The increasing popularity of social media platforms as a shopping hub has revolutionized the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Among these platforms, TikTok’s latest venture into e-commerce, TikTok Shop, has emerged as a frontrunner. This in-app shopping experience, introduced in the U.S. in September, capitalizes on the widely embraced trend of “#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt.” By providing opportunities for content creators to sell their products and for users to make direct in-app purchases, TikTok Shop follows in the footsteps of Instagram and other social media apps. Despite facing backlash and being forced to shut down in Indonesia, TikTok Shop has gained momentum as consumers increasingly turn to social media for their shopping needs.
A recent Shopify-Gallup survey revealed that nearly half of Generation Z respondents, also known as individuals born after 1997, plan on buying holiday gifts through social media apps. Furthermore, an ICSC report highlighted that 86% of Gen Z shoppers have their shopping habits influenced by social media. Chuck Vaughn, a 29-year-old TikTok user, describes the TikTok Shop phenomenon as “a gold rush.” He emphasizes the attractive discounts and coupon offers available on the platform, which enable users to purchase products at significantly reduced prices. Vaughn also dismisses concerns about privacy, stating that consumers are already sharing their personal data with various applications. With his positive experience of purchasing Pokémon cards at a substantial discount on TikTok Shop, Vaughn plans to continue using the app for his holiday shopping and recommends it to his friends and family.
The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled online shopping to new heights. As people stayed home due to lockdowns and health concerns, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that Americans spent $791.7 billion on e-commerce in 2020. TikTok has capitalized on this trend by creating an ecosystem that combines paid advertising, short-form videos, immersive shops, and in-app transactions. Ant Duffin, a digital commerce analyst, describes this as a “fresh battleground” for small and medium-sized businesses. By utilizing TikTok Shop, these businesses have the opportunity to raise awareness and fill market gaps. However, Duffin acknowledges that TikTok Shop is unlikely to rival e-commerce giants like Amazon and may only serve as a platform for stocking stuffer purchases.
Not all TikTok users embrace the concept of scrolling and purchasing simultaneously. Grace Romine, a sophomore at Indiana University, initially found the Shop feature annoying due to increased advertisements. She expressed concerns about the impact on the creative content produced by TikTok creators and questioned the ethics of the products being sold, particularly those with significantly lower prices. Romine’s skepticism about the sustainability and labor practices behind the production of these products undermines her enthusiasm for TikTok Shop. Similarly, Ana Kevorkian, a history major at Fordham University, states that she is “principally opposed” to buying anything on TikTok Shop. While she finds the ads tempting, she cautions against succumbing to a culture of overspending and overconsumption.
TikTok Shop’s foray into social media commerce has undeniably captured the attention of both users and businesses. With over 200,000 sellers on the platform and billions of views under the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag, TikTok Shop has established itself as a viable channel for promotion and sales. The platform’s ability to offer discounts, promotions, and coupons during the holiday season further strengthens its appeal. However, it remains to be seen whether TikTok Shop can disrupt the dominance of e-commerce giants like Amazon or if it will be restricted to smaller purchases and niche markets. The ethical concerns raised by users also point to the need for greater transparency and sustainability in the products sold on TikTok Shop. As TikTok Shop navigates its “first Christmas” in the holiday market, its long-term impact on the social commerce landscape will become clearer.