Chinese shopping app has more downloads than Instagram and TikTok

Timo’s popularity in the UK and US – where it was downloaded more than TikTok and Instagram combined last year – has rivals looking for ways to compete.

If you’ve searched online for “cheap shoes,” “cheap toys,” “cheap bowls,” “cheap clothes,” “cheap appliances,” “cheap pillows” or “cheap suitcases” this year, there’s a good chance your ex is using the Chinese shopping app Timo.

This e-commerce company has grown from nothing to become the largest (and most downloaded) app in the English-speaking world in just under two years.

Timo’s rise to the top of Google search results is the result of a very aggressive marketing campaign, where the brand is featured as the most attractive place to shop. The 2024 Football Championship Super Bowl ad encourages viewers to “Shop like a millionaire” through the app, which claims to “buy everything.”

Beyond shoes, toys, clothes, and fashion, there are also products that most people don’t even know exist – some that shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

For example, a shower cap over one ear, a bib over a shaved beard, or a headlamp on a shoe. (There are about 40 million posts about Timo’s Weird Stuff on TikTok.)

There are countless items, from scissors to socks, that cost less than a pound. Currently, Timo faces a loss of about $30 for every order made from its website. The extremely low prices on its products and the massive advertising that has seen it spend more than $5 billion since the app was introduced in September 2022 are all aimed at bringing unprecedented growth to the online retailer.

But low prices and billions of dollars in advertising aren’t the only factors that have driven Timo’s phenomenal growth. The app offers a whole new way to shop. The app makes the shopping process feel like a game show where you have to rush. The app combines the shopping experience with the appeal of a daytime shopping TV channel. The app offers the opportunity to shop with limited-time discounts, sale countdown timers, and a virtual spinning wheel that drives down prices.

Sasha Wang, a senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, said the app “trys to create a treasure hunt-like experience. It’s the most downloaded app on campus.” Dr Wang, who has also studied Timo’s popularity, said the app was introduced at a time when users were experiencing increasing problems.

“Timo entered the market at a time when consumers were facing global inflation, which in turn prompted them to seek ‘cheap goods,'” Dr. Wang wrote in a September article.

“Unlike other e-commerce platforms that focus on practical benefits such as saving money, Teamo caters to consumers’ emotional needs. It combines the shopping experience with the concept of ‘shop like a millionaire,’ which is consistent with our low-price product strategy.”

Timo’s popularity in the UK and US – which saw more downloads than TikTok and Instagram combined last year – has rivals scrambling to find ways to compete: Last month, Amazon reportedly called a private meeting to unveil a new discount shopping app that would connect Chinese suppliers directly with US buyers like Timo.

Amazon has not confirmed the news, which was first reported by CNBC and The Information. An Amazon spokesperson told The Independent that the company is “exploring new ways to work with our selling partners to delight customers with more selection, lower prices and greater convenience.”

But Timo’s success has not been without controversy: last November an investigation by consumer group Beich claimed illegal weapons such as folding knives and batons were being sold at “very cheap” prices on online marketplaces.

Three months later, another Veitch investigation warned that electric heaters sold by Timo could explode, causing electric shocks and house fires.

“The problem of dangerous goods will be exacerbated if quality standards are held to larger companies like Timo less stringent than traditional retailers,” said Sue Davis, head of consumer protection policy at Beitch.

Timo has since removed the sale of unsafe electric heaters and claims to have implemented a “comprehensive policy for vetting sellers and products” on its platform.

A company spokesman told The Independent: “We require necessary documentation, including certificates, labels, test reports and registration records, before any products can be sold on the platform.”

For some, Timo fills a gap in the market that other retailers aren’t filling — they never even saw the need for one. Others see the introduction of the app as a sign of the rise of shopping, and the first sign of the end of late capitalism.

After seeing Timo’s ad during the Super Bowl, social media user Reddit wrote: “I feel disgusted but I can’t explain why. Plus why would a billionaire buy something from Timo?”

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