How TikTok Became a Shopping Platform

There are over 16 billion views across videos on TikTok tagged #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt. If you scroll through this hashtag—through package unboxings, shopping hauls, and product reviews—you’ll discover creators sharing items they purchased after seeing them on the world’s most downloaded app

Once a lip-syncing platform called Musical.ly and then a casual “dancing app,” TikTok has transformed into a product recommendation engine driving ecommerce. In between videos of choreographed routines and elaborate public pranks, TikTok users can find creators-turned-curators introducing them to everyday essentials and nice-to-have gadgets they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered—from levitating light bulbs to renter-friendly home office shelves. 

This ecommerce phenomenon is also helping brands get noticed. Sarah Forrai, the Founder behind Contour Cube, has embraced TikTok to build awareness of and sell her face-contouring products. The brand’s TikTok account has grown to nearly 200,000 followers and over 2.9 million likes across all its videos.

@contourcube Mini Marble has just launched! #contourcube #skincare ♬ Sway (Sped Up Version) - Michael Bublé

“We’ve been lucky with a number of videos reaching large audiences between one million to seven million views,” says Forrai. “This has driven a huge amount of traffic to our website and helped grow our online community.” Within three months of launching their product on TikTok, it paid off: Contour Cube was approached by large retailers, found distribution partners, and is now stocked at THE ICONIC, Uncommon Goods, and Dolls Kill. 

Not having a presence on TikTok is becoming a missed opportunity for brands. The platform has developed ecommerce product features, in partnership with Shopify, to support the organic product recommendation and sales activity already facilitated on the platform. TikTok has transformed into an online shopping destination where creators recommend their favorite items, consumers find products they love, and businesses drive sales.

5 reasons social commerce is exploding on TikTok 

Social commerce is exploding and online browsers are buying through popular social apps. In the US, social commerce saw $46.4 billion in sales in 2020, a number projected to reach $79.6 billion by 2025. 

The Market Size of Social Commerce in the US


With over one billion active users worldwide and an average of 38.6 minutes spent on the app each day, TikTok is driving ecommerce sales across the globe. TikTok’s data on “community commerce” points to the transformation of the app into a bonafide shopping platform:

  • 67% say TikTok inspired them to shop even when they weren't looking to do so.
  • 73% feel a deeper connection to brands they interact with on TikTok, compared to other social media platforms.
  • 78% agree that the best brands on TikTok are ones that share their ideas and work together with users.
How TikTok Inspires Online Shopping and Brand Connection

    Over 79% of people responding to a US survey revealed they had purchased a product or service after seeing it on social media. The same survey reveals that 80% of users feel that the platform helps them discover ideas about brands and products they’d never thought of before. 

    Here’s why TikTok has become a powerful social commerce destination where users can uncover new purchasing opportunities: 

    1. Broadcasting to a wide demographic of potential shoppers

    TikTok is generally viewed as a platform dominated by Gen Z. To some extent, this is true. According to available TikTok statistics, 43.7% of users are aged 18 to 24, making up 386.6 million TikTok users. However, people of all ages use TikTok: 

    • 419.7 million users aged 18 to 24 (43.3% of TikTok’s ad audience aged 18+)
    • 312.0 million users aged 25 to 34 (32.2% of TikTok’s ad audience aged 18+)
    • 133.5 million users aged 35 to 44 (13.8% of TikTok’s ad audience aged 18+)
    • 67.4 million users aged 45 to 54 (6.9% of TikTok’s ad audience aged 18+)
    • 41.7 million users aged 55+ (4.3% of TikTok’s ad audience aged 18+)
    TikTok’s User Age Demographics


    Businesses hesitant to join the platform, convinced it’s an intimidating app that only appeals to younger demographics, can be assured that a wide range of people are on the app. 

    2. Hearing from trusted creators instead of companies 

    Part of what makes TikTok a powerful platform for social selling is that users receive product recommendations directly from creators, not companies. Matter Communications found that 61% of people surveyed are likely to trust recommendations from a friend, family member, or influencer on social platforms. Conversely, only 38% are likely to trust recommendations that come from a brand on social media. 

