America loves Temu. Will our adoration last for this shopping app?

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Temu, an e-commerce platform owned by PDD Holdings, is seen on a mobile phone displayed in front of its website, in this illustration picture taken April 26, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

If you are a sentient being in the United States, your eyeballs have probably been blasted with advertisements for Temu.

The shopping app, a chaotic online flea market of Willy Wonka’s fever dreams, is closing in on eBay as the third most popular shopping site in the United States behind Amazon and Walmart, according to data provided to research firm eMarketer by Comscore.

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Temu grew popular at least partly by becoming one of the biggest buyers of ads on Facebook apps and Google. Temu has also bought pricey TV commercials during the past two Super Bowl games, including multiple ads this year with an earworm jingle.

The big questions about Temu: Can a company advertise its way into your heart? And can America’s love for Temu last?

Quick answers: Yes and maybe no.

“I think it’s a fad,” said Sucharita Kodali, a retail and e-commerce principal analyst with the research firm Forrester.

We have a habit of falling hard for shopping novelties - whether it’s a dress that sells like hot cakes out of nowhere or retailers such as Zara, Poshmark or Wish. But many of our shopping infatuations are brief.

There is probably not much harm if you’re gaga for Temu and it becomes a has-been. Just be careful not to stake too much of your money or your livelihood on a hot shopping app that might not last.

And keep reading for advice if you want to shop safely on Temu. Like many spots for buying online, you don’t have much information about the product sellers on Temu. That heightens the risk that purchases could be disappointing or harm you.

What is our deal with shopping fads?

E-commerce crushes that cool off are a persistent phenomenon.

We were infatuated in the early 2010s with sites such as Groupon that featured short-lived discounts. Those sites have mostly faded. Then we fell hard for monthly deliveries of products in a box such as clothing, pet products or razors. The mania died down, too.

Then Wish became the hot bargain-basement shopping app.

Wish is pretty similar to Temu. Both sell a grab bag of typically low-cost and often random stuff directly from vendors that are mostly in China.

(Temu is based in Boston but owned by a Chinese company, PDD. The company also operates a popular e-commerce app in China called Pinduoduo.)

Wish, like Temu, for a while blitzed Facebook and Google with ads pitching oddball products such as meat socks. The strategy worked on you, until it didn’t. Wish has lapsed into irrelevance.

In 2023, Temu spent more money advertising online in the United States than all but three other large companies: Amazon, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, according to estimates by Sensor Tower and Pathmatics that research firm eMarketer shared with me.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Temu’s advertising blitz could work. TikTok was among the biggest advertisers online for a while, too. And TikTok has remained popular.

Temu also has caught on not only because of its heavy advertising.

The app also sells everything you might imagine, including garden gnomes and fake eyelashes. Its casino-style marketing includes limited time sales that create a sense of urgency. If you score a deal, Temu wants to spread the news to your friends.

Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of the e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse, says beyond Temu’s marketing savvy, it has advantages that Wish didn’t.

Temu can harness PDD’s track record in wrangling large numbers of Chinese vendors and ensuring orders arrive efficiently at your door, he said.

“Fads come and go, but the desire for value does not," Temu said. The company said it believes its expertise will “bring a new level of efficiency and cost savings.”

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How to shop safely on Temu

Now that many online shops, including Amazon, Walmart, TikTok Shop, Temu and Shein, sell you products that come directly from factories or vendors that you don’t know anything about, quality control is trickier than it is with the limited selections in physical stores.

That puts the onus on you to try to avoid buying products that are poorly made.

When you’re buying on Temu, you may want to see if the same product or seller is on Amazon, Etsy or Shopify. You are trying to get a sense if people are complaining about being misled or ripped off. Not all products you find on Temu will be sold other places.

One reader told me last year that she had a ruler handy when she shopped from Temu. The real size of products can be misleading in photographs, she said, but product dimensions may be included in Temu’s online listings.

If you peek at those, you can avoid buying a dog bed that turns out to be thimble-size.

If you’re buying a cheap ceiling-fan duster on Temu and it turns out to be junk, it’s not a big deal. But do be careful with or avoid buying products on Temu that go into your body or on your skin.

Without knowing much about the reliability of the sellers, products such as fake eyelashes, vitamins or skin cream could hurt you.

Temu said that it has special quality control to vet products for your body. Temu also said people should research ingredients and consult reviews before buying products.

Also for your safety, be wary of buying products from Temu if they are toys or other products meant for children, if they’re powered by a rechargeable battery, or if they’re protective gear like a motorcycle helmet.

Temu’s skill is making bargain hunting feel like a sugar-high treasure hunt. So have fun out there. Just be cautious. And don’t get in so deep with Temu that you’ll be left in the lurch if it winds up being a fad.

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