TikTok first entered the public consciousness during the height of the first lockdown of 2020. Overnight, people were recording 15-second dance routines, copying banana bread recipes and laughing at deranged comedy skits. Since then, however, an app widely dismissed as a meme-driven platform has become one of the most powerful platforms for driving fashion trends and sales.
Celebrities such as Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez have both launched successful beauty brands anchored around a leading TikTok marketing plan. These days, it’s impossible to escape designers reviewing products from Rhodes or Rare Beauty respectively. In fact, Rare Beauty CMO Katie Welch recently revealed in an interview with The Verge that the makeup line has grown beyond Selena Gomez’s social reach, which is especially amazing considering she’s the fifth most followed person on Instagram. Influencers have also raised awareness of their brands through their strategic use of the platform. Most notably, 25-year-old Matilda Djerf leveraged her cult following on the app to drive $22 million in sales for her Djerf Avenue brand.
Luxury fashion houses have successfully experimented with the app. Most notably, #Gucci has racked up nearly 3.1 billion views, with the brand’s iconic Jackie bag, first released in 1961, having over 21 million views. As a result, demand for the bag increased 50% year-over-year, pushing the average sale price up 65% according to The RealReal’s 2021 resale report. Similarly, Louis Vuitton’s Pochette monogram bag generated more than one million views on TikTok, and translated to a 47% year-over-year increase in sales of the shoulder bag.
Products such as Dyson’s £400 hair dryer, Clinique’s 50-year-old black honey lipstick and Kim Kardashim’s Skims salon dress have gone viral and become impossible-to-buy cult items. In TikTok’s 2022 What’s Next report, they found that 67% of users say TikTok encourages them to buy even when they don’t want to. The popular #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag has over 21 billion views.
Although social media has been influencing purchase decisions for years, TikTok is unlike anything that has come before. It has 1.2 billion active users who spend 25.7 hours per month on the app. In contrast, Facebook users only spend an average of 16 hours per month and Instagram users, 7.9 hours. In addition, 70% of TikTok users belong to Generation Z, which currently represents a total spending power of $143 billion and which, by 2025, will contribute 130% of the growth of the luxury goods market. personal.
TikTok offers two main ways for creators to monetize their content: short videos and live purchases. The former are morning routines, Outfit Of The Days-type mini vlogs, and tips and reviews that place the products in organic, relatable settings (even though the creator likely has an affiliate link to the product in their organic shop or TikTok). Meanwhile, live shopping is essentially a modernized version of a TV shopping channel like QVC, where designers and brands showcase their wares in real time.
“In the context of Gen Z, it’s no surprise that TikTok holds tremendous conversion power,” says Jordan Mulvaney, creative digital strategist at The Digital Fairy, “much of the app’s content is content of a people-driven product, which in turn triggers those instant purchases.First-hand reviews are the most powerful tool in a brand’s arsenal, provided they’re selling a great product in the first place. .
And then there is the algorithm. On the app, you can scroll through the bottomless “For You” page for five days in a row and constantly receive new content specifically tailored to your interests; which means that there is an unlimited possibility of buying something. One of the most uncomfortable results of this endless algorithm-infused thirst for novelty is the “micro-trend”. Often these seasonal trends take the aesthetic components of traditional subcultures and repackage them into something that can be imitated, bought and sold. Microtrends also drive user consumption behavior by tapping into the psychological fear of missing out – when everyone wearing a particular item of clothing goes viral, surely you must buy it too?
It’s a sleight of hand that’s now reinforced by excessive media coverage of TikTok trends, where posts report on the latest fads – such as ‘coastal grandma chic’, ‘the clean girl’, ‘cottagecore’ and ‘ night luxe” – alongside “How to get this look” pages packed with links. Earlier this year, Harper’s Bazaar fashion news director Rachel Tashjian said, “We are living in a mass psychosis that is expressed through trend reporting.”
“The combination of the TikTok algorithm, which gives everyday people extraordinary traction, and the shopping features on the platform, which facilitate impulse purchases, make TikTok a powerful platform for brands. looking to make sales,” says Verity Park’s founding influencer marketing agency. , TBH. “One of my clients’ 30-second videos showcasing her hair routine was viewed by 1.4 million people and generated £7,000 in sales for the brands she chose to feature. Another sold for over £100,000 worth of beauty products over a few TikTok lives.
Many foreigners have harnessed the power of TikTok and used the platform to break into the industry. Two years ago, Indrė Narbutaitė and Lukas Źvikas launched streetwear brand Broken Planet World on TikTok. Within two months of testing the content, they went monstrously viral. “It wasn’t even steady growth. We literally had no views, then bam – one video got three million views overnight,” Narbutaitė recalls. Thanks to this, their Instagram page grew from 100 to 10,000 followers within a week, and as they continued to master the algorithm, the pair grew the brand into a multi-million pound business within a year.
Although Narbutaitė admits that the app has changed their lives, she is reluctant to rely too much on TikTok. “If you want to publish a list of products, for example, it probably won’t reach people. You have to think about trending sounds and formats, which means you have to heavily adapt your creative vision,” she says. “With TikTok, what drives people to the platform is the fact that it’s so authentic. It’s not polished, it’s not where you post your high-production editorial videos. »
Narbutaitė says that while TikTok is good at finding new customers, it’s not necessarily designed to cultivate community in the same way Instagram is. “While TikTok has the ability to sell a product after it goes viral, it doesn’t allow specific brands to retain customers outside of a trend,” agrees Mulvaney. “Brands have the ability to use social as a great marketing tool and integrate it into their larger ecosystem, but when it comes to brand loyalty and affinity, an instant product won’t help. won’t have many lasting effects.”
As TikTok begins to address these issues, the danger is that the app will focus too much on building these parts of the platform and lose its appeal. Narbutaitė was repeatedly approached to get Broken Planet to start live shopping, but pushed back each time: “I understand it’s a different way of shopping, but the whole vibe encourages over-consumption. There are timers, quick buyers and complete overstimulation – it literally baffles me when I see it. Shopping doesn’t have to be quick and impulsive, especially given all that’s going on with the climate crisis. »
“If TikTok isn’t careful, capitalism can destroy it, the same way we’ve seen Instagram quickly transform into a digital high street with ads and brands hitting you left, right and center – if quality of user experience is at risk, audiences will bounce back,” agrees Jordan, alluding to recent “Make Instagram, Instagram Again” protests that saw celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner back an online petition that called the platform for its blatant disregard for its users for profit.
Whether by intentional design or not, TikTok is on its way to becoming one of the most powerful e-commerce platforms in the world. However, whether that is what its users want it to become is something that will determine the app’s longevity.