How TikTok is becoming the new buying network



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Near the Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids at It’Sugar are random items – stirred toys, fruit-shaped jelly candies – that have earned a spot on the candy store shelves because they’ve become viruses on TikTok.

A flood of videos last year showed people biting into the plastic casing of fruit candies, squirting artificial-colored jelly out of their mouths. Store employees urged the company to stock up, and the candy worked so well that It’Sugar decided to incorporate TikTok into its sales strategy. The chain now has signs with the app logo in stores, and TikTok products account for 5-10% of weekly sales.

“That’s an insane number,” said Chris Lindstedt, assistant vice president of merchandising at It’Sugar, which has around 100 locations.

TikTok, an app known for its dance videos with 1 billion users worldwide, has also become a buying phenomenon. National chains, hoping to attract younger TikTok users to their stores, are setting up TikTok sections, reminiscent of “As Seen On TV” stores that sold peddled products on infomercials.

At Barnes & Noble, tables display signs with #BookTok, a book recommendation hashtag on TikTok that has propelled paperbacks into the bestseller list. Amazon has a section of its site that it calls “Internet Famous,” with listings of products that anyone who has spent time on TikTok would recognize.

The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt got over 5 billion views on TikTok, and the app made a bag of products a surprise hit: leggings, handbags, cleaning supplies, even feta cheese. Videos of a baked feta pasta recipe sent the salty cottage cheese flying from supermarket refrigerators earlier this year.

It’s hard to crack the code for what will become the next TikTok sensation. How TikTok decides who can see what remains largely a mystery. Businesses are often caught off guard and tend to rush after their product takes off, inundating creators with free content, hiring them to appear in ads, or buying ads on TikTok.

“It was a bit of a headache at first,” said Jenny Campbell, Kate Spade’s marketing director, recalling the “heart” searches on Kate Spade’s website earlier this year.

The culprit turned out to be a 60-second clip on TikTok posted by 22-year-old Nathalie Covarrubias. She filmed herself in a parked car spouting out of a pink heart-shaped purse she had just bought. Others copied her video, posting TikToks of themselves buying the bag or trying it on with different outfits. The $ 300 heart-shaped purse is sold out.

“I couldn’t believe it because I wasn’t trying to advertise the bag,” said Ms. Covarrubias, a makeup artist from Salinas, Calif., Who was not paid to post the video. “I was really, really excited and happy with the handbag and how unique it was.”

Kate Spade sent free items to Ms Covarrubias in exchange for posting another TikTok when the bag was back in stores. (This video has been marked as an advertisement.) It turned what was supposed to be a limited Valentine’s Day handbag into a bag that is sold all year round in different colors and fabrics, like faux fur.

TikTok is a powerful buying push for Gen Z because the creators look authentic, unlike Instagram, where the goal is to post the most perfect selfie, said Hana Ben-Shabat, founder of Gen Z Planet. His consulting firm focuses on the generation born between the late 1990s and 2016, a cohort that practically lives on TikTok.

Users trust the recommendations, she said, “She’s a real person, telling me a real story.”

Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms put people in touch with random friends or funny videos before marketers realized their sales potential. For TikTok, losing the veneer of authenticity as more ads and ways to shop flood the app could be a risk. If the ads are “blatant or annoying, that’s more of a problem,” said Colin Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at the University of San Diego.

Influencers who get paid to buy brands improve at pitching products to their followers, telling them that even though they get paid, they’re recommending a product they really like. “They feel like they are our friends, even though they are not,” he said.

Channah Myers, a 21-year-old barista from Goodyear, Ariz., Bought a pair of Aerie leggings for $ 50 after seeing several TikTok videos of women saying the cross-waist bands gave them a more hourglass figure. “Funny, I shop religiously at Aerie and had no idea they existed until I saw them on TikTok,” Ms. Myers said.

After these Aerie leggings went viral on TikTok in 2020, the teen retailer extended the same design to biker shorts, tennis skirts and bikini bottoms, all of which can be found by searching for “TikTok” on the site. Aerie Web. It wouldn’t say how many leggings sold.

TikTok, along with other tech companies like Snapchat, are gearing up to challenge Facebook as a social shopping powerhouse.

Purchases on social media sites, known as social commerce, represent a market of $ 37 billion in the United States, according to eMarketer, primarily from Instagram and its parent company Facebook. By the end of 2025, that number is expected to more than double to $ 80 billion.

Last month, TikTok began testing a way for brands to get into the app and send users to checkout on their sites. But TikTok has hinted that more is to come. It could possibly be more like Douyin, TikTok’s sister app in China, where products can be bought and sold without leaving the app, just like you can on Facebook and Instagram.

“Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a new kind of shopping experience that has come to life through the TikTok community,” said Sandie Hawkins, Managing Director of TikTok, who works with brands for get them to buy ads on the app and help them. they drive sales. “We’re excited to continue to listen to our community and create solutions that help them discover, engage and buy the products they love. “

This includes The Pink Stuff, a British cleaning product that was not available in the United States last year. That all changed when videos of people using it to clean rusty pots and greasy counters went viral on TikTok, pushing the brand across the Atlantic. It launched in the United States in January on Amazon, with 1.3 million jars sold each month, and is getting calls from department stores wanting to stock it, according to Sal Pesce, president and chief operating officer of The Pink Stuff. US.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.


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