After TikTok, Temu, the new Chinese e-commerce app that is exploding in the United States

In itself, nothing special, e-commerce applications offering such deals are legion, but Temu, launched by the Chinese group Pinduoduo in the United States, came to rank among the most downloaded at the start of the year, in a context of geopolitical tensions around another Chinese platform, TikTok.

Temu is today the symbol of a trend: according to Sensor Tower, four of the five most downloaded applications in the United States are of Chinese origin.

This is for example the case of Shein, an application specializing in fashion items, where Temu is more of a competitor to Amazon, offering beauty products, electronics or even household items.

Consumers of all ages

If the success of Shein is proven among the youngest, Temu has convinced consumers of all ages, like Mme Silva, a 65-year-old Californian, who has already placed around twenty orders there. “I saw a lot of things on their app that were also on Amazon or other online retailers, but so much more expensive,” she explains.

Stephanie Wolfe, 38, wanted to test the application in January, buying eyeliner and jewelry. “I received my order so quickly, it was surprising. I could see that the service was ok, so I ordered again”.

An advertisement by Temu during the Super Bowl, the final of the American football championship, in February, reinforced his conviction: “I said to myself, ‘Hey! but that’s what I use! ‘, and I could see that it had grown in popularity since. Not without reason: downloads exploded on Super Bowl day, according to Sensor Tower.

What business strategy?

While American fashion companies are looking to produce less in China, worried about growing tensions between the two countries, Shein or Temu see it as an opportunity, says Sheng Lu, professor of fashion and clothing studies at the ‘University of Delaware.

“As with TikTok, the rapid development of Shein and Temu has resulted in the collection of a significant amount of personal data from Americans”

Both applications are supplied in China and Temu even ships its products directly from the Middle Kingdom, unlike Amazon which relies on its regional distribution centers in the United States, he describes. This strategy allows Temu to rely on China’s ability to produce various garments, in small quantities and at low prices, while taking advantage of certain American provisions, such as the absence of import taxes for products. of low value.

According to Sheng Lu, Shein also relies on artificial intelligence and the study of data “in order to better understand the habits and lifestyle of consumers and thus adapt to demand”.

But this flight of Chinese applications has been accompanied by surveillance which Temu in turn risks being confronted with.

In 2021, the NGO Public Eye revealed that some workers responding to orders from Shein worked between 11 and 13 hours a day, but also that she participated in the waste that is increasingly denounced in fashion.

“In addition, as with TikTok, the rapid development of Shein and Temu has led to the collection of a significant amount of personal data from Americans,” recalls Sheng Lu.

Accused of being a national security and mental health risk, TikTok is trying to avoid an outright ban on US soil.

What security risk?

But “focusing on a company’s nationality is a crude criterion” when it comes to security risks, said Georgia Institute of Technology professor Milton Mueller.

A study he co-authored, published in January, found that “data collected by TikTok presents a security risk only if it comes from people whose functions relate to national security and their use of the application exposed sensitive data”, a risk “which could exist on any social network”. Given the amount of data available on social networks, China does not need specific powers over ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to recover it, the study insists.

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