Need to know
- Temu is a new shopping website and app known for its broad range of products and cheap prices
- We've surveyed over 500 people who've used Temu and spoken to experts to get their verdict
- Most shoppers we heard from had a positive experience with Temu and its products, but many are also concerned or unhappy with some aspects
It's the new e-commerce platform that's shot to the top of the charts over the past year.
Launched in late 2022 by a Chinese e-commerce company, Temu has become known for its cheap products, incessant marketing and a gamified shopping experience.
The retail app and website sells a broad range of goods, from arts and craft supplies to power tools and electronics. But it's perhaps best known for its small everyday household products and novelty items.
So why is it so popular, and is it worth buying from?
Experts say an aggressive marketing strategy has played a significant role in Temu's rapid ascent, and this is borne out when speaking to users.
Initially only available in the United States, it arrived in Australia in March last year and is now available in more than 15 countries.
Within months of launching here, Temu had become one of the most popular apps in Australia. And at the time of writing, it's still topping the Google Play and Apple free app charts.
CHOICE surveyed over 500 people who've bought items on Temu, and asked them how they had first heard about the platform.
Almost 37% said they initially learned about it through some form of advertisement, while 27% said it had been featured on a social media account they follow.
Temu 'gamifies' shopping by getting users to play games for the chance to win discounts. Image credit: Temu.
'Gamifying' the shopping experience
Dr Shasha Wang from Queensland University of Technology's business school says Temu's popularity can be partly explained by the unique experience it delivers to users.
"They make it fun," she says. "They gamify the process of sales promotions and also the whole shopping experience."
For example, Temu's smartphone app comes armed with spinning wheels and mystery purple envelopes that appear periodically, giving users the chance to win coupons and discounts to be used on further purchases.
Winning a coupon in Temu's wheel game is often guaranteed, but there's a big catch: you usually have to spend an extra amount out of your own pocket before you can unlock your prize.
There's a big catch: you usually have to spend an extra amount out of your own pocket before you can unlock your prize
Novelty products such as this neck fan help the company attract customers. Image credit: Temu.
Temu's array of quirky products, like the wearable neck fan that we bought for this article, also help it attract customers.
"The Australian market doesn't have that many fun products," says Wang.
"[Temu uses] cheap and fun products to attract attention, and while people are spending their rewards and vouchers, they actually end up purchasing more."
Temu's low prices have also helped it garner attention, with many of the users we surveyed saying they appreciated the platform's low-cost goods.
These cheap prices are made all the more obvious by the constant sales, discounts of up to 80% and promises of free shipping that are prolific across Temu's app and website.
According to Temu, its low prices are possible because it connects consumers directly with the factories that produce its goods, many of which are in China, allowing it to cut out "multiple middlemen" and deliver "wholesale" prices to consumers.
The company says this process constitutes a "teaming up" (hence the name Temu), which pushes prices down.
Temu often sells products at what appear to be significant discounts, sometimes as much as 80% off. Image credit: Temu.
Wang says Temu's model is assisted by its affiliate organisations already being well-ensconced in the Chinese market.
"Temu has a sister company called Pinduoduo [and] it's already been in China for many years," she explains. "So, they have an existing relationship with their suppliers … and a well-established supply chain."
According to Temu, its low prices are possible because it connects consumers directly with the factories that produce its goods
But overseas media investigations and financial experts have alleged Temu is losing money on each order it takes in an effort to remain competitive and to build market share.
In a statement, Temu tells CHOICE these suggestions are "inconsistent with reality". It says its operating model has allowed it to enjoy "astonishing" increases in efficiency, benefitting it and its customers.
There have also been more critical suggestions put forward for why the company's prices are so low, with allegations that some of Temu's products are made with forced labour. Temu denies these allegations.
Along with our survey of 500-plus Temu users, we bought products ourselves to get an insight into what you can expect from the purchasing experience.
