If you’ve spent time online over the past year, you’ll likely have come across ads for some strange products. Some sort of yellow slime, a squishy toy with eight legs … What actually is that thing?
Online shopping platform Temu — owned by Chinese company PDD Holdings, which also operates the local e-commerce juggernaut Pinduoduo — launched in the U.S. towards the end of 2022, and is now in markets across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. This rapid expansion has been accompanied by an aggressive digital marketing and advertising campaign, enticing people to “shop like a billionaire” with ads for low-cost and often highly peculiar products.
Temu’s general marketing strategy centers around a value proposition, according to Shasha Wang, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology who has been analyzing the platform. Its products — unusually cheap but still of relatively high quality compared to its competitors — are “challenging the existing perception about ‘Made in China,’” Wang told Rest of World.
Temu’s choice to highlight “cheap but innovative” products in its ads, Wang said, stimulates curiosity and may induce a “treasure hunting” experience. Wang compares the strategy to supermarkets advertising cheap milk. “The reason why they have it is to get people into their shop and then people will buy other stuff,” she said. Come to find out what those odd pink shorts are for, stay for the surprisingly cheap kitchen utensils.
Rest of World rummaged through Temu’s smorgasbord of curiosities and filled a cart with 17 of its most confusing items to test out for ourselves. Can you tell what these items are?
1. What is this thing?
A. Instant butt-lift underwear
B. A pair of cycling shorts
C. A portable cushion
D. A sex toy
B. Photos of these cycling shorts, shown inside out with their pink padding on full display, have featured prominently in Temu’s online ads. This has led some internet users to wonder why they’re being advertised fetish wear. The pink is not visible on the outside, making them less scandalous than they may first appear. The listing claims the shorts “reduce saddle pain” owing to the strategic padding, but Rest of World found the level of cushioning insufficient to ward off cycle-induced discomfort.
2. How about this?
A. A padded toilet seat
B. A children’s pool toy
C. A baby chair
D. A desk pillow
D. Fold away this desk pillow into your backpack, then simply whip it out when you’re tired of working, face-plant into the foam headrest, and enjoy a quick nap. Rest of World’s tester rated the experience highly, praising the memory foam-like material and forehead support. “In a Chinese work setting where napping after lunch is common, I completely see people using this,” they said. There appears to be something of a minitrend for desk pillows on Temu, with other options offering “pneumatic lifting,” or a built-in fan.
3. Can you identify this item?
A. A shower cap for one ear
B. Medical dressing
C. A protective cover for food
D. A contraceptive
A. Temu is full of beauty hacks you never knew you needed, including these disposable waterproof ear covers, intended to keep your ears dry when you wash or dye your hair. Although unconvinced of their need, Rest of World found the ear shower cap surprisingly comfortable, with extra points for the unexpected ASMR experience when water hit the plastic cover.
4. What are these?
A. Glasses for applying makeup
B. An updated take on a monocle
C. Safety goggles
D. Blue-light blocking glasses
A. The idea, as demonstrated by a model in photos accompanying the listing, is that you can flip one lens of these reading glasses down and apply makeup to that eye, while still enjoying +1.50 magnification in the other eye, presumably to better admire your handiwork as you go. But Rest of World found that wearing the glasses just made everything blurry — not ideal when aiming for the perfect eyeliner flick.
5. Bet you don’t know what this is!
A. Slime (the kids’ toy)
B. A stress ball
C. Sealant for use in DIY projects
D. A dust remover
D. Another Temu ad find, this goo is designed to collect dust in hard-to-reach places, such as the crevices in computers or car interiors. The dust sticks to the gel, leaving a clean surface. Or that’s the idea, anyway. Rest of World found that while the goo was very fun to play with, it wasn’t great at picking up dust from a computer keyboard nor even from a desk. It mostly just left a distinct chemical smell.
6. Now how about this thing?
A. An item of jewelry
B. A cheese wire
C. A portable handsaw
D. A theft-proof wallet chain
C. Pocket-sized survival tools are another niche on Temu. This portable handsaw is intended for sawing through branches should you find yourself in an emergency requiring some ad-hoc tree surgeon skills. Rest of World cannot attest to any life-saving capabilities; our attempts to saw a cardboard box were incredibly awkward, although that may have partly been due to the design leaving no hands free to steady the object being sawed.
7. What about this right here?
A. A tardigrade plush toy
B. A Halloween decoration
C. An anatomical model
D. A novelty hat
A. This unnervingly flesh-colored plushy object is actually a stuffed toy of a tardigrade — a microscopic organism that can survive extreme conditions, including the vacuum of space. The listing describes it as an educational toy. It divided opinion at Rest of World, variably evoking feelings of love or disgust. Our tester offered a balanced review: “Fairly cute for something without a face.”
8. What is Temu trying to sell here?
A. A replacement sex doll part
B. A device to practice tattooing on
C. A device to practice kissing on
D. A lipstick mannequin
B. This may look like a horror film prop, but it’s actually sold as a model for makeup artists to practice lip tattooing. The silicone material apparently has the “elasticity of human lips” and is meant to feel realistic. After gingerly poking the creepy disembodied lips, Rest of World disagreed, finding them almost sticky and not at all skin-like.
