Hugely successful TikTok shopping experience is boon to brands, creators and users alike but it comes at a price

Posted by Emilie McMeekan in Comment

8 months ago

In August 2021, TikTok launched TikTok Shop, a move to transform the short-form video app into an e-commerce behemoth. It’s working: according to market research firm Savanta, TikTok is the most shopped social channel in the UK, ahead of Instagram and Facebook, with the average consumer making ten purchases on the platform a year, compared to nine on the older platforms. #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has more than 48 billion views and, powered by Shopify, audiences can be nudged into buying everything from shampoo to cleaning equipment, via viral bodysuits. In the US, social commerce is projected to reach US $79.6 billion (£64.3 billion) by 2025. The UK commerce industry is also expected to grow steadily – 32% from 2022 to 2028, according to Business Wire.

TikTok Shop has also added Live Shopping to its wheelhouse, and brands are beginning to maximise the QVC-style experience. Charlotte Tilbury partnered with creator Nisrin on a two-hour live shopping event for Black Friday in 2022, where the duo promoted five bundles only available to buy on TikTok Shop. It was watched by more than 65,000 viewers. According to TikTok’s European general manager, Rich Waterworth, Cariad Ryan has gone from coffee shop worker to full-time creator thanks to TikTok Shop. On Black Friday 2022, Ryan sold £90,000 worth of products in four hours during a live shopping event and she is now collaborating with brands such as Rimmel London.

The TikTok Shopping experience also felt like a boon to creators who could become affiliate partners and therefore add commission to their influencer income, with rates running between 10% and 20%. However, it comes at a price – namely that creators are having to disclaim relationships with brands, or are finding that TikTok is flagging their content as ads, even if they are merely tagging brands to help their audiences. Take creator Amy Spalding, known as Positivami, who has nearly 250k followers on the platform and is a lifestyle vlogger and endometriosis advocate. Her post featuring her favourite sponge cleaning fluid comes with the following disclaimer: “Tiktok this is not a paid promotion :(.” Or a post for a shampoo comes with “*not an ad, just linking the product.”

Or take another creator like Rifah, who made the decision to not tag any brands in a round-up of TikTok Shop best buys, because the platform will automatically add an ad label and she wants to tell her followers what she genuinely thinks is worth the money, without her audience feeling like she’s selling them something. This tortuous double-think means that #notanad has 350 million views and, although a lot of that is tongue in cheek, it points to the heart of the problem.

In a cost-of-living atmosphere, that has also amplified terms such as “deinfluencing” in a bid to turn the dominating wave of overconsumption, the commercial relationship between creator and audience is delicate. Yes, there are those who exploit this, and the Advertising Standards Authority has been hot on the heels of offenders – a recent high-profile ruling saw a July 2022 post by presenter Laura Whitmore and The Muff Liquor Company rapped for not disclosing its commercial intent. But as TikTok’s relentless commercial ambitions steamroll on, there is no consistency. Without consistency, it is hard to establish trust, and that is the cornerstone of the creator relationship.

By Emilie McMeekan, CORQ features director.