While both firms are synonymous with cheap products, Temu operates more like a marketplace than a self-run brand such as Shein.

It took Shein a decade to catch up to Inditex SA’s Zara as the world’s top fast-fashion retailer. Now, a new online upstart wants to surpass Shein — at least on one important measure — within a year.

Temu, a shopping platform owned by Chinese ecommerce heavyweight PDD Holdings Inc., set a lofty sales target for its North American business last month: report at least a single day of gross merchandise value that tops Shein’s between now and Sept. 1. That target would mark the anniversary of its entry into the U.S. market, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak publicly.

It’s the first step in Temu’s broader plans to dominate the online shopping landscape. PDD, which made successful inroads into the less-covered lower-tier segments of a Chinese market dominated by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and JD.com Inc., is now hoping the fledgling app will drive a longer-term overseas business.

JD.com is No. 1 is in the Asia Database, Digital Commerce 360’s rankings of the largest online retailers in Asia by web sales. Alibaba also owns Lazada Group, which is No. 2.

Alibaba owns Taobao, No. 1 in the Digital Commerce 360 database of Global Online Marketplaces. It also owns Tmall (No. 2). JD.com is No. 4.


Shein, Temu battle for cross-border ecommerce dominance

Temu views Shein as its biggest rival in the near-term. It wants to surpass its dominance within the next few years, said the people. But the firm, which sells anything from clothes to kitchen supplies, is ultimately aiming to take on global behemoths Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc., they said.

Amazon is No. 1 in the 2022 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 database. The Top 1000 ranks North American web merchants by sales. It is No. 3 in the Digital Commerce 360 Online Marketplaces database, which ranks the 100 largest global marketplaces.

EBay ranks No. 5 in the Online Marketplaces database.


Positioned for growth

Temu’s growth is already surging. It’s been the most downloaded app on Apple’s U.S. app store for much of the past few months. The firm achieved about $500 million GMV in the U.S. during its first five months of operation, according to data analytics firm YipitData. Data shows sales were almost $200 million in January alone. Temu launched in Canada, its second market, in February.

Temu is betting that a huge marketing campaign will drive sales growth. The company made its Super Bowl advertising debut in mid-February, running two 30-second spots that featured a shopper twirling around and dancing in an array of outfits. Super Bowl ads typically cost millions of dollars to produce and air. It’s also rolling out social marketing practices that are similar to Pinduoduo’s strategies in China. That includes offering discounts, cash rewards and free gifts to customers who refer their friends.

The strategy is bearing fruit, with visits to the Temu website surpassing Shein in January. If Temu is able to sustain its momentum, it will also join just a handful of Chinese-owned internet services to have succeeded in the U.S. Those include Alibaba’s Aliexpress and ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok.

Aggressive prices

The app’s formula of ultra-low prices and flash sales has proven attractive at a time consumers are tightening their belts, said Abe Yousef, a senior analyst at app-tracker Sensor Tower. Temu’s been downloaded 24 million times since inception. It has gathered about 11 million monthly active users as of January. That’s up 47% from the December shopping season, Yousef estimates.


“Given the current challenging macroeconomic environment and the backing of parent PDD Holdings, Temu is well-positioned to continue its aggressive growth strategy among U.S. consumers,” he said.

Comparative data on closely held Shein’s finances are difficult to obtain. However, the scant details that have emerged indicate Temu’s target requires its rapid expansion to accelerate.

Fast fashion and Shein’s role in the US

Shein already dominates the U.S. fast-fashion market. It far surpasses rivals Zara and H&M, according to YipitData. The Financial Times reported last month that Shein predicts global GMV will grow to $80.6 billion in 2025. That’s up 174% from last year. Revenue could increase to $58.5 billion in 2025, up from $22.7 billion last year, according to the report, which cited a management presentation shown to investors.

Temu staff haven’t been given a daily sales target — it’s a figure held tightly among senior managers. They’ve instead been told to shift from growing the base of users for their app and website to devising ways to boost how much customers spend, the people said.


The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Shein’s rapid success has paved the way for a raft of newcomers wanting to get into the booming ecommerce market, but Temu is widely viewed as the most serious competitor. Temu is already headhunting Shein employees and targeting suppliers, while also leveraging the deep pockets, extensive supply chains and expertise — particularly in consumer data that allows rapid changes in offerings — of parent PDD, which already controls roughly 13% of Chinese online retail through its Pinduoduo platform.

While both firms are synonymous with cheap products, Temu operates more like a marketplace than a self-run brand such as Shein. It doesn’t handle design and production. Instead, it recruits suppliers to offer a list of products. Temu then selects from them and allows a store to open on its platform. After sellers send products to Temu’s warehouses in China, the company takes care of delivery, marketing and promotion, and after-sales services.

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