9. And what is this?
A. A washing machine
B. A salad spinner
C. A humidifier
D. A waterproof loudspeaker
A. Another life hack-style product, this is a travel washing machine. Place in a bucket of water along with your underwear and the USB-chargeable turbine spins, emulating a light spin cycle. All of that sounds amazing, but who is traveling with a bucket?
10. Would you buy this? What is it?
A. A hammock for cats
B. A sunshade for car windows
C. A bib to catch beard trimmings
D. A headrest for in-flight naps
C. A hugely popular product according to the 4,000-plus reviews, this bib/apron is designed to be worn around the neck and attached to a mirror or wall. This way, it catches beard trimmings, which can then be disposed of, leaving your sink clean. The listing proclaims it “a thoughtful and practical gift for men,” but Rest of World encountered difficulties using the bib. Keeping it in place between neck and mirror required some careful positioning, and while it successfully caught most beard trimmings, these were difficult to remove from the material. Oh, and the hook snapped in half within a minute. In our reviewer’s words: “I can imagine a version of this actually working well. This is not that version, though.”
11. Now guess this item.
A. A bike light
B. A hamster cage disco light
C. A security light for a cat flap
D. A headlight for shoes
D. Camping at night or going for a walk in the dark? Let your feet light the way with this headlight that attaches directly onto Crocs-style shoes. The version shipped to us never turned on, and despite Herculean efforts to follow the instructions provided to activate the battery, the back plate wouldn’t open. We recommend you just carry a torchlight.
12. And this?
A. An eyebrow shaper
B. A watermelon slicer
C. Tweezers to debone fish
D. Tongs for plating microgreens
B. For the foodie who thought they had everything, Temu’s home and kitchen category offers a cornucopia of implements with very specific jobs. Want to scoop meatballs into perfect spheres? Guillotine your boiled egg with true precision? This particular utensil promises to slice watermelon and other fruits into equal chunks. After initial skepticism, Rest of World found the tongs did make it easier to extract large slices from a melon, though they were no replacement for a knife.
13. Can you tell what this is?
A. A fidget toy
B. Light-up juggling balls
C. A gadget to improve hand reflexes
D. A jawline toning device
D. Unrealistic beauty standards aren’t just for women. The photos in this listing for a “facial toner fitness ball” predominantly feature men biting down on the device in an attempt to improve “jawline and facial contours.” The device came with no instructions, but Rest of World eventually worked out that you’re supposed to chew it like a horse gnawing on its bit. Our tester was disappointed with the results, however, reporting very little resistance from the rubber. “Seemed no more effective than chewing gum,” they said.
14. What in the world could this be?
A. A travel tortoise carrier
B. A pair of stackable colanders
C. A muzzle for dangerous dogs
D. A cage for a baseball cap
D. This hat-shaped cage is meant to protect baseball caps in a dishwashing machine, so you can clean them without them losing their shape. Rest of World’s hat cage arrived bent out of shape, making it suitable only for more unstructured hats. Adding a caged hat to a load of dishes resulted in the headwear coming out cleaner than it had been (but not spotless) and appearing somewhat battered by the experience. If things do go awry, Temu’s got you: A search for “baseball cap” returned more than 1,000 results.
15. And this?
A. A toy catapult
B. A guide for sawing logs
C. A template for shaving straight
D. The world’s least effective face mask
C. This template is specifically designed to help you get a straight line on the back of your neck when shaving where you can’t see. Other shaving guides are aimed at achieving the perfect goatee or fade. What could go wrong? A lot, according to Rest of World’s tester. “I think this may be an effective device for someone who needs to shave a very specific part of their head, in a very specific, potentially unattractive style, but otherwise I can’t recommend this to anyone,” they summarized.
16. Do you even want to know what this is?
A. Joke false teeth
B. A pacifier for babies
C. A pacifier for pets
D. A novelty gum shield
C. The idea is that your dog or cat will chew the pacifier-type back of this nightmare toy, so that you can take a “funny” (read: horrifying) photo of them with novelty teeth. Honorary Rest of World team member Laszlo the dog, usually a toy-lover, was unconvinced, refusing to engage with the teeth even when taunted with “Ooh, look what I have here!” sounds. As for cats, we’re not convinced the manufacturers have ever met one.
17. Finally, what about this?
A. A refillable fountain pen
B. An AirPods cleaner
C. A nail art tool
D. An attachment for an electric toothbrush
B. With a little brush, sponge, and pointy bit, this gizmo is like a Swiss Army knife for getting that gross gunk off your wireless earbud headphones. The soft end fits inside the holes of an earbud case to clean those out, too. Rest of World deemed the item “shockingly useful, but not entirely revolutionary,” noting that a similar effect could be achieved with a cotton bud and a pair of tweezers. The results were less satisfying than hoped for, with the ear grime largely being pushed around rather than effectively removed.
Answers: 1) B 2) D 3) A 4) A 5) D 6) C 7) A 8) B 9) A 10) C 11) D 12) B 13) D 14) D 15) C 16) C 17) B