLibre all had some of their best performances ever.

Wish also had its best year yet -- its revenue and monthly active users hit all-time highs. But its actual performance did not meet the standard set by its larger peers. For example, Wish's revenue rose by 34%, while Amazon's rose 38%. The former underperformed (even though was growing from a much smaller base) because it operates a cross-border e-commerce platform -- many of its merchants are based in China, while the bulk of its buyers are from Europe and the U.S. When the pandemic hit, international flights ground to a near-halt, which crippled cross-border delivery networks. As a result, merchants on Wish were either unable to deliver goods to customers, or forced to rely on slower shipping methods such as ocean freight. Customers responded by canceling orders and buying fewer items on the platform. If global supply chains had not been crimped, there's no doubt Wish would have delivered more growth in 2020.

On the other hand, most e-commerce players -- including Amazon -- are primarily local platforms. Both the sellers and the buyers are largely in the same country or region. In 2020, local logistics networks were largely able to operate effectively despite international border closures and disruptions to overseas supply chains. This allowed online shopping to surge throughout the pandemic.

During that trying time, Wish was not sitting on its hands. It doubled down on its proprietary logistic platform to provide merchants with cost-effective and reliable end-to-end, cross-border parcel deliveries. As a result, the average delivery time improved, and shipping related refunds rate fell by 43% in the first quarter of 2021. By adapting, Wish turned the crisis into an opportunity to strengthen its business model -- and revenue for Wish's logistics division surged by 275% in 2020.

Such evolutions are nothing new for the company. Wish has been trying to innovate over the years to deal with real issues around customer service, product quality, and logistics, among other areas. For example, in 2019, Wish rolled out Wish Local, a partnership program with brick-and-mortar stores. Customers could order items via the e-commerce platform, and then pick them up at Wish Local's partner stores, a network of more than 50,000 merchants in 50 countries.

Customers get secure shipping, and while the partner retailers can sell inventory on the Wish platform, gain added foot traffic, and earn extra revenue by serving as pickup spots. And for the company, Wish Local dramatically allowed it to expand its fulfillment network without expensive infrastructure investments, expand its product catalog, and improve convenience for customers.

Some of Wish's problems aren't unusual in its business. Alibaba, the world's biggest e-commerce company by gross merchandise value, had to deal with a host of product quality issues and logistical problems in its early days. Pinduoduo, the up-and-coming disrupter in China's e-commerce market, has also had to deal with concerns over fake and counterfeit listings.

Hence, while investors will need to keep an eye on Wish's short-term issues, they would be far better off thinking about what Wish could become. Its mission of bringing "an affordable and entertaining mobile shopping experience to billions of consumers around the world" serves as a good compass here. And given its strong execution capabilities, Wish is in a good position to sustain growth for years to come.

2. Wish's future is in good hands

Wish has a track record of innovation and evolution. But it will still require its management team to bring it to the next level. In that regard, I believe it can count on founder-CEO Piotr Szulczewski and new Executive Chairwoman Jacqueline Reses.

A former senior software engineer at Alphabet subsidiary Google, Szulczewski built the technological foundation that powers Wish today. The company leverages data to drive almost all aspects of its operations -- including user acquisition, recommendation personalization, and logistics optimization. Its technology allows Wish to deliver a level of efficiency and productivity that outclasses some of the world's best technology companies. For perspective, Wish's revenue per employee was $2.9 million in 2020 -- nearly double Facebook's revenue per employee.

In addition to being responsible for much of Wish's success, Szulczewski has serious skin in the game -- his stake in the company is worth more than $1 billion. In other words, he's heavily invested in making the company a success.

Wish beefed up its leadership team with the addition of Reses. (Previously, Szulczewski held both chair and CEO roles.) Reses had been with Square from 2012 to 2020, where she served as chairwoman of Square Capital from 2015 to 2020. Prior to that, she was chief development officer of Yahoo! and on the board of Alibaba. She also chairs the Economic Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Wish stands to benefit immensely from her experience scaling global technology companies.

With those two leading the way, Wish has what it needs to accelerate its growth.

What's next for Wish

Wish generated $2.5 billion in revenue last year. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the global e-commerce market, which eMarketer expects to be worth $6.3 trillion by 2024.

Wish hopes to become the online retailer of choice for value-conscious shoppers. To get there, Wish must expand its selection of products far beyond the often low-quality products it offers currently. It needs to grow, diversify and localize its merchant base, targeting local sellers in the U.S. and Europe for its partner network. The company also needs to drum up marketing efforts, improve its delivery infrastructure and expand Wish Local.

The path to success won't be easy, as Wish faces competition from larger, more established players like Amazon and eBay. But Wish is hoping it can leverage its strengths -- such as its prowess in data science -- to outsmart its rivals. And with a potential customer base spanning over a billion households worldwide, Wish should remain busy for many years to come.