Shein, a fast-fashion marketplace, is currently the most-downloaded app in the U.S., surpassing giants like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter and far ahead of Amazon.
Shein was previously the most-downloaded app in the shopping category but became No. 1 across all categories in the iPhone App Store on May 3rd. It first reached the top of the shopping category in May 2021 and was the second most popular shopping app globally in 2021. It still ranks No. 1 in the shopping category for dozens of countries.
Shein is the connector between China’s garment factories with Western Gen-Z customers. It is the biggest digital-only clothing retailer and, according to Bloomberg, is currently in talks to raise at a $100 billion valuation which would top H&M and Zara combined. And yet the app is arguably unknown to anyone but its target audience.
Shein is the latest evolution of the direct-from-China e-commerce model. AliExpress and Wish were early but had unpredictable shipping speeds and chaotic selection. Many Chinese sellers flocked to Amazon as FBA enabled consistent delivery and returns experience. But Shein took it further by controlling the supply chain, from design and prototype to manufacturing and shipping.
The critical evolution is that Shein dresses the supply chain advantage in an experience that delights. Its vertical focus allows it to provide a better experience - Shein looks and feels like a brand store rather than a random selection of products. Something AliExpress, Wish, and Amazon failed to replicate.
Amazon has no defenses against Shein. According to Wells Fargo WFC analyst Ike Boruchow, Amazon is the largest clothing retailer in the U.S. Among both offline and online retailers. However, given Shein’s rise, it is foreseeable that Amazon would lose it to Shein. Known for clothing, Shein has already expanded to home goods and beauty. So the overlap between the two is growing.
On Instagram and TikTok, Shein has ten times more followers than Amazon. For Amazon, that’s inconsequential, but Shein drives demand from its social media presence. Suppose anyone could figure out social commerce in the U.S., Amazon would unlikely be the one. Shein is the closest among the biggest retailers and brands.
Shein has flaws, though, too. Its environmental impact, sustainability record, and proliferation of counterfeits are some of those issues. Shein’s ultra-fast-fashion push and lowest-price focus beat the competition, but many argue that governments, regulators, and environmentalists should slow it down.
Shein has been rising in ranks since the start of the year, SensorTower data shows (app downloads do not indicate usage, but they show momentum). Shein’s web traffic is only second to Macy’s among U.S. clothing retailers. In addition, according to Google Trends data, Shein’s popularity is at an all-time high on Google, where it has long since overtaken other clothing retailers.
“Shein’s competitors aren’t quite these fast fashion stalwarts, or other e-commerce platforms like Amazon. Its greatest competitor is inattention. Whenever customers shopping for clothes find something that diverts their attention away from Shein’s stream of new product launches, Shein’s sales are in danger,” wrote Mark Greeven. That’s why app downloads and social followers matter for Shein. And that’s why Shein overtaking TikTok is noteworthy.
Shein is significant because, when described, it sounds trivial - the best of Amazon, Wish, Zara, and social media combined - yet it’s more disruptive than anything before.