Free Items On TEMU: What's The Catch?

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For the unfamiliar, Temu is an online storefront that promises extremely low prices, free shipping, painless returns, and even the occasional free stuff. It's difficult not to be a little suspicious of a retailer that makes those kinds of boasts — and has a warning on the Better Business Bureau website for being a company registered in more than one location, in addition to not being accredited by the BBB. But does Temu make good on its promises? And are the myriad items it sells for $0 actually free?

The short answer is "kind of, but it depends." As you might expect, Temu isn't just giving away tons of $0 clothes, electronics, and so on for anyone to grab if they know where to look — you'll have to do a bit of legwork to be able to place any orders on free items. Based on several customer reviews and complaints, how smoothly the transaction and subsequent delivery go can vary.

Item quality also seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, with some reports of much sturdier tools or clothes than expected (for the price) and others of, well, about what one would expect of a $3 pair of sunglasses and the like. Many listings are unbranded (don't expect official Apple, Levi's, etc. merch), and the Select Committee on the China Communist Party suspects forced labor might be at play with many of its manufacturers.

Anything free is worth saving up for

free items on Temu

As is always the case with anything "free," there is a catch. Or, in this case, a couple. The primary way to open up promotions for free items on Temu is to refer and invite friends, who then have to download the app, make an account, and use your referral code within 24 hours of making the account for it to work. Referral codes for new signups aren't the only way to get free stuff, though. You can also use the occasional coupon or play games on the mobile app to try and win freebies as well.

That said, there are more caveats to consider before filling your cart with $0 items. Some free listings are marked as only being available for new app users, and the website states that an order with multiple free items "some will be free" (but it isn't clear what will or won't be free, how many of an item or items will reach that threshold, etc.).

It's also not apparent whether the site's highly advertised free shipping will come into play on these purchases. The fine print says it offers free standard shipping on "eligible orders" but doesn't explain the criteria for eligibility — presumably, it's tied to the nature of the item itself (size, weight, whether or not it contains batteries, etc.). The Shipping Info page doesn't add any more clarity.

Other things to keep in mind

lone box in warehouse

Deciding to buy from Temu (either because something is cheap or free) doesn't guarantee a headache, but there are some quirks to its policies and practices you should be ready to plan around if need be. By most user accounts, the free shipping is indeed free, and Temu offers a $5 credit if a standard shipping order arrives late ($16 for express). However, processing on free shipments can take several days, and the items come directly from a warehouse, not a central Temu location.

Additionally, Temu's return policy is a bit more nuanced than its Purchase Protection page implies. When you attempt to return an item on the site, Temu issues a reminder that only one item per order qualifies for a free return — so if you buy more than one item in the same order and have to return multiple, you'll have to pay to return the rest.

Shipping itself seems to be the biggest headache for Temu customers, however, with dozens of complaints to the Better Business Bureau noting that a particular carrier named PiggyShip seems to consistently mark packages as delivered without actually delivering them — or delivering them to the wrong address. It's a problem that's led to other issues, with most affected customers noting that Temu was reluctant to issue a refund because the items were "delivered" despite said delivery being incorrect.

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