TikTok is unveiling its new shopping platform that’s drawn plenty of comparisons to controversial fast-fashion e-commerce brands Shein and Temu, allowing users to buy and sell products directly in the app, but some are complaining of scams and products that violate the platform’s own guidelines.
TikTok is finally rolling out its “TikTok Shop” feature—which will let sellers and buyers complete transactions completely within the TikTok app—in the United States starting this week, after beginning testing last year.
The TikTok shop introduces a brand-new Shop tab to the home screen, which will take users to a marketplace, but products can also be sold on live videos and through video advertisements.
About 40% of TikTok users have access to the Shop tab, and it will reportedly roll out gradually to all 150 million U.S. TikTok users by October.
Both individuals and brands can apply to sell products in the United States: Individuals need just a driver’s license or passport, and there is no minimum follower requirement, while brands must show valid company registration documents.
TikTok aims to quadruple its e-commerce sales to as much as $20 billion this year, Bloomberg reported in June, though the platform is reportedly foregoing charging commissions from some vendors temporarily to get users to sell.
Some users, however, have complained of products or vendors being scams: To avoid purchasing faulty products, users can check product reviews, read user comments and check if buyers have uploaded pictures of their purchased products and vet the seller by looking at their TikTok profile and other online marketplaces through which they may sell products.
TikTok says it vets sellers and removes any products that violate its rules.
TikTok has published rules banning the sale of certain items in the TikTok Shop, and it says approval is required for vendors to sell certain restricted items—but left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters says some vendors have been selling products that appear to violate the platform’s rules. Weight loss products and medical supplements are prohibited, according to TikTok’s guidelines, but Media Matters found several vendors selling weight loss creams, pills, and other weight loss products that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and may carry health risks. One vendor reportedly sold lipotropic injections, or “lipo shots”—a vitamin B12 injection that is said to assist in weight loss but lacks scientific consensus. In another report, Media Matters found several health products, like weight-loss cream and teeth-whitening strips, were sold by TikTok users appearing to be doctors—though they were actually deepfakes. TikTok confirmed to Forbes it took action to remove these products and update search safeguards to prevent these results from surfacing.
Some users have complained of scammers and poor quality products sold through the TikTok Shop. In one video posted Wednesday, which garnered more than 180,000 likes, a user said she got “scammed” by the TikTok Shop for purchasing a $70 dress which is “horribly made, seams don’t lay flat, and won’t stop rolling down.” Two users posted separate videos—one received 192,000 likes and the other garnered 34,000—stating they intended to purchase a Cosrx snail mucin skincare product on TikTok and quickly clicked on a product that looked identical. They instead received a product that looked alike from afar, but had a different brand name and typos on the label, and urged users to look closely at the seller and reviews on the TikTok Shop.
TikTok spokesperson Misha Rindisbacher told The Washington Post products found to violate the platform’s guidelines will be removed, and TikTok employs both human and computer moderation to review products. A TikTok spokesperson told Forbes vendors must first undergo a verification process before they can list items, and new sellers are subject to a probationary period during which limits are placed on how many items they can list and how many orders they can fulfill.
TikTok has already been firmly established as a haven for brands and products to advertise and go viral. The hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit, in which users show off products they’ve purchased that they learned about on TikTok, has nearly 70 billion views. Products featured under this hashtag range can include books, skincare products and miscellaneous items like a napkin holder or a picnic basket. Major brands have racked up millions of followers on their TikTok profiles, and some have benefitted from surprise viral campaigns, like the videos that made the McDonald’s Grimace Shake a massive hit. TikTok has also developed a robust creator economy, with plenty of brands relying on influencer marketing to sell goods. But other users have encountered scams: Becky Entrican, an Indiana-based TikTok user, told The Washington Post she considered a t-shirt vendor trustworthy after a video advertisement with 11,000 likes appeared on her For You Page, but the product had not yet arrived six months after placing her order, which made her wary of trusting advertisers on the platform.
TikTok is following the lead of other social media platforms that have integrated online shopping into their apps. Facebook Marketplace launched in 2016, and Instagram began rolling out in-app shopping features in 2018. TikTok’s e-commerce efforts have also drawn comparisons to Shein and Temu, two retailers known for their shockingly low prices which are controversial for allegations of poor quality products and working conditions. Like TikTok, Shein is a Chinese-owned company, while Temu is based in Boston but owned by the Chinese company PDD Holdings.
TikTok Shop is a dream for creators. It’s putting shoppers at risk. (Washington Post)
TikTok Popularizes Products. Can It Sell Them, Too? (New York Times)
TikTok Launching E-Commerce Business Competing With Shein And Temu, Report Says (Forbes)