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It’s hard to imagine that one clothing company could upend Amazon, but Shein(Opens in a new window) (pronounced “shee-in”) has done it, at least in terms of app downloads.
The China-based company surpassed Amazon in terms of global app downloads in 2021, but the first half of 2022 marks the first time it’s eclipsed Amazon in the US—with 22.4 million Shein downloads versus 22 million for Amazon, according to a new report from Apptopia(Opens in a new window).
It’s a small margin, but notable for a company founded just 10 years ago. Shein has made headlines for its explosive growth, fueled by expert digital marketing and sales that make you think, “How is that even possible?” Thousands of new items are uploaded to its website every day, which quickly land in the carts of Gen Z shoppers in 150 countries(Opens in a new window).
A narrow margin of 400,000 downloads nudged Shein above Amazon.
But while the website photography shows perfectly fitting clothing in idyllic settings, numerous shoppers have reported receiving ill-fitting, poorly made clothing—or not receiving packages at all, according to Euronews(Opens in a new window).
Add on questionable labor practices, such as 12-hour days of continuously sewing garments, as PublicEye(Opens in a new window) reports, and the sheen of Shein wears off pretty quickly. The brand has gone from being seen as holy grail of e-commerce—a place where shoppers can find something they love for the cheapest price they’ve ever seen —to the poster child of “fast fashion.”
Shein’s newest items, all of which are under $30. In the sale section, most items are $5 to $10.
Fast fashion is broadly defined(Opens in a new window) as cheap, mass-produced clothing made to satisfy short-lived trends. It’s a negative term, typically associated with unethical environmental and labor practices. The antidote to it is known as “slow fashion,” where shoppers—many of them also Gen Z—are increasingly fighting back by seeking out US-made garments and secondhand clothing(Opens in a new window).
So why all the app downloads? For perspective, Amazon’s clothing business still generates more revenue than Shein. In 2021, Shein raked in $16 billion, according to Bloomberg(Opens in a new window). Back in 2020, Amazon’s apparel business had already grown to $41 billion in revenue, eclipsing retailers like Target and Walmart as the top online clothing store, MarketWatch (Opens in a new window)reports. Once you add in Amazon’s other product lines, purchased through the same app, it blows Shein out of the water with a projected $730 billion in retail sales for 2022, Insider Intelligence(Opens in a new window) estimates.
The Google App Store description reads, ‘Think of us as your one stop destination for everything trendy!’
Yet Shein expertly maneuvers the digital world, drawing its target audience with apparent ease. Consumers are incentivized to download the app to receive notifications for flash sales and coupons. Celebrity partnerships with the likes of Khloe Kardashian, Lil Nas X, and Katy Perry instill trust with their followers. (Although, many celebrities who have partnered with Shein received backlash from fans for supporting it and its unethical, unsustainable practices, PageSix(Opens in a new window) reports.)
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Shein also has an influencer program(Opens in a new window) for non-celebrities. Anyone with a social media account can sign up in exchange for product deals and exposure opportunities on Shein’s Instagram(Opens in a new window), which has 25 million followers as of this writing. Less formally, Shein entices anyone with a potential moment in the spotlight with, “Get featured using #SHEINforall or tag @SHEINOFFICIAL.”
For example, Instagrammer @SweetInstabella (44K followers) posts while wearing Shein. She links to the products and offers her personalized, Shein-provided discount code: “Izabela.”
With this vast marketing machine, millions of people are exposed to Shein deals every day. The low-priced selection—with thousands of items in the latest colors, prints, and silhouettes—easily translates into sales among bargain-hunting Gen Z shoppers. Everyone loves a good deal, and downloading an app is a small price to pay for access to a world of trendy fits.
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