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The Westminster Bi-Line

The Westminster Bi-Line

Temu: the e-commerce platform offering bewilderingly low prices

Temu is a platform used for shopping for various different kinds of products at affordable prices.

At the top of the App Store’s list of free apps, surpassing social media giants like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, sits Temu, an e-commerce platform renowned for offering customers astonishingly low prices. Developed in China, Temu’s introduction into Western markets has generated mixed opinions of both excitement and concern. Temu’s relevance on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram has only amplified its popularity, allowing Temu to even find its way into the hands of Westminster students.

Temu was first launched in the United States in September 2022, and it quickly became a household name in the e-commerce sector; by the end of 2022, Temu had already become the most frequently downloaded app in the country. Soon after airing a Super Bowl advertisement in February 2023, Temu began its global footprint, launching in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. It then quickly climbed the ranks and became the most popular app on the Google Play Store in several European countries. This level of growth for an e-commerce platform is unprecedented, and a controversial tactic lies at the heart of Temu’s unique rise to popularity: incentivizing customers with free products to further promote the app on social media.

However, the question remains: how does Temu manage to keep offering its products at such low prices? Temu’s specific business model provides the answer. As opposed to traditional e-commerce services, Temu allows Chinese vendors to sell their products and ship them directly to customers in other countries, thereby limiting the need for intermediaries to facilitate the supply chain. This lack of intermediaries significantly reduces costs, which eventually allows for even lower product prices. Along with lower production and shipping costs, Temu also voluntarily decreases its profit margins, enticing more shoppers to purchase products from Temu and making up for each product’s decreased individual profit through volume. 

Despite Temu’s low prices, Temu’s allure can be described as too good to be true. The app’s reviews look similar to those of Wish—another online e-commerce platform championing low prices—including complaints from customers about incorrect orders, damaged or delayed deliveries, and scammy listings. Furthermore, Apple has stated that Temu has previously violated Apple’s mandatory privacy rules and misled people about what it does with collected user data. 

It’s clear that Temu is starting to develop a reputation for subpar customer service and as an overall data security risk, but does its poor reputation outweigh its potential deals and low prices? 

“I first heard about Temu when I was scrolling on TikTok and saw an ad for it,” said junior Marci Kinerman. “But when I see the ads, it seems sketchy. It’s almost as if they’re trying to lure you in with fake ads.”

Kinerman expresses a sentiment about Temu shared among many of the students at Westminster: it’s risky and not worth it. Freshman Sophie Poole echoes this feeling of uncertainty.

“I think it’s weird; it just feels wrong,” said Poole. “They sell products for cheaper, but at the same time they copy other peoples’ ideas.”

Poole brings up an important point about the authenticity of the e-commerce platform—the site has been known to sell counterfeit products. In some cases, Temu has even copied product descriptions and photos directly from Amazon listings. 

“I’m not too sure about Temu,” said sophomore Kamren Maithel. “If it’s blocked by Westminster then it’s likely a scam, given the expertise of our IT department.”

Whereas other e-commerce sites such as Amazon remain unblocked on school-issued laptops, Temu isn’t accessible, suggesting that Westminster’s IT department acknowledges the risk that comes with an online marketplace such as Temu. In fact, Temu’s collection of user data has sparked concern from users about privacy. In May 2023, Pinduoduo, Temu’s China-based sister app, struggled with malware issues in some versions of the app. As a result, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission raised warnings about Temu, leading Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to ban Temu and other Chinese applications such as TikTok on government devices, citing concerns about user data security as the primary reasoning behind his decision. Although these malicious versions of Pinduoduo were never available on the Google Play Store, their existence was enough to raise concerns.  

Temu’s growth isn’t slowing down anytime soon, however. As Temu continues to expand its relevance in the e-commerce industry, its impact on users will remain a controversial topic among customers, students, and lawmakers. For now, its bewilderingly low prices continue to keep customers engaged, just as the skepticism surrounding its data security and product genuineness serves as a reminder to remain cautious in the online shopping environment.

Edited by Andrew Su

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