While we can confirm Temu does deliver the goods it advertises at the prices it promises, there are things to watch out for when using it, as you'll read below.
Temu shoppers give their verdict
Most of the Temu customers we surveyed had bought home or kitchen items (62%) or clothing (50%). Other popular purchases included jewellery and accessories (31%), art and craft items (28%) and toys and games (27%).
Around 83% of people we surveyed said they were satisfied with what they had bought.
"You get what you pay for" was a common verdict among customers, many of whom felt the quality of the items they'd bought had been in line with their expectations – which were often low.
A large number of users were also happy with how quickly the items were delivered, while others said they'd found Temu's refund process quick and straightforward.
Almost 77% of respondents said they would buy from Temu again and 73% said they would recommend it to others.
But some shoppers also shared negative experiences they'd had.
Customers often called out the poor quality of Temu's goods. A few also raised questions about the company's ethics and the conditions of the workers who make the products it sells. Others complained about poor quality packaging, which they said had left items damaged during delivery.
Some were unhappy with the large number of marketing and promotional notifications, messages and emails they'd received after using the service
Some shoppers nominated the user experience of Temu's website and app as a cause for irritation, saying they were unhappy with the large number of marketing and promotional notifications, messages and emails they'd received after using the service.
Others noted that Temu's product images were misleading, and some said they were worried about the safety of their personal information when using the app.
However, the majority of survey respondents still had a positive experience with Temu, with over three-quarters saying they'd shop there again.
Our experience with Temu
In order to get a feel for the purchasing experience, we bought two products from Temu's website: a reusable water bottle (that appeared very similar to those sold by popular brand Frank Green) and a wearable neck fan.
Sense of urgency
Temu's website always advertised free shipping when visited by CHOICE, but timers and messaging suggested this was a time-limited offer. Image credit: Temu.
The first thing that struck us was the flurry of alerts that started appearing once we'd selected the items, pushing us to buy them quickly.
These messages often told us the items we had chosen were "almost sold out," only had a small number of units left or were already in a lot of other shoppers' carts.
Adding to this sense of pressure was a countdown timer at the top of every page telling us we had just over 13 hours remaining to take advantage of free shipping.
Returning to Temu's website the following day, we saw this timer had reset and at other times, the site simply promised free shipping as a "limited-time offer".
Temu tells CHOICE it offers free standard shipping on all orders, but also suggests this isn't set in stone, saying the offer is "subject to change depending on market conditions".
Temu uses 'strikethrough' prices to suggest its products are usually sold for more. Image credit: Temu.
We were also surprised by the discounts claimed on the items we were buying.
Temu claimed at the time of purchase that the water bottle we bought for $20 is usually sold for $54.99. The company says its strikethrough prices are determined by information provided by the merchants of its goods, including prices they've sold them for previously and the sale price of the same good on other websites.
To highlight this, Temu directed us to two sites, namely Amazon and Frank Green, where products similar to the neck fan and water bottle we bought were being sold for prices closer to the strikethrough prices the company was advertising.
But Temu did not provide us with evidence that the products we bought had ever been sold at the higher "strikethrough" price on their website.
It's worth noting that the ACCC says a sale price can be misleading if it's marked down from an earlier price, and the item hadn't been sold at that previous price for a reasonable period of time before the sale started.
A difficult checkout process
Finally, we also found Temu's checkout experience unwieldy, to say the least.
We were initially given the option of checking out "as a guest" without having to create an account on the platform.
After selecting this and entering payment and shipping details, we were sent back to the beginning of the checkout process – except this time we had to register an account in order to proceed.
We also found Temu's checkout experience unwieldy, to say the least
We then had to re-enter sensitive card and address information before our order was finally confirmed.
Despite our experience, Temu maintains that purchasing without registering as a member is possible.
Temu tactics 'unfair' on shoppers
CHOICE believes many of these tactics, especially the use of limited stock indicators and countdown timers, are intended to create a false sense of urgency or scarcity and are unfair on users.
