How safe is it to buy from Temu, Shein and other e-commerce platforms?

5 min read
April 17, 2024

With ludicrously low prices and an unbelievably vast variety of products, from the banal to the utterly bazaar, it’s no wonder there is such a buzz around Shein and Temu right now. 

They may be able to sell you a novelty toothbrush holder or a festive jumper for your dog, but the burning question remains: how safe is it to buy from Temu, Shein and other e-commerce platforms? 

Even as they continue to dominate online retail markets, the tide could be turning on these e-commerce giants. In this article, we’ll look at how these sites work and what you should consider before making a purchase on these platforms. 

What makes Shein and Temu so cheap and so popular? 

Temu and Shein are online marketplaces that offer a vast array of heavily discounted goods. The sheer quantity and absurdly low prices of the products they sell – from a £1.25 garlic crusher to £3.58 women’s slidersmake it easy for them to grab attention and hold appeal, especially in the cost of living crisis as wages continue to decline. 

Shein and Temu use the same business model of drop-shipping to provide products at rock-bottom prices, skipping out the middleman to facilitate sales between manufacturers in China and consumers in Europe. Both deploy aggressive social media advertising, relying on influencer-led promotions, referral offers and constant clearance sales to try and tempt UK consumers to download and become devotees of their platform. (As you may guess, Shein and Temu are also fierce competitors – which has led to a slew of lawsuits between them).

The power and influence of these relatively new sites cannot be overstated: one year on since it launched, Temu is currently the UK and Ireland’s most downloaded shopping app. According to Statista, 28% of UK online shoppers say they like and use Shein. Notably, these sites are particularly popular with young people and children – who may not have much spending power but are always desperate for trending toys, gadgets and fashion. 

Weaponised design 

In a previous article on online shopping and compulsive consumption, we explained how across e-commerce, app and web design are now weaponised against consumers to alter our behaviour and exacerbate impulses to purchase more and more. 

Both Shein and Temu‘s platforms are designed to keep you trapped within the infinite scroll of apparently inexhaustible choices and persistently prompt anyone browsing to add more items to their baskets. Constant sales, special offers, countdown timers, free gifts, the ability to earn “credits” to redeem against future purchases, along with all manner of other pressure-selling tactics are used to push us into purchases we otherwise wouldn’t make. 

So even before you’ve actually paid for anything, these platforms get you hooked up to a powerful cycle of constant scrolling, impulsive purchasing, instant gratification and incessant distraction with yet more stuff. So as well as your wallet – it’s also your mind and mental health that are at risk. 

Truly affordable or too good to be true?

Since the beginning of their meteoric rise, all kinds of organisations and legal experts have raised the alarm about the fact that the products being sold are made by workers being paid poverty wages or even using forced labour. So while items on the site seem impossibly cheap, there is no magic secret beyond terrible conditions and lack of protection for workers in China. With every purchase made on these platforms, the abuse of human rights is further normalised and reinforced.

On top of the exploitation and harm to those who make the products they sell, these platforms’ environmental impact is also devastating. From polyester clothing to disposable plates, almost every item is made of plastic. Whatsmore, the low prices mean that every item sold is likely to be treated as disposable by the buyer. 

Various campaigns, documentaries and exposés on fast fashion have sought to bring greater awareness of how we are sliding into a culture of disposability. And once you also take into account the energy and resources used to ship these items from where they are produced in China and Asia, to North America and Western Europe, there can be no doubt that these cheap goods come at an extreme cost to the planet. 

Do they respect consumer rights?

On top of worker exploitation and environmental degradation, these firms show little respect to their target consumers. Temu in particular has recently been accused of attempting to obtain and misuse the personal data of those who sign up. 

While Temu staunchly defended itself – denying all accusations of selling customer data – it is clear that these sites have as little regard for the rights of consumers as they do for those of workers.  

Siegfried Eggert, a financial analyst and head of US firm Grizzly Research – which compiles research reports on large public companies – has called Temu ‘the most dangerous app in wide circulation’. According to a Grizzly Research report, Temu have concealed aggressive malware and spyware within the mobile app that are designed to harvest shoppers’ data.

Temu has also been accused by the American government of possible data risks, after its parent company, a Chinese online store called Pinduoduo, was removed by Google from its app store for containing malware.

So is it safe to shop on Shein and Temu?

The safety of using Shein and Temu is still unclear. 

If you want to make a purchase but are concerned about your data being harvested and sold, you could use a web browser rather than downloading its app. But to make an order, you’ll always need to provide a name, address and payment details – basic information which you may still not want to risk being compromised.

Given the allegations regarding data storage practices, you may want to think twice before handing your details over to Shein and Temu. 

Beyond your mental health, environmental impact and potential compromises to your privacy there is also the question of customer service. In other words, will the items you purchase actually arrive – and when they do, will they be as expected? 

This also remains to be seen. While they trade in the UK, they are  not held to the same consumer laws as companies based in the UK. We have seen many people reporting that items never arrive, or when they do are damaged or not as described. Whether they are hilariously small or immediately fall apart, the euphoria of impulse purchasing will quickly turn stale.

Our verdict: proceed with caution. While the lures of fast fashion and great deals is very real, for canny consumers it may simply be best to steer clear of these platforms entirely. 



If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at .

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