Chinese shopping app Temu wows US amid TikTok fears

WASHINGTON – Shopping online at Temu, Ms Laurie Silva paid just US$1.25 (S$1.66) for earrings and US$15 for a cardigan – she is among millions of United States consumers the Chinese platform is wooing with low-cost bargains and a dizzying array of products.

Temu topped US app download rankings in early April, a spot it held since January, but its rapid rise comes as platforms with links to China face growing scrutiny and when a ban on youth favourite TikTok appears increasingly inevitable.

According to Sensor Tower data, some of the most popular platforms downloaded in the US currently have Chinese roots, including TikTok, video-editor CapCut and fashion upstart Shein.

Temu is positioned as an Amazon-like superstore, selling everything from make-up to homeware and electronics, and its quiet launch in September 2022 marked Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo’s first foray into the US market.

Based out of a Boston office block, Temu’s out-of-the-blue success makes it the second Chinese-made shopping app – after Gen Z darling Shein – to make a splash in America in recent years.

“I’ve seen so many things in their catalogue… offered on Amazon and other online retailers for much more,” Ms Silva, a 65-year-old in California, told AFP.

She has placed around 20 orders on Temu, buying craft supplies, jewellery and gifts.

Another customer, 38-year-old Stephanie Wolfe, said she first bought items like eyeliner and jewellery to test the service in January.

“It got here so quick, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Once I realised it was legit, I just started ordering more.”

Fuelling the frenzy were Temu’s commercial spots during the Super Bowl in February that asked more than 100 million US viewers to “shop like a billionaire”.

“I was like: ‘Oh that’s what I use!’ Since then I’ve noticed it’s gaining more traction,” said Ms Wolfe.

According to Sensor Tower, Temu has had 33 million US downloads since its launch, with user numbers surging in the month of the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event in the US.

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