We're advocating for changes to the law to crack down on these practices.
"Our recent research found an overwhelming majority of people believe businesses are already required to act fairly towards consumers," says CHOICE senior campaigns and policy adviser Alex Söderlund.
"It's time for the law to catch up to community expectations. The government is considering a ban on unfair business practices, but must make sure any ban is strong enough to give consumers the protections they deserve."
Temu defends its sales tactics
Temu rejects suggestions its tactics are unfair. The company says it keeps a "leaner inventory" of products than other platforms so it can adapt to changes in customer demand. As a result, its low-stock alerts are not "marketing ploys", it says, but "real-time reflections" of promotional offers and the status of its inventory.
While CHOICE hasn't conducted a thorough review of the products we bought from Temu, we believe Australians should be cautious when buying from any overseas retailer.
We've often seen goods on retail platforms outside of Australia that don't meet local safety standards and that fail our safety tests.
Children's and babies' toys, baby safety items, cosmetics, and electronics such as USB chargers and power banks are among the products consumers should be especially cautious of buying from overseas.
Temu has been accused of selling products made with forced labour.
In June last year, an interim report by a group of US politicians investigating forced labour concluded there was a "very high risk" that Temu's supply chain was contaminated by this practice.
Some respondents said they were concerned about how cheap Temu's products were and what this might imply about the conditions of the workers
While no similar probe has been conducted in Australia, some respondents to our survey said they were concerned about how cheap Temu's products were and what this might imply about the conditions of the workers making them.
The company tells us that accusations of forced labour in its supply chain are "completely ungrounded" and says its standards and practices on the issue are in line with other e-commerce platforms.
Many of those who answered our survey said they were uneasy about using Temu's app and website because they thought the company might be stealing their data or have poor privacy controls.
She says while Temu's practices don't appear to be any worse than many other e-commerce platforms, there are some causes for concern.
"Temu has to collect some information for them to deliver their service, for example your address, phone number [and] a history of your shopping, but there's also other information which is captured," she explains.
Temu's privacy practices appear to be similar to those of other platforms, but some aspects have experts concerned.
This extra information includes the device you're using, your IP address, and your approximate geographical location.
But Arakala says the collection of information from social media accounts is the most concerning.
"Some people log in [to Temu] through their social media account, instead of just using a separate email address and password," she says. "In that case, data on the social media account is also connected and can be used by Temu."
The data Temu collects can be used for a variety of purposes, including sharing the information with affiliate partners or for its own marketing and advertising.
The data Temu collects can be shared with affiliate partners or used for its own marketing and advertising
While Temu is clear that it does not knowingly collect data from children, Arakala says it's less clear if users can request their data be deleted.
"If I stop using Temu and tell them: 'hey, delete my data', will they do that? I am not sure," she says.
The company later confirmed in response to questions from CHOICE that users in Australia have the right to access, delete or correct information, but that it retains "some necessary data in accordance with local laws and audit requirements".
Baseline standards needed for data privacy
"Privacy policies are usually dense and obscure and many businesses are reluctant to tell consumers exactly how their data is being used, and why certain data is being tracked and stored," says Alam.
Consumers shouldn't be expected to unpack every policy document to consider the risks
He adds that consumers shouldn't be expected to unpack every policy document to consider the risks that the service might pose to their privacy, and that better laws are needed.
"Privacy policies aren't adequately protecting consumers from data misuse," he argues. "People want baseline standards of safety and fairness across the market, and we need these standards put into law."
How to protect your data on Temu
Dr Arathi Arakala says there are steps you can take to protect your data when browsing or shopping on sites or apps like Temu.
"Try not to log into these platforms through your social media account and try not to link them to other aspects of your online presence," she suggests.
"Delete all cookies [and] if you need to log in and create an account, have a separate email ID where you do all your online shopping, so that it's not connected to an email which may have important emails coming through."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.