5 Red Flags About Shopping on Temu, According to Retail Experts
Amazon, Target, and other established "everything stores" don't have much to worry about—yet.
Is Temu the hottest new "everything store" for online shopping? The digital retail site was first launched in the United States in September 2022. Up until a few weeks ago, Temu was relatively unknown—that is, until they aired a commercial during the Super Bowl, urging consumers to "shop like a billionaire."
Since the advertisement first ran earlier this month, downloads of Temu have surged on the Apple and Android app stores, even outpacing established competitors like Target, reports Modern Retail.
It's easy to understand why the Temu pitch—splashy products, a foolproof app, and most importantly, single-digit sticker prices—has generated such widespread buzz. So what gives? Is Temu the next big thing in e-commerce? Or is this just the latest fad? To help you decide, here are some red flags to watch out for when shopping on the site, according to retail experts.
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5 Red Flags About Shopping on Temu
1. The shipping can be excruciating.
One of the top consumer complaints about Temu: It can sometimes take forever to actually receive your products. But this might just be the result of shifting consumer expectations, with shoppers conditioned to expect near-instant gratification from digital retailers.
"Some buyers say they must wait 10 or more days for their items to arrive, which is actually pretty fast for items shipped from China," Jeanel Alvarado, the founder and CEO of the popular retail news and analysis site Retail Boss, tells Best Life. "However, online shoppers are used to products being delivered fast. Unlike Temu, Amazon has next-day delivery, so a product may be the same on both sites but shoppers must wait 10 times longer for their products to arrive [from Temu]."
2. Returns are reportedly a nightmare.
"[Temu] is a competitor to Amazon," Joseph Counts, the co-founder and CEO of e-commerce platform HiStylePicks, notes. "But, the company is also beginning to gain a bad reputation for undeliverable packages, unexplained costs, wrong orders, and unhelpful customer support."
The customer support woes are a recurrent sticking point: Once you get something, it can be a real pain to return it—if you even can at all. Temu's return policy stipulates that you can't return anything that's been labeled as non-returnable or anything that was received for free. (Temu has attracted consumers by offering rewards, like free store credit and other goodies, through a series of easy-to-learn mini-games.) What's more, the policy does not leave any room for exchanges "at the moment."
"Some have criticized Temu's return policy, stating that the company needs to make it easier for customers to return products and get refunds," Tim Doman, an investment analyst and the CEO of Top Mobile Banks, says.
3. You might not get what you paid for.
Alvarado points out that consumers have lodged complaints saying they didn't receive the same object they paid for—particularly when it comes to high-end wares.
"If [you] see designer items on the website, they may simply be using the photos of another brand, but when you receive the items, the product will not have the brand logo on it," Alvarado explains, adding that anything portrayed as a marked down listing of a luxury good "more than likely will not be legitimate."
4. Third-party sellers' items aren't always verified.
Like Amazon and other behemoths of e-commerce, Temu doesn't sell every single product that moves through its network. It allows third-party retailers to sell items on its platform. This has some benefits (namely, cheaper prices) but also comes with drawbacks.
"Another red flag for Temu is its use of third-party sellers, which can make it challenging to verify the authenticity of the products being sold," Doman said. "This has led to some customers receiving counterfeit items, which is disappointing but can also be dangerous in some cases, such as with electronics and cosmetics."
5. You'll have to proceed with caution.
Despite all the potential woes, every retail expert Best Life spoke to recommended shopping through Temu, some preaching more caution than others. Alvarado notes that Temu fundamentally sells the same products as Amazon, except at lower prices. Counts says that Temu has seen a lot of growth in a short amount of time, a metric that's often a harbinger of the next big thing.
But Temu isn't all the way there just yet. Doman, for instance, recommends comparing prices on Temu with prices at other retailers before clicking the "buy" button. "While Temu has become a formidable player in the e-commerce industry, it still has a long way to go before it can compete with established 'everything stores' like Amazon and Target," Doman said. "These companies have been in the game for decades."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Temu was founded by two ex-Alibaba employees. The story has been updated to reflect this.