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The logo of Chinese e-commerce firm Pinduoduo printed on boxes in a shopping mall during the 5.5 shopping festival in Shanghai on May 2, 2020. Photo: AFP

Shein rival app from Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo tops the charts, but rock-bottom prices could be unsustainable

  • Temu has become the most-downloaded shopping app in the US this month as it aims to compete in cheap fast-fashion and accessories
  • Owner Pinduoduo is using the same social e-commerce tactics that worked in China, but higher costs in the US could make success difficult
A quiet play to rival Shein in the US is paying off for Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo, whose Temu platform became the most-downloaded shopping app across US app stores in early November, according to analytics firm AppMagic.

Launched in September, Temu is still nowhere near as popular as Shein, the hit shopping platform also started in China that has found huge success overseas selling fast fashion and other items at rock-bottom prices. However, Temu’s rise comes just ahead of the holiday shopping season in the world’s largest consumer market.

Pinduoduo is the latest Chinese tech giant trying to copy Shein’s recipe for success overseas as economic growth stalls at home amid weak consumer demand. Once a latecomer to e-commerce in China, Pinduoduo is well-versed in breaking through in a hyper-competitive market.

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“In the domestic consumer market, Pinduoduo has become a new engine that powers the transformation of Chinese manufacturing. We are looking to leverage our successful experience in the home market to help manufacturers going overseas,” Pinduoduo CEO Chen Lei said in September when the company launched a programme to provide tens of billions of dollars worth of resources to “help 100 brands and 10,000 factories directly connect with the global market”.

Yet the company’s strategy of incredibly low prices, viral campaigns across popular social networks, and connecting manufacturers directly with consumers could prove more challenging in the more sparsely populated US, where the social e-commerce trend has not widely caught on.

Temu has started onboarding sellers from 15 different categories, including apparel, office supplies, instruments and industrial tools. The platform promises free listings and no commission fees. One Temu employee, who declined to answer questions as he is not authorised to speak with media, posted on WeChat that the platform is currently limiting the number of sellers for better quality control.


Like Pinduoduo in China, Temu features a wide selection of budget items, with some of the cheapest small gadgets and home decor items priced below US$1.

Beyond price competition, Temu is also splurging on marketing campaigns to attract users. These include coupons, limited-time free shipping and store credit for late deliveries.

A screenshot of Pinduoduo’s overseas e-commerce app Temu, which launched in September in a bid to rival the success of Shein. Photo: Captured from Temu
Similar to Pinduoduo’s social e-commerce strategy in China, Temu may also be looking to leverage overseas social networks. In a WeChat group for cross-border e-commerce, one Temu seller shared a screenshot of the app showing a promotional campaign allowing users to get credit by sharing product links on Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

While such strategies helped Pinduoduo grow in China, it looks unlikely to help Temu meet its gross merchandise value (GMV) goal for the rest of the year.

Temu’s average daily GMV currently sits at about US$15 million, according to Chinese technology media outlet 36Kr, citing sources familiar with the matter. The company is aiming for US$300 million in GMV by the end of the year, according to the report, which would require at least an additional US$10 million in GMV every day.

Other Chinese tech companies have also sought to leverage connections with manufacturers at home to sell cheap products abroad amid soaring global inflation. Also in September, TikTok owner ByteDance launched the women’s fast-fashion platform If Yooou. That platform has yet to find much traction and does not appear in AppMagic’s list of the top 100 shopping apps.

There may be no quick fix for rivalling the success of Shein, which was founded in 2008 and spent years building up a supply chain that enabled it to cut its production cycle down to under seven days. Its popularity exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic as people moved more of their shopping online.

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Temu is targeting US$3 billion in GMV next year, a tenth of Shein’s global annual GMV of US$30 billion, 36kr reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. Reaching that goal, though, could come at a hefty cost.


User acquisition is more expensive in the US than in China. Investment bank China Renaissance said in a September research note that it could cost as much as US$75 to acquire each new user in the US. Quickly scaling its user base there will cost Temu 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion), the bank said.

Analysts from market researcher Daxue Consulting also noted that Temu’s free shipping and free return policies in the US – where labour costs are higher and population density lower – might result in high logistics costs that cancel out profits, making the strategy unsustainable.