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Shein Tops Google Searches, But Not Always for the Right Reason

How low can Shein’s prices go? For some shoppers, not low enough. 

The Chinese e-tailer is the most sought-after coupon in the United States, Forbes Advisor said Thursday. Shuffling through five years of Google Trends data, the financial comparison site found that people in the United States. hunt for online clothing discounts more than they do anything else in 20 states—or 40 percent of the country. Shein, however, crushed its competition, topping searches in 18 of them. 

December saw interest in deals for TikTok’s most talked-about brand clock all-time highs in California, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon and South Dakota, Forbes Advisor said. South Dakota, in particular, logged the biggest increase in the study, with searches for Shein coupons soaring by 1,231 percent above average levels during this period. Searches in Kentucky, meanwhile, saw their biggest boost from April 3-9, with searches surging by 379 percent above average levels. 

Overall, the biggest coupon seekers in the nation in terms of searches hail from Tennesee (Marco’s Pizza), followed by New Jersey (Wayfair), Maryland (Postmates), Alabama (GoodRx) and Texas (QuikStop Oilube). 

“With rising costs across the nation and households feeling the squeeze on their pockets, coupons are a useful way of saving money on everyday purchases without having to switch from favored brands,” said Caroline Lupini, credit cards and travel analyst at Forbes Advisor. “This study reveals that coupons for fashion companies are the most sought-after in the U.S., with fast fashion brand Shein taking the top spot in over one-third of the United States. It will be interesting to see how these trends develop over time as we keep an eye on the economic outlook and as companies aim for greater sustainability.”

One Google Trend Shein might be less keen on dominating involves lead in clothing. Last week, Twitter user @shinaamari wrote that the Gen Z darling was found to have “over 18x the allotted amount of lead in their clothing. lead exposure can lead to mood disorders, reduced sperm count/abnormal sperm activity, & even miscarriage/stillbirth in pregnant women.” 

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“Not shaming anyone for purchasing what’s affordable for them, but y’all should be aware of what’s in what you’re wearing/putting your children in,” she said of Shein, which is currently fighting a $100 million copyright lawsuit. “Lead exposure can cause hella developmental issues with children and cause them to have learning difficulties.”

The tweet went viral, garnering 186,200 likes, 38,700 retweets and 6,714 quote tweets by Friday. It didn’t help that a TikTok user posted around the same time that her Shein nail polish gave her “chemical poisoning” while causing her fingers to peel.

Over the past week, Google searches of “shein clothing lead” skyrocketed by 2,150 percent. Variations of the terms also saw sizable bumps, with queries for “lead in shein clothing” growing by 1,650 percent and “shein lead in clothes” by 1,450 percent. Even fact-checking website Snopes published a post on Friday titled “Do Shein Clothes Contain Unhealthy Lead Levels?”

@shinaamari’s numbers were off, but only by just a tad. Last October, Canadian watchdog program CBC “Marketplace” found that a toddler jacket purchased from Shein contained nearly 20 times the amount of lead that Health Canada says is safe for children. A red purse from the e-tailer registered five times more than the agency’s threshold. In response, Shein pulled the items from its platform.

“When we learned that items sold on our site tested positive for harmful materials, we immediately removed them and started an investigation of the suppliers,” a spokesperson for the company told Sourcing Journal at the time. “We are continuously working to improve our supply chain and will ensure our training and code of conduct reinforce that the use of these types of materials is unacceptable. Above all else, Shein is committed to providing quality, safe and affordable products.”

Two months later, Health Canada issued a recall notice for the jacket, which it said contained lead in “excess of allowable limits, posing a risk of lead exposure to consumers.”

Lead is toxic if ingested, particularly by children, the agency said. It noted that serious health effects have been linked to exposure to the heavy metal, including anemia, vomiting, diarrhea, brain injury, convulsions, coma and damage to the liver, kidneys, heart and immune system. In extreme cases, it can cause death. “Since lead builds up in the body, ongoing exposure to even very small amounts of lead can result in large amounts of lead being present in the body,” it added.

Shein, for its part, did some damage control by posting a video on Twitter Tuesday. 

“Hey everybody, some of you asked about the safety of Shein items,” a young blonde woman tells the camera as a series of product safety test results float past the screen. “The idea that Shein clothing is causing physical harm is unacceptable. We have strict product safety standards and regularly test products to make sure they’re in compliance with our restricted substances list.” 

If products fail the test, “we take action such as removing them from our site and can terminate suppliers if they fail to meet our standards,” she says. “I hope this helps to answer some of your concerns. If you have any other questions, we are always here to help.”

The most-downloaded shopping app might have rockier times ahead as well. Though Shein is reportedly worth $100 billion, or more than H&M and Zara combined, Bloomberg reported Monday that investors looking to offload shares in the e-tailer are mulling bids at discounts of roughly 30 percent due to its slowing growth.

Shein, whose meteoric rise has made it one of the world’s most-valuable startups, has seen annual sales growth ebb to 60 percent in 2021 from a 250 percent surge the year before, people familiar with the business told the outlet. But the company is still planning to go public in the United States, Bloomberg said, with an IPO in the cards as early as 2024.