How Shein and Temu threw a bomb at eCommerce conventions


When I dress for the day, the first question that enters my head is, “I wonder how old this shirt is?”

So … I’m not a shopper. But I do love studying the marketing behind shopping trends, and there is something going on right now that is blowing my mind. Temu and Shein are dominating the retail scene, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

And when I say out of nowhere, Temu was founded 18 months ago and is now the most downloaded retail app in the world with 250 million customers. Shein has been around longer, but since the pandemic, it has become the number one fashion retailer in the world. It’s the second-most downloaded retail app.

The fascinating marketing case study here is the non-intutive way they did it.

Both companies are leveraging a massively large selection and unbelievably low prices — taking advantage of the low-cost (and controversial) Chinese supply chain. Low prices have always had a place in the value shopper’s heart, but there is something more going on here.

Shein and the eCommerce revolution

Shein is offering basement-level prices — think $3 for a bikini — and yet seems to be pulling off fast deliveries, respectable quality, and responsive customer service. That doesn’t make sense.

Another achievement that goes against the grain is that these are cheap Chinese goods, and yet the brands are winning the hearts of fashion-conscious teens as a preferred fashion statement. Again … what?

Both companies are driving awareness hard through aggressive, ubiquitous digital advertising. But the advertising and promotions offer even deeper discounts on already low prices. They continue to build loyalty by introducing 1,000 new products a day and offering incentives for customers to earn loyalty points. Rapid innovation, aggressive advertising, and loyalty rewards are not typical hallmarks of a bargain basement brand!

The companies are innovating so fast that they have no time for product descriptions, let alone SEO. They seem to be getting by on product photos, thousands of positive reviews, and push from teens doing “unboxing videos” from their shopping adventures.

Now, here’s where it gets really weird. Research shows that about 60% of Shein’s customers consider themselves eco-buyers. They’ll even spend more for sustainable products. Yet Shein’s “fast fashion” is basically throw-away consumerism and the company has been hammered by both environmentalists and critics of harsh labor practices. Does purpose matter to these consumers … at all?

It’s an enigma that Amanda Russell and I joyfully explore in this new episode of The Marketing Companion. We explore all these ideas and suggest that these shopping sites don’t just threaten Amazon, they are becoming the new social media communities.

You won’t want to miss this. Click here to listen:

Click here to enjoy Marketing Companion episode 280!

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