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What TikTok’s e-commerce launch could mean for marketers and content creators

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Two weeks after TikTok officially launched its new e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop, creators are signing on to sell products directly from the platform.

TikTok created the feature as a way to help creators on the app create new revenue streams by selling entirely on TikTok Shop rather than linking to third-party websites, or navigating extra fees and contractual obligations from selling on Amazon or Facebook Marketplace.

Social apps such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat have all experimented with in-app shopping. TikTok’s pivot into e-commerce comes almost a year after the platform tested shoppable advertising options ahead of the holiday season, allowing advertisers to display products in in-feed videos, advertise a catalog of products from videos and place clickable ads in live videos.

The ability for creators to get their fans closer to a point of purchase could make those influencers appear more authentic in product reviews, said Nick Drabicky, svp of clients services at January Digital, a digital leadership agency. (Read more about why marketers are chasing authenticity here.) Among TikTok’s new capabilities is the ability to upload video responses to products on a virtual store rather than text-written reviews.

“That integration is natural and it almost feels like it curates those influencers with their stroke of trying to attract the bigger brands as opposed to an influencer on that brand,” Drabicky said. “It is natural for influencers who are used to selling products within 15 to 30 seconds on a video already to now be able to do it themselves without too many restrictions.”

TikTok Shop started development with closed-invite, alpha testing back in November 2022 in the U.S, according to a TikTok spokesperson, though it is unclear how many participated. The small ecosystem allowed users to discover and buy products in seconds through one-stop shopping. Earlier this year, TikTok opened its TikTok Shop beta program to a couple of hundred beta merchants, responding to feedback from those merchants on what they wanted from an e-commerce site, which were not available on TikTok that are not available now.

Additionally, TikTok Shop offers an affiliate program that connects creators and influencers with sellers, allowing the creators to earn commissions through commission-based product marketing. By connecting TikTok’s own community, creators are able to monetize their brands and creativity, and affiliate commissions vary from 1% to a percentage that is set by a brand, a spokesperson for TikTok said.

TikTok Shop offers creative freedom

Grace Mary Williams, who has 2.3 million TikTok followers, started using the platform in 2019 to review candy, toys and other products. In 2021, she started producing and selling her own line of slime toy products on TikTok via a link in her bio to her online store.

TikTok Shop benefits Williams by collaborating with influencers and potential brand partners, conducting live shopping, free shipping for TikTok Shop shoppers, and tracking analytics throughout the day.

“The reason why TikTok Shop is so appealing to me was because I like to use TikTok so much and I already post content on there. So having that creative freedom on how I want to promote my product line on there was super appealing rather than going to a different platform,” she said. With TikTok, Williams added, it’s easier to find items based on viral hashtags and uses them for selling her products.

Williams launched her TikTok business page in March 2022, but just announced her online shop, @Slimesbygraceshop, earlier this month via TikTok Shop. She created product catalogs with TikTok Business Center and created a storefront with TikTok Store Manager using her TikTok For Business account. Rather than putting her content as stock photos like she would on Amazon, she aims to attract curious shoppers through her TikTok video content on her online store. 

“That crossover of having the entertainment and the e-commerce is genius because everybody already trusts TikTok to be entertaining and their source of entertainment,” said Williams.

The virtual mall of TikTok

It was only a matter of time before the viral hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt gave way to TikTok launching its own virtual mall, said Jacquie Kostuk, director of creative strategy at Fuse Create ad agency. As a social e-commerce, word-of-mouth strategy, this hashtag has been key in influencer marketing and product discovery on TikTok. As of August 2023, the hashtag has over 64 million views, according to the analytical platform Hootsuite.

TikTok’s personal, highly targeted algorithm is also an asset in driving users to the products they’re watching videos on. It sets it apart from platforms, such as Facebook, that aren’t as easy to find new products, said Williams.

“On TikTok Shop, you can find small businesses. You can find things that other people are interested in. TikTok is really pushing those videos because they want everybody to see TikTok Shop, and be comfortable with it, and see it as this new thing that’s here to stay rather than [for the moment.]”

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