What is Temu? Everything you need to know

Person holding smartphone with logo of US online shop company Temu on screen in front of website
(Image credit: Alamy)

If you watched Sunday's Super Bowl 2024 live stream, you probably noticed a few ads for Temu amid the barrage of big-budget Super Bowl commercials. But what is it?

As its motto "shop like a billionaire" suggests, Temu (pronounced teh-moo) is an online marketplace where you can find a frankly staggering range of products for extremely low prices. After making its advertising debut at last year's Super Bowl, the e-commerce site was back with several more ads during this year's big game. 

Temu ran three commercials during the Super Bowl after the game advertising $15 million in coupons and other giveaways. One ad shows an animated shopper dancing her way through bargains on furniture, clothing, kitchen appliances and other products ranging from 99 cents to $9.99 in price. The free Temu app has since shot to the top of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, where it has over 100 million downloads. 

While headquartered in Boston, Temu is owned by Chinese e-commerce giant PDD Holdings, which also owns its sister company Pinduoduo, a social commerce platform in China. Temu's website states that it achieves its low prices by tapping into "parent company PDD Holdings' extensive network of over 11 million suppliers." 

Of course, as you might expect with such low prices, you get what you pay for. Temu’s primary business model seems to be undercutting competitors like Amazon and Walmart, but while those online retailers try to curb off-brand lookalikes and dubious products to varying degrees of success, Temu feels more like the Wild West by comparison. Many people liken it to apps like Shein, Wish or AliExpress, e-commerce sites known for having lower-quality items, longer shipping times, and a shorter item return window.

Temu controversy

Since its launch in 2022, Temu has come under fire for accusations of using forced labor in its supply chain because of its low prices and, unlike Shein and other retailers, the company does not publish audits of its manufacturing facilities to ensure they’re not engaging in forced labor or other violations. Its sister company, Pinduoduo, has made the U.S. Trade Representative’s Notorious Markets List, which identifies markets that reportedly engage in or facilitate substantial copyright piracy or trademark counterfeiting, for six years in a row. 

Since May, Temu, along with Shein and other online retailers with a manufacturing presence in China, has been under congressional investigation from the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. Lawmakers have also accused the company of failing to abide by the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and illegally spying on its customers. 

Ahead of the big game, several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the CEO of CBS urging the network not to run Temu's commercials during the Super Bowl.  

"The only measure Temu reported that it takes to ensure that it is not shipping goods to Americans that are produced with forced labor in violation of U.S. law was that its suppliers agree to boilerplate terms and conditions that prohibit the use of forced labor," reads a letter signed by Senators Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Mike Braun (R-IN). "Temu also admitted that it 'does not expressly prohibit third-party sellers from selling products based on their origin in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.'"

What's it like ordering from Temu? 

Temu app

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Temu sells everything from avocado slicers to power tools. You won't find many brand names while searching through the site, so you're not going to find cheap iPads or a $300 OLED TV here. Instead, you'll find tons of fashion accessories, apparel, kitchen appliances and everything in between.

Last year my colleague Kate Kozuch had some luck when she spent $50 on Temu for a few random items, like three miniature Pokemon “inspired” building bricks for less than $3 each, a decorative glass straw for $3.68 and two coffee glasses that rivaled Crate & Barrel quality for $4.99 each. That being said, while the glass straw survived its trip from China intact, one of the coffee glasses arrived as a pile of broken glass. Shipping was surprisingly fast — just eight days — and since some of the items she bought had dropped in price since her initial order, she received a partial refund from Temu to the tune of $2.71. It may not seem like much, but in the world of Temu, a few bucks go far. 

Meanwhile, her experience ordering fake Apple products on Temu was a disaster. A $19 smartwatch "inspired" by the Apple Watch Ultra was nothing more than a shoddy attempt, complete with spelling errors and details printed on, including the fake exposed screws. A pair of fake AirPods came with a flimsy case that looked like it would shatter at the first drop. The delivery time was also significantly longer at two weeks. 

In short, when it comes to ordering from Temu, your mileage may vary. And if a price feels too good to be true, it may very well be. 

Does Temu offer free shipping or returns?

At the time of this writing, Temu is offering free shipping on returns within 90 days from the date of purchase. If you have already returned items from an order but decide to return additional items from that same order, you can still do so as long as the 90-day window has not expired, but you'll have to fork over a $7.99 shipping fee, which will be deducted from your refund. 

Speaking of refunds, you can either receive your refund as a Temu credit balance for future orders or opt to be credited back via your original payment method. Refunds can take between 5-14 business days to be processed. 

Certain items are ineligible for return and refund, according to the Temu website. That includes: clothing items that have been worn, washed, or damaged after delivery; clothing items that have had their tags or hygiene sticker removed; items labeled as non-refundable in their Temu marketplace listings; and "some free gift orders."

However, it's worth noting that Temu currently has about nearly 1,000 complaints on the Better Business Bureau website from shoppers who never received their items or received damaged items despite being charged. Temu's overall BBB rating is currently sitting at a C+.

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Alyse Stanley
News Editor

Alyse Stanley is a news editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing weekend coverage and writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment. Prior to joining Tom’s Guide, Alyse worked as an editor for the Washington Post’s sunsetted video game section, Launcher. She previously led Gizmodo’s weekend news desk, where she covered breaking tech news — everything from the latest spec rumors and gadget launches to social media policy and cybersecurity threats.  She has also written game reviews and features as a freelance reporter for outlets like Polygon, Unwinnable, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. She’s a big fan of horror movies, cartoons, and miniature painting.