    The Trusted Voices on Social Media


    A before-and-after video from an influencer, revealing a skin transformation after using a beauty product, can feel like a recommendation from a friend, instead of an advertisement from a brand. 73% percent of survey respondents said content creators have inspired them to try new products. With more categories of creators—culinary experts, parents, students, plant enthusiasts—users can follow creators that closely share their lifestyle or interests, making their product recommendations more relevant and specific. 

    3. Seeing creative positioning of products 

    Creators often showcase products in formats that feel organic. Instead of seeing products pictured on a white background on a web page or posed to perfection on Instagram, users see items in action. 

    @noora_diab this is my daily ritual @ContourCube™™ • code NOORA15 #contourcube #skincare #skincaretips #facialiceglobes #gifted ♬ Spring - Aesthetic Sounds

    A quick TikTok video can provide a close-to-real-life look into how a product works. Often, product reviews are paired with popular music on TikTok or embedded within a familiar meme or format. You might see an LED lamp unboxed and set up in an aesthetic home office, or watch a creator try out a new notebook to study. In creating content, influencers use their creative prowess to bring products to life—in a way that simple product photography cannot. 

    4. Curating as a creator service

    Creators who lend their influence and authenticity to recommending new products are often providing an essential service: curation. With the explosion of online shopping, consumers are inundated with messaging from brands and businesses attempting to win mind and market share. Whether it’s in-feed ads on Instagrams, pre-roll ads ahead of YouTube videos, or audio advertisements during podcasts, consumers see a steady stream of products for their consideration. 

    @heartdefensor would you buy it? unboxing The Simpsons collection by Makeup Revolution 💛💖 tysm @makeuprevolution for gifting to me! #thesimpsons #asmr #asmrunboxing ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show

    Creators on TikTok help separate the signal from the noise. Heart Defensor Telagaarta, a TikToker with over 3.6 million followers, has garnered over 150 million likes across videos where she unboxes her purchases—from a Simpson’s inspired makeup collection to clean, vegan, and cruelty-free fragrances.

    Off the platform, “Things I bought on TikTok” has become a genre, with creators across the internet sharing their TikTok finds on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Sophdoeslife, a YouTuber with over one million subscribers, frequently creates videos where she buys and reviews viral TikTok items—her video on viral TikTok fashion items has over one million views.

    5. Benefitting from the virality effect

    The most powerful part of social commerce is, in fact, the “social” part. From Twitter to Instagram, posts, pictures, memes, and video clips frequently go viral, generating conversations and discourse for days or weeks on end. This same virality happens with products on TikTok. A single video from a creator can spawn many more—with creators stitching the original, providing their own review of a product, or just adding to the conversation through video. 

    Thousands of women have created videos curling and blow-drying their hair with one of TikTok’s most talked about tools: the Dyson Hair Wrap. Millions have seen the infamous “TikTok leggings'' promising a boosted posterior. A pasta recipe that went viral on TikTok in 2021 led to an increased demand for feta cheese in grocery stores. TikTok doesn’t only introduce users to new products, it can make their popularity skyrocket and lead to viral moments for businesses.

    @shopify The TikTok Effect: Baked Feta Pasta #bakedfetapasta #fetapasta #fetacheese #cheese #tiktokeffect #foryou #didyouknow #dyk #funfact ♬ original sound - Shopify

    Taken together, these factors are driving purchasing decisions on TikTok and have led to the platform doubling-down on social commerce to create in-app experiences that drive sales for brands. 

    Four ways businesses can embrace the power of TikTok

    Often, an organic video featuring a product can make a business go viral. But increasingly, companies are not leaving discovery on TikTok to chance. Instead, they’re establishing a presence on TikTok, thinking like creators, partnering with influencers, and taking advantage of TikTok Shopping features. 

    1. Maintain a presence on TikTok

    Similarly to platforms like Instagram, TikTok is becoming a “must have” in the arsenal of ecommerce brands. Companies like Contour Cube are intentional about leveraging the power of TikTok to drive product sales. The first video they posted on TikTok garnered over 500,000 views overnight, completely selling out of their first batch of products. 

