TikTok on the eCom Clock: The Future of Shopping Integrations

Abigail Shipps
October 1, 2021
Future of Work

We are undeniably in an eCommerce boom: according to a recent article by Business Insider, eCommerce has a projected 18% growth in 2020, with US click-and-collect sales reaching an estimated $58.52 billion. With everyone spending more time inside due to the pandemic, of course social media is buzzing. Now more than ever, brands are optimizing their presence online to gain more traffic to their product and site. Enter: influencer deals, beautiful social media layouts, hashtag campaigns, and now… 

Buckle your seatbelts, we’re about to enter Gen Z territory.

The App Heard ‘Round the World

...TikTok. What a can of worms, right? As of August 2020, the video app has over 2 billion downloads worldwide, and 315 million downloads alone in Q1 of 2020. The app was launched in 2012 by the startup ByteDance. The video app grew to encompass a variety of different user personalities, from new-age influencers, like Charli D’Amelio, creating short dances to songs, to seasoned Youtubers expanding their content medium, to small businesses using the platform to reach a large audience.

Now, TikTok is caught up in quite the worldwide scandal. The app might cease to exist in the US, or it might survive at the end of the current deal standoff. With the president and Beijing threatening to block the upcoming deal between ByteDance and US companies Walmart and Oracle, no one really knows what will happen to TikTok. One day the app is officially banned, and the next day there is talk of a potential deal. There is even talk of TikTok Global, a future company that would control operations of TikTok in the US, but even ownership of that non-existent company is up in the air. It is safe to say that for the time being, TikTok remains in social media limbo.

Nevertheless, while TikTok’s user purpose is to serve as an entertaining social media platform, the dance app’s booming popularity enabled the platform to quickly transcend entertainment. With the ability to repost and copy dance moves, trends, and duet other videos, TikTok is an entertainment web of user connectivity. Coupled with the ebb and flow of video trends, TikTok has slowly begun rolling out eCommerce initiatives such as shopping ads, promoted hashtags, and linking out to brand pages through links in user bios and videos. Evidently, 15-60 second videos have cemented eCommerce in a defining new wave of interaction and acquisition, powered by social media. 

Gen Z Influencers, Inc.

TikTok is home to a variety of users, from Gen Z influencers to small businesses alike. The reason? Access to a new and rapidly growing audience (refer to record number of app downloads above). Similar to what happens on Instagram, the co-habitation of influencers and businesses on the same platform leads to their convergence into a mega-brand. Unlike Instagram, the majority of popular influencers on the video platform are the spokespeople of an interesting generation of consumers. 

Gen Z has taken TikTok by storm on both the consumer and creator sides. A plethora of young influencers dominate the platform with dances, makeup tutorials, comedy skits, and brand deals alike. Take Charli D’Amelio, for instance. Coming in at a whopping 88.2 million followers, the 16 year old is the most followed individual on TikTok. The dancer began making short dance videos, and over time her account evolved to encompass a variety of brand deals, such as her partnerships with Hollister Co., Morphe 2, and Dunkin Donuts. Prada even invited her to Milan Fashion Week, and she even starred in Sabra’s ‘OK Boomer’ NFL commercial. Charli’s sister Dixie as well as her parents are taking part in their moments of fame, too: her family signed with United Talent Agency, and viewers can follow the family along on their Youtube vlog accounts. D’Amelio is a gateway to an entire generation of social media consumers, and brands recognize her value to their business.

What differentiates D’Amelio from the majority of Instagram influencers is her online presence. Sure she has a team working for her, and sure she has some impressive collaborations, and sure she’s been interviewed many, many times. However, her platform focus is not solely dedicated to promoting her brand. Rather, D’Amelio posts what she wants, when she wants. Unlike Instagram, a visual platform mainly focused on the aesthetic image of one’s feed, Tik Tok is a platform whose main focus is entertainment. After just a few of her dance videos went viral, D’Amelio inadvertently built a successful personal brand that paves the way for eCommerce to potentially take hold in niche social platform spaces; one that doesn’t sacrifice entertainment for sales. 

What Happens on TikTok, Stays on TikTok

Social media plays such a present role in everyday life, so it is no surprise that platforms are looking for ways to maximize their user experience. Features such as linking in bios and “buy now” buttons allow users to absorb content and shop, all while staying on the app. For instance, Instagram has its Shop where users can explore tagged products in photos, view descriptions, and most recently, checkout– all inside the app

Similarly, TikTok is looking to enhance the platform with shopping functionalities. However, Sofie Galindo, strategic planner at Swift, notes in a recent article:

“As TikTok rolls out shopping features within the platform, it’s important that the user experience isn't disrupted too much. That’s why it’s great to initially lean in with influencers and creators. If they had a great experience with the content, it’s more likely they’ll click through and see what's next."

Basically, influencers influence shoppers, period. Users such as D'Amelio are cultivating a following by connecting with their fellow Gen Z followers. Likewise, newer brands are using the platform to quickly grow their following. In a recent article by Thing Testing, brands such as Starface are not only creating content on TikTok, but they are pioneering a new brand aesthetic: colorful, transparent, and full of animation.

With the great strides made by TikTok’s user content, the entertainment platform has a great opportunity to meet its content with an eCommerce tool that elevates without hindering the entertainment value. However, given the app’s focus on a streamlined and entertaining user experience, adding eCommerce to the mix is a little tricky. So, either a new social media eCommerce era emerges, or Tik Tok’s attempt at creating an eCommerce space within the app is disruptive and awkward. 

Hi, Welcome to Chili’s

If these unanswered musings over a video app’s ability to support features of other social platforms sound familiar, then you know the legacy of Vine.

Vine’s popularity skyrocketed after it was launched by Twitter in 2012. The short, continuous video loops allowed for comedy and creative users alike to enjoy and create a variety of entertaining material. New updates, such as using the front facing camera to capture more video, made usage surge. However, as other social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram began rolling out new video features, Vine was unable to maintain a competitive edge. Subsequently, the app shut down in 2016

In similar ways, TikTok is attempting to roll out features that are largely successful on platforms focused on inspiration and aesthetic, such as Instagram and Pinterest. While Instagram and Pinterest share similarities with online as well as brick and mortar stores, TikTok and Vine share similarities with the televisions that are always playing in the electronic section of Target.  

The Future

While TikTok’s future remains to be seen, it’s legacy undoubtedly leaves a lasting impact on the eCommerce landscape. With eCommerce development moving in the fast lane, we can quickly see a variety of digital business and influencer footprints on top of brick-and-mortar commerce. Vine introduced a new form of social media entertainment. This time, at the helm of entertainment app TikTok is Gen Z: the new generation of eCommerce-conscious influencers.

As aesthetic inspiration apps like Instagram and Pinterest, and now entertainment apps such as TikTok, look to incorporate eCommerce into their platform, the line between influencers and business blurs. As a result, the boundary between social media and people fades as well– for an app whose primary role is entertainment, does eCommerce have a boundary of which to adhere? Is it worth it for the sake of human connectivity? Or, is TikTok on to something?

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