“Temu is as addictive as sugar”: How the online merchant triggers a spending spree - Cafeqa

“Temu is as addictive as sugar”: How the online merchant triggers a spending spree


Temu’s flash bargains, gamification, and low pricing are irresistible to buyers

Lucy Clark of Manchester felt like she was at a casino when she first used Temu in 2023. She saw a spinning roulette wheel with tempting cash coupon incentives, countdown clocks nearing expiration promising free delivery, and lightning bolts promoting flash discount bargains.

“I’d heard about Temu on TikTok, with people showing off their hauls and sharing promo codes,” says the 27-year-old marketing director. People I know have checked out Temu at least once. There was no specific search.”


Clark bought squeaky dog toys for Rickson, her mother’s French Bulldog, among a dizzying selection of inexpensive home gadgets, electronics, and novelty things. They cost a fraction of Pets at Home or Amazon’s prices.

Temu’s two-week shipping window, glacial by Amazon’s standards but practical for Clark, who has bought at Shein for years, didn’t bother her. “I could pay extra to get it expedited,” he adds, “but I’m never that desperate for the stuff I’m ordering.”


The scrapyard symphony offers something for everyone, but Temu’s diverse emporium seldom provides essentials. Temu provides everything from beard-trimming bibs to small toilet golf, miniature printers, avocado slicers, and stylish gear stick sweatshirts.

Clark accepts that quality isn’t guaranteed as part of buying. “You’ll either get something great or a steal. She claims you receive something naff but won’t return it since it’s under £10 and not worth your effort.

Experts claim Temu’s price and promotion are designed to trigger consumer psychology and keep people buying. The trend of “gamification”—incorporating game aspects into ecommerce—is growing. Customers are urged to keep spending with prizes and discounts that resemble video game awards.

Companies worldwide are adding spin-to-win features, quizzes, and elaborate referral networks to their websites to capitalize on this trend. Starbucks and Sephora have integrated gamification to their online incentive programs, while Lacoste offers a crocodile search game that unlocks items in its virtual store.

Few companies accomplish all these aspects as well and prominently as Temu. The billion-dollar Chinese shopping site aims to stimulate users’ minds and encourage their famed frenetic spending. Does Temu’s secret recipe shape shopping’s future?

Sickly sweet

“Temu is as addictive as sugar,” explains Neil Saunders. “The experience and cheap prices give consumers a little dopamine hit and keeps them coming back for more.” He adds that regular deals boost engagement, and the website’s chaotic layout makes buyers think they can “dive in” and get a fantastic price, particularly if they act soon.

Temu leverages social proof, scarcity, and animation more than Shein and Wish to attract customers. Vilma Todri
Behavioral addiction expert Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University, UK, agrees. They combined shopping and gamification brilliantly. Temu’s marketing technique requires browsing for incentives.”

He says Temu uses timers and countdowns to create “perceived urgency aspect” to sell out transactions. He compares it to slot machine tactics, where button tapping noises increase arousal.

Even if ultra-fast fashion firms like Shein have ridiculously cheap costs, Temu has set themselves apart. Both are known for intense rivalry, but Temu takes gamification farther.

Vilma Todri, an associate professor of Information Systems at Goizueta Business School at Emory University, US, who studies how Internet-related technologies affect consumer behavior and worked at Google, says Temu uses social proof, scarcity, and animated elements more than Shein and Wish.

The business uses social evidence as “a highly effective persuasive technique,” says Todri. If anything catches your attention, Temu has several methods to engage you. A shopper may check a product’s review, five-star ratings, how many people bought it in the previous 24 hours, and how many have it in their carts. Todri says this proves the product’s quality and popularity, appealing to our need to fit in.

‘A spiral’

Users say Temu’s strategies work so effectively they’re hooked to the sales platform. Griffiths doubts it. He feels Temu alone is unlikely to constitute a clinically significant addiction, save for a tiny proportion of people who spend more than 10 hours shopping online daily.

Gaming components may tempt people to spend recklessly. “I don’t think people would spend all day, every day on Temu… but like gambling, shopping is a commercial activity and even if you’re not spending great amounts of time, you might be going beyond your disposable income,” adds.

These marketing strategies may leave a lasting impression, addiction or not. Griffiths adds “[Temu] then kind of takes you down a spiral” with free presents, and many users feel there is always one more obstacle before the promised reward, such as recommending additional friends.

Is the genie free?

If customers are so intrigued to these marketing methods, other firms may be persuaded to emulate them or feel they have no alternative to compete with Temu. Even if they use gamified shopping and low costs, they may fail.

Due of its business approach, analysts suggest Temu may be unbeatable. First, Temu offers such cheap costs because they’re counting on a long-term strategy of operating at a loss to grow and eliminate most competitors.

Elizabeth Clark, cofounder and CEO of Dream AI ltd, a UK ecommerce AI business, is recognizing Temu’s danger in the UK market. “You can’t undercut Temu. Great business case. No money was spent on logistics or manufacturing. Clark, mother of Temu shopper Lucy, calls it a poor man’s, expedited Shein and Amazon. Elizabeth was “appalled” to see her daughter buying gifts for “her precious Frenchie” from the shop.

She argues smaller firms cannot replicate Temu’s aggressive growth strategy and ultra-low pricing. Clark has been warning about the ecommerce giant’s impact on her clientele. “At the start of last year, Temu was kind of nowhere in the US, but by the end, certain companies couldn’t even buy products at the price Temu was selling them,” adds.

Despite Temu’s influence, the corporation remains vulnerable. Temu, which is little over a year old, is already under authorities’ scrutiny for data breaches and abusing trade loopholes like the US De Minimis Value barrier, which exempts transactions under $800 (£642). Temu faces significant claims of slave labor, and US senators worry it may export forced labor items.

Its growth in Europe (at 75 million users in the EU, it exceeds the 45 million threshold that makes it a VLOP – very large online platform – according to EU regulations) means it will likely face more stringent monitoring, even though the site’s sheer number of offerings makes consistent review difficult. Lawmakers in the US have called for Temu’s data management to be investigated or banned.

Todri believes that Temu’s constant gamification may wear out or alienate customers, despite its appealing UI. “As consumers become more accustomed to the marketing and business strategies Temu utilises, they might become more sceptical.

We’re not there. Lucy Clark still likes Temu. Rickson adores the dog toys she bought despite “the horrific smell of chemicals” per her mother. Lucy admits several have broken, but Temu claims the most expensive ones would have done so anyhow.

She keeps patronizing Temu because of it. She just says the price is right. “They’re only £2 each.”

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