Saturday, December 3, 2022

This obscure shopping app is now America’s most downloaded

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Take a deep breath. The Chinese Communist Party Congress news cycle is (basically) over. 

There are many significant things from the high-level political assembly to talk about, mostly around understanding what the new party leadership means for China’s future, but I’ll point you to political reporters who are real experts in all this down below. 

Instead, I want to talk about something big you probably missed last week: There’s a new Chinese e-commerce app that is quietly but quickly growing. It’s called Temu. And on October 17, it became the most downloaded shopping app in the United States.

It’s a pretty big deal for Temu to beat Amazon, Walmart, and its Chinese competitor Shein, especially because your immediate response is probably What? I’ve never even heard of Temu! 

Well, you are in good company. The app remains obscure among most people, though it marks another high-profile attempt by yet another Chinese tech giant—after Alibaba, Shein, and ByteDance—to try its luck in the American e-commerce market. 

Temu (btw, there’s no official guidance on how to pronounce the name, but I’ve been saying tee-moo) is a global version of Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo. Founded in 2015, it entered a market that had been dominated by Alibaba for over a decade, yet it managed to rise through the competition and, in 2020, replaced Alibaba as the company with the most e-commerce customers in China. Today, Pinduoduo has over 730 million monthly active users—more than two times the US population!—and is known for both extremely cheap prices and innovative gimmicks that keep users hooked.

Still, Pinduoduo has remained an unfamiliar name outside the country. So how did Temu rise to the top of the iOS App Store’s shopping chart? 

“I believe it’s driven almost exclusively by ads,” says Juozas Kaziukėnas, who founded the e-commerce analyst firm Marketplace Pulse, “because I’m seeing relatively no mentions of Temu on social media. That makes me believe that there’s very little organic recognition of the brand yet.”



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