    @contourcube The story of Contour Cube™ #icefacial #iceontheface #learnontiktok #skincarehacks #smallbusiness #businessontiktok #skincare #beautyhacks ♬ Domino Lovers Challenge - stilestefanbae

    “Launching on TikTok catapulted Contour Cube into the mainstream, and for us, we were truly surprised by the huge engagement from what we thought was a niche idea,” says Forrai. “TikTok has since become our primary marketing platform accumulating over 30 million views to date, which is amazing for a startup like us.”

    Learn more: Best times to post on TikTok

    2. Think like a creator, not a brand

    Brands reposting content from other platforms or ignoring the trends on TikTok will see disappointing results. To succeed on TikTok, brands should think like a creator—or become one. 

    Isabella Lin started Fizzy Soaps in 2018 as a small Etsy seller, making anywhere from zero to 10 sales each week. That all changed when a video she posted about her business journey went on TikTok, selling out her entire store and launching her business to new heights. Today, most Fizzy Soaps customers arrive at its digital storefront after watching their videos on TikTok and becoming interested in Isabella’s story and products. TikTok has allowed them to reach new customers without spending a cent on advertising, even earning money off videos. 

    @fizzysoapss

    Orange Dream ✨🌙 Available Now

    ♬ Delicious - Pabzzz

    “TikTok has allowed me to advertise not just what I make, but also show my audience who I am,” says Lin “They become interested in my whole journey, attracting loyal fans and, most importantly, customers.”

    Companies can find success on TikTok by thinking like creators, rather than like companies: 

    • Deputize a “face of the company” for your brand, like the founder, so users are connecting with an individual versus a nebulous company.
    • Embed your products within existing trends, meme formats, and popular songs.
    • Opt for clips that feel authentic and story-centered instead of workshopped and polished videos that feel like marketing. 

    Learn more: Free video editing software

    3. Partner with creators and influencers 

    For companies that can’t become creators, partnering with creators is the next best thing. According to Statista, the market size for influencer marketing worldwide in 2021 was $13.8 billion. 

    Market Size for Influencer Marketing in 2021


    While influencer marketing can be expensive, micro-influencers are a viable option, with TikTok finding that 72% of respondents feel ordinary content creators are more interesting than celebrities. With the countless niches on TikTok—from cooking to cleaning to studying—finding an aligned creator is within reach for businesses.

    💡 Advice on working with influencers 

    Working with online influencers can be an effective marketing strategy to find new customers and make sales. Read these resources to learn more on the power of influencer marketing and how to find the best creators to work with your brand:

    4. Take advantage of TikTok shopping features for your business 

    The community of creators on TikTok was already driving product discovery, purchase consideration, and sales off the platform. But TikTok’s addition of ecommerce tools point to the transformation of the platform from a brand consideration platform to a full-fledged sales platform. 

    In August 2021, Shopify announced a partnership with TikTok—TikTok Shopping—allowing Shopify merchants with a TikTok for Business account to add a shopping tab to their TikTok page, creating a mini-storefront where users can buy products directly. 

    Shopify and TikTok have also partnered to bring product links to Shopify merchants, allowing them to tag products in organic TiKTok videos that link either to the merchant's online storefront on TikTok or directly to their online store. 

    💡 More on TikTok shopping and using TikTok for your business

    Get your business started on TikTok with advice on everything from advertising on the platform to creating a full-fledged marketing strategy. 

    ***

    Social commerce combines content, creators, and commerce to create immersive shopping experiences that feel more organic for users. The trends we’re observing points to the decentralization of online commerce. We’re moving toward a future where products—makeup items, tech gadgets, cooking utensils—can be readily purchased anywhere on the web, not just online shops.

    Increasingly, we’ll see shopping experiences embedded within familiar and new online formats live alongside communities we’re a part of online and the content we consume and engage with. In short, ecommerce will live across the internet and entrepreneurs will find new ways to make money online.

    On the crowded internet, #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and the over 16 billion views across the hashtag point to the power of the platform to help consumers discover items they otherwise wouldn’t and help businesses put their products in front of new audiences.

    Data graphics created by Datalands for Shopify.

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