Friday, June 21, 2024

What is Temu and is it safe to buy from? – Which? News

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Temu exploded onto the online marketplace scene in 2023, rocketing in popularity and creating a huge buzz on social media and beyond. 

Word of mouth is everything for this new online marketplace; you may well have heard from a friend who’s bought a water bottle for £2 or a pair of trainers for £6. 

But are its low prices reflective of items’ quality? And if something goes wrong, will you get your money back? Here, Which? dives into Temu and explores its murkier side, from supply chain concerns to claims of scams. 


Find out how to shop safely online and avoid dangerous products with our essential guide.


What is Temu? 

Founded in September 2022, Temu (pronounced tee-moo) is an e-commerce website and app that stocks just about any product you can imagine at rock-bottom prices, and claims that it can help you ‘shop like a billionaire’. 

In January 2024, the app recorded nearly 47.8 million downloads worldwide. 

Temu claims to have more than 25 million items in its catalogue, including clothes, technology, homeware, cosmetics and toys. Similar to Wish.com, it lists everything from the recognisable to the downright bizarre – including a gold and diamanté-encrusted baby dummy and rechargeable chin-toning ‘instrument’.

Products are listed by third-party sellers, rather than Temu itself, and shipped directly from the manufacturers or producers in China to shoppers.

The app is headquartered in Boston and owned by Chinese e-commerce company PDD Holdings Inc. 

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The Temu buzz

Temu has rocketed in popularity this year, thanks to its prices but also its marketing strategy which focuses on encouraging users to promote the app and its products. It has created a huge buzz by combining referrals, social media and a gamified way of shopping.

Temu has a referral system where users can earn credits or gifts by sharing content and discounts with family or friends. Users can also share their referral links or codes on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. For every referral, users earn 10 credits which is equivalent to between £8 and £10.

This appears to have made its way to reviews of the platform itself. When we checked reviews of Temu on Trustpilot in September 2023, a large number of those giving it five stars shared referral codes that allowed them to earn credits. Trustpilot told us it has removed more than 1,700 reviews in the past 12 months, considered to be either spam or marketing materials such as promotional codes.

Elsewhere on social media, Temu partners with influencers with large followings. They can also offer referral codes, discount codes or free prizes, and are essentially being paid to promote the app. On Tiktok, the Temu hashtag has an astonishing 5.4 billion views while the temuhaul hashtag, where users unpack huge parcels of Temu products, has an equally jaw-dropping 2.04 billion views. 

Users can also earn credits by logging into the app every day, and taking part in competitions or games (which can also be shared with friends). It even has its own games where people can earn prizes and credits. 

How does Temu keep prices so low and are its discounts genuine? 

Temu claims its prices are 70% cheaper than those offered by traditional retailers. The headline-grabbing prices are certainly tempting, but how does the site keep them so cheap? 

Temu says it’s due to its direct-to-consumer business model that ‘eliminates middlemen’. Sellers source products at scale directly from manufacturers and producers in China, meaning they benefit from bulk discounts and can consolidate shipping costs. 

Another advantage Temu has is that, as an ecommerce firm delivering to the West, it’s exempt from export duties in China. What’s more it also – thanks to its rock-bottom prices – nearly always escapes UK import duty, which only applies to orders worth £135 or more.

Every product we looked at on Temu had a discount applied, but it isn’t clear how long each product has been at that price or how long it was at the ‘was’ price. 

Guidance from The Chartered Trading Standards Institute says pricing practices must be fair and not misleading. It says when considering whether a price reduction is genuine you should consider how long the product was on sale at the higher price compared with the lower price, how recently the higher price was offered at and whether significant sales were made at the higher price. This information is not available on Temu listings. 

Are products on Temu fake or dangerous?

Temu is bursting with products by ‘unknown’ brands – either completely unbranded or made by manufacturers we’ve never heard of, and which don’t appear to exist outside the online marketplace – much like competitors such as Wish and Amazon.

Most online marketplaces don’t verify the products that are for sale on their platforms, and Temu is no different. When we tested electric heaters in early 2024, all three of the heaters we bought from Temu sellers were found to be electrically unsafe and can’t be sold legally in the UK.

At the time Temu told us that the safety of its customers is its highest priority, and that proactive monitoring systems had detected and removed two heaters in December. 

As part of another investigation, we found cheap electricals such as chargers and plugs across a variety of marketplaces including Temu that fell apart during a brief stress test. 

Separately, Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) bought 19 toys from TEMU in February and found that none of the toys fully complied with EU legislation. 18 posed a real safety risk for children, with hazards including cutting, blockage, choking, strangulation and chemical danger. 

Chinese counterpart is named on American piracy list

PDD Holdings also has an app aimed at the Chinese market, Pinduoduo. This app came under fire in the US in 2018 for selling counterfeit products, and in 2019 was named in the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s list of ‘Notorious Markets for Counterfeit Products and Piracy’. It remains on this list.

When we browsed Temu we found several examples of products that bear a striking resemblance to well-known branded products. Perfumes such as ‘COOC’ (imitating Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle), ‘Miss Dear’ (Miss Dior) and ‘Black Coffee’ (Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium) are all available for less than £5, while their branded equivalents cost £80 or more.

When it comes to electronics, several products look similar to popular gadgets but for a fraction of the price. 

This watch, designed to look like the Apple Watch Series 9, is £30.99 instead of £399 for the genuine article. When something is this cheap compared to the original, there’s bound to be a compromise in quality. 

What are Temu’s returns policies? 

If you buy from an individual seller on a marketplace it’s similar to buying from a classified ad in a local paper: the principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies, and your return rights differ. But many online marketplaces do have a returns policy built in. 

