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Temu is an e-commerce site based in Boston, and its prices are bananas. By which I mean “stupendously low.” You can get a knitted open-front cardigan for $12.59, some wireless earbuds for $7.39 or aportable blender for $8.89.
And I could keep going, naming rock-bottom prices for a seemingly unending list of products (in more than 250 categories). The site itself is clearly designed to give you a frenetically exciting experience. So many items! So many lightning deals (available for a limited time only)! So much colorful scrolling!
Plus, there’s the built-in pressure to buy something before the ever-turning countdown-to-free-shipping hits zero seconds. With all these products, it’s a little bit like Amazon — but it also makes Amazon look like a stuffy, aging five-and-dime store. Is it any wonder that the Temu app is one of the most popular shopping apps downloaded in the U.S. last year?
I heard about Temu the same way I hear about everything — from my teenage daughters. (They learned about it from their benevolent overlord, TikTok.) The prices were so ridiculous that my husband insisted there was something fishy going on here. Why is everything so cheap?
Here’s How Temu Can Offer Such Low Prices
Temu means “Team Up, Price Down.” The idea is the more people that buy an item, the more the manufacturer will produce, which brings the price down for everyone.
Temu’s parent company, PDD Holdings, is a Shanghai-based commerce group with immense global sourcing and supply chain capabilities. It can negotiate for better prices with suppliers and pass those savings on to consumers. Plus, there are many, many brands selling their items on Temu, and they’re all competing with one another to offer the lowest prices. Most of the goods are shipped to consumers directly from China.
Industry experts have found that this marketplace is legitimate and safe. It accepts secure payment methods like PayPal and ApplePay and delivers the goods (for the most part). However, like many online retail sites, it simply acts as a go-between that allows sellers to connect to customers, so there’s no guarantee of quality — although Temu does have protections in place if this happens. Customers give Temu pretty mixed reviews overall; it gets a 2.51-out-of-5-star score at the Better Business Bureau. As such, experiences may vary.
Here’s My Experience With Temu
These low prices were just too enticing — I had to try it. So I told each daughter (they are 17 and 18) that they could choose one item, and then I picked a few things for myself. And, because it’s very hard not to add things that cost $1.17 to your cart, the dogs got a few toys, too.
When I downloaded the app, I got to spin a wheel that offered $20, $50, and $100 coupons. It landed on $100! (Later I realized that it wasn’t $100 off — it was a bundle of coupons that added up to $100. For example, $15 off of $50.) I bought several items (see below) that added up to a little over $65. With coupons received from spinning the wheel, though, I ended up paying $48.12 in total.
I placed our order on June 27. When I checked Temu’s “Your Orders” page on July 3, there was a notification that my items would be delivered between July 5-8.
I received my booty on July 6, which was a nine-day turnaround. Sure, Amazon Prime would have had it there in two days (or less). But nine days isn’t bad coming all the way from China! We ripped open the box and sorted through all of our new stuff. Here’s what we got for $48.12:
My older daughter ordered a BinYoYoClothing Floral Print Two-piece Skirt Set for $14.97 (was $35.99). With one of the coupons, it ended up being $12.09. Her first impression was that the material was flimsy and felt like “if you merged cotton with a raincoat.” In other words, somewhat plasticky. (The tag says it’s made of 100% polyester.)
That said, it fits well, and she likes how it looks. We agreed that it was the same quality that she’d get if we bought it at H&M or Forever 21. She definitely plans to wear it, though she doesn’t expect it to last through many wash cycles.
My younger daughter chose a SexySheep Desktop Cosmetics Storage Box for $33.98 (was $44.49). She was very excited about this purchase since she had already been eyeing this exact same storage box on Amazon for $55.99.
When she took it out of its well-packaged box (lots of foam and cardboard kept it snug during its trip across the ocean), she had two immediate comments: “It’s bigger than I thought.” And “It smells like ‘cheap.'” I picked it up and had to agree that it definitely felt like a cheap plastic item.
On the other hand, she immediately began planning all the makeup and skincare products she was going to put in it. And let’s not forget, the exact same storage box would have cost $22.02 more if she’d bought it on Amazon. She’s definitely happy with it, so I’d consider that one a win as well.
I bought a Be kind Heart & Butterfly Print T-Shirt for $6.97 (was $14.99), a Hairplan water mister spray bottle for hair for $2.47 (was $4.39), five pairs of Jiemo comfy ankle socks for $2.69 (was $6.99), a Leduo Pet Products retractable dog leash for $4.27 (was $6.99), a Tom Garden dog bath massage brush for $1.77 (was $8.29), a Caohuhu dog tooth-cleaning chew stick for $1.97 (was $4.99) and an interactive dog chew toy for $1.17.
I liked the T-shirt, which fit well and felt soft. Its composition, per the tag, is 96% polyester and 4% elastane (which is basically spandex).
My overall impression of the other items is that they were like products you find at a dollar store. The socks are perfectly wearable (and have a similar composition to the T-shirt: 95% polyester and 5% spandex). The dog leash is made of cheap plastic and has a small size — a man’s hand probably wouldn’t fit through the handle. There’s definitely a “get what you pay for” quality to this shopping experience. But I can use all of these things.
Here Are Some Downsides of Shopping With Temu
Given the shockingly low prices, it’s with a heavy heart that I must address some reasonable criticisms of Temu. I’ll start with a trifle. Once Temu gets your email address, it takes advantage of it. Since I made my first purchase less than two weeks ago, I’ve received 19 promotional emails. Not cool, Temu.
Now for the real issues.
First of all, at a time when climate change is top of mind for millions of people, we must acknowledge the carbon emissions caused by the manufacture and transportation of Temu’s many, many products. Temu has recently made efforts to be more eco-friendly, but there’s still much work to be done.
Secondly, Temu is obviously feeding into the problem of overconsumption.
“Many people … think that it is normal to consume the amount that we consume today,” Vivian Frick, a sustainability researcher at the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, told Popular Science. “They often completely forget that the consumption level that we have depends on exploiting other countries, having cheap resources from other countries, and having cheap labor. Prices would actually be very different if they were fair.”
In fact, a lot of people suspect that Temu has a possible (or at least tangential) association with slave labor in the factories where some of its products are made. Last month, a government report from the House Select Committee on the CCP declared that Temu had failed “to maintain even the facade of a meaningful compliance program” and that there was an “extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labor.”
The government has been keeping a close watch on this for some years now — especially since June of 2022, when a law went into effect that bars goods from entering this country if they have any links to Xinjiang, the Chinese region known for coercive labor practices.
Getting to the bottom of these suspicions about Temu is important. Two U.S. congressional bills have been introduced that would result in greater oversight of Temu (and companies similar to it). I’m rooting for them to pass. I love Temu’s prices, but I won’t feel comfortable shopping there again until I know that my cheap goodies don’t come at the cost of slave labor. For me, that would be too high a price to pay.
How Does It Compare Ethically to Other Online Retailers?
However, other retailers have also been accused of ethical violations. Amazon has some of the same problems, and news about its mistreatment of workers isn’t limited to other countries. Walmart has long been criticized for underpaying workers as well. The same House committee that criticized Temu also blasted Shein for similar practices.
So, you should find your level of comfort based on the practices both of Temu and other companies you shop from. Then, weigh that against the advantages of getting products you like at an inexpensive price point. Make a decision you’re happy with — and enjoy shopping, wherever you prefer to get your goods.