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Temu app on a smartphone: The low-cost shop has been available in Germany since April 2023

Photo: Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto / IMAGO

Socks for 47 cents, a wristwatch for 32.48 euros or a laser sword for 90.48 euros: The offer in the shopping app Temu is actually the opposite of the slogan "Shop like a billionaire", with which the Chinese provider has also been catching customers in Germany since April: Instead of noble and expensive goods, you can find supposed bargains in masses here.

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Home screen of the Temu app in Germany: Lots of discounts

Photo: Temu

In the United States, the app is now one of the most downloaded applications and is seen as an Amazon competitor. The provider even bought advertising time for the TV broadcast of the Super Bowl, one of the most expensive advertising spaces in the USA. In Germany, Temu has been at number one in the free app charts for weeks in both Apple's App Store and Google Play Store.

Although Temu is not an independent shop, but a platform for independent traders, every offer in the app is discounted at the launch in Germany. But that's not the only attraction of the low-cost provider. As the advertising suggests, Temu focuses on the playful: users can earn coins on a wheel of fortune or with a card game. But the promised winnings are only available when you pass on a code to friends and acquaintances and they use it to register with Temu. A shameless viral campaign, but it seems to be working.

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Home screen of the app AliExpress: In addition to products, the "Games" button stands out in the top bar

Photo: AliExpress

Chinese cheap apps have been on the rise in the West for some time. Shein, for example, is particularly well known among younger people, and the company has now established itself as a fast fashion brand in the European market. Shein primarily offers clothing and is the shop of a brand. However, most of the other apps are platforms that gather the offers of numerous traders.

This also includes AliExpress. The app has a similarly colorful and eye-catching design as Temu, it also relies on gamification elements. Directly on the start screen you will find the button »Games«. With a puzzle game, coins can be earned, which are supposed to bring discounts when shopping in the app, for example.

When using the app, pop-ups pop up on the screen again and again, promising new discounts. On AliExpress, too, prices are in the range of low euro amounts.

Shopping for the TikTok generation

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»Haul« videos on TikTok: Users present their Temu purchases in them

Photo: TikTok

Both apps are attracting attention on the video platform TikTok: In the form of so-called hauls – these are videos in which products are shown – influencers share their purchases on digital marketplaces. Besides, discount codes are also shared in these videos. Numerous other low-cost offers rely on this sales channel, such as the US offer Wish, which has been widespread for some time, the Latvian app Joom and the Chinese app SaraMart.

Wide range, low prices

What all these apps have in common is that they offer a wide range of products at strikingly low prices. With the inexpensive products, which mostly come from China, they attract the masses. On the one hand, the variety and the price are tempting, on the other hand, they raise the question: What's the catch?

On the Trustpilot review platform, for example, Temu users complain about poor quality of products purchased in the app, as well as problems with delivery and returns. AliExpress customers also share their reviews on this platform: The ordered goods do not arrive or only partially arrive, order confirmations are missing and the return is not possible or entails unforeseen costs.

A trial order from Temu, on the other hand, went off without a hitch: The ordered goods were announced with a delivery time of about nine days and arrived during this period. Customs duty was not due because the goods were delivered from Frankfurt am Main, the VAT was properly shown on the order confirmation.

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Screenshot of Wish: Pioneer of rummage table apps

Photo: Wish

The return also worked without any problems: The money was back in the account after a few days. However, Temu reserves the right to change the free shipping policy at any time. In addition, only the first return of an order is free, others cost three euros, according to Temu.

Hidden costs due to customs and returns

If the goods are delivered directly from abroad from cheap apps, hidden costs can lurk. Sales tax and other taxes may have to be paid in arrears, from a value of goods of 150 euros, customs duty is added on top. In addition, there could be fees from the parcel services, warns the consumer center of North Rhine-Westphalia. At Deutsche Post, the amount for shipments from non-EU countries is about six euros. After all, customs do not collect amounts of less than one euro, which is why the cheapest offers can be delivered directly at the price of a few euros.

There may be additional costs lurking in the return. In principle, it must be possible to return every order via a shop aimed at German consumers, but this does not have to be free of charge for customers. In the example of AliExpress and Temu, the goods come from China, among others.

If the products are to be returned there, a problem arises with the inexpensive offers: "Often, however, the return costs overseas exceed the value of the goods," says a spokeswoman for the consumer advice center of North Rhine-Westphalia. Legally, this is permissible.

When it comes to data protection, the consumer advocates give a clear recommendation for cheap shopping apps: "Anyone who attaches importance to data protection should either avoid such apps completely or set them to be as data-saving as possible, if possible, i.e. do not allow the collection and use of personal data in the settings," explains the spokeswoman. However, this does not work with Temu: the collection of data cannot be deactivated. In the case of AliExpress and Shein, at least the cookies that are not necessary can be turned off.