We checked the returns policy on Temu’s website. There’s a 90-day return window after the day of purchase, which exceeds your consumer rights. Once you notify Temu of your intent to return, you have a further 14 days to send back the package. 

The process for returning an item is done through your account on the app or website. You select a reason for the return and what refund method you would like to use – Temu credits or a refund to your original payment method. Anecdotally we’ve heard that Temu rarely asks for products to actually be returned. Product prices are so low that the cost of processing returned items simply isn’t worth it.

Temu states that refunds can take between five and 14 ‘business’ days. This is not in line with the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, which state that refunds should be with a customer within 14 days total. 

Temu supply chain concerns

Some sources have suggested that Temu also has a very low-cost supply chain, but it’s difficult to find out how Temu’s suppliers – of which it claims to have more than 80,000 – work, how Temu interacts with them or what checks it has in place.

In its third-party code of conduct it says it has a zero-tolerance policy for the use of forced, indentured or penal labor, and that contractors, merchants, suppliers, and other third parties and their suppliers must not use child labour. It’s unclear how or whether Temu ensures suppliers adhere to this policy, though.

A Congressional report published in the US in June this year warned that ‘there is an extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labor’.

The report said Temu admitted it ‘does not expressly prohibit’ the sale of goods from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region in China. Since 2017, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have detained an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in ‘re-education camps’, and it’s believed that hundreds of thousands of ex-detainees are living in forced labour camps. 

Temu told the US Congress that it ‘conducts no audits and reports no compliance system to affirmatively examine’ whether its suppliers are observing US forced labour law – which blocks imports from Xinjiang.

Reports of Temu scams and fraud

In the majority of cases Temu customers seem to have a smooth experience, and while products may not be of the quality they hoped for, they do at least arrive. 

However, this isn’t always the case. We looked at the complaints that had been submitted by consumers in North America to the Better Business Bureau, a non-profit member organisation that rates businesses on their reliability and performance. The majority of complaints appear to be from shoppers who never received their orders. Other complaints were from people who had received badly damaged items. 

If you do shop through Temu, think carefully about how you pay, as you have different rights depending on the method you choose.

Temu data privacy concerns

We haven’t run Temu through our own security testing, but we are aware of reports that the app is harvesting users’ data.

In the UK under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), companies must be transparent about the data they collect and how it’s processed. The data gathered must be relevant and limited to what is necessary for the processing to take place.

However, the reasons for taking information are often broad, such as in companies’ ‘legitimate interests’. While it all should be listed in a privacy policy, the reality is that when you come to click ‘accept’, unless you closely analyse the fine print, you have little-to-no idea what will actually happen next with your data.

We believe greater consideration around these ‘legitimate interests’ is necessary, and that a better standard to improve transparency for consumers is long overdue. We’re working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on a code of practice for apps.

It’s rarely possible to take full control of your data when using an app, but consider following a few simple steps to get a better handle on it whether you’re using Temu or any other app. 

  • Be aware of the permissions it’s requesting. Apps need access to certain aspects to work, but sometimes they go too far. Check what permissions an app wants before you download it and deny access in your phone settings if you like.
  • Some data collection is optional during setup, and that means you can opt out. Only share what you’re comfortable with.
  • Read (or at least skim) the privacy policy – particularly the data collection sections. You have the right to object to a company processing your data.

Find out more: the smart device brands harvesting your data

EU consumer group files complaints against Temu

In May 2024, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) filed complaints with European Commission authorities against Temu for a number of issues, including insufficient traceability of sellers on the platform, and the use of manipulative practices and product recommendations.

It is concerned that Temu is failing to protect consumers and using practices that are illegal under recent EU legislation, including whether products meet EU product safety requirements.

BEUC’s complaint, calling on authorities to investigate Temu on this range of breaches to the EU’s new online content law, saw 17 of its members supporting the action.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: ‘It is positive to see other consumer groups across Europe joining together to hold Temu to account for failing to prevent unsafe products ending up in people’s homes – however, the UK risks being left behind as weak consumer protection laws make it more difficult to take effective action against Temu and other online marketplaces here.

‘Online marketplaces such as Temu have racked up hundreds of millions of downloads, but our investigations have shown they have made unsafe products available which put lives at risk. By enabling third parties that do not comply with UK law to sell to UK buyers on its platform, we believe that Temu is complicit in endangering consumers. 

‘The UK’s product safety regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, should be doing much more to protect consumers and ensure these products are taken off the market, within the scope of current legislation. 

‘The EU has recently updated its product safety and digital services laws and it is crucial that the next UK government addresses shortcomings in current laws by giving online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for preventing unsafe products from being offered on their platforms and making clear that they will face tough enforcement action if they flout the rules.’

Should I shop with Temu?

We browsed review sites to see what users are saying about Temu, and gathered experiences of ordering via Temu on the Which? scam alert Facebook page too. 

We heard from people who were happy with the service they’d received from Temu, as well as those who felt the quality of the products wasn’t great. 

One person told us that ‘the items are surprisingly good, considering how cheap they are’, while another said that they ordered eight items and only kept two as they ‘found the items cheap and nasty and very poor quality’. 

On Trustpilot, user reviews are polarised. Of the 7,600+ reviews, 49% are five star but 31% are just one star. Many of the five-star reviewers share their referral codes in their review – keep in mind that they want to drive users to Temu to earn credits from their referrals. 

If you prioritise price over anything else, then Temu might be for you – at least for low-cost or fun purchases. Just don’t shop there based on over-enthusiastic reviews or social media influencers – they are earning money to send you to the app.

Based on our research into similar online marketplaces, we’d recommend being wary of products where safety is a consideration – car seats, toys and electrical items, for example. Watch out for products pretending to be genuine, too – the price is a sure giveaway that they aren’t.

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