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A brand’s guide to TikTok for e-commerce

illustration of a tiktok live selling shoes with hearts in the corner

If you’re on social media, it’s likely you’ve heard of TikTok. With more and more consumers glued to their phones throughout the day thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns, the TikTok community has grown exponentially.

The platform’s viral video content ranges from cats biting their own tails to travelers visiting places almost too beautiful to be true, passionate users explaining politics, and (of course) dancing intricate choreography to trending songs.

So, what makes TikTok stand out from the crowd? Perhaps the most important differentiator – it focuses entirely on short-form video, one of the most popular types of content in 2022.

A quick look at TikTok: 5 fast facts

TikTok’s target audience is made up of mostly members between the ages of 18 and 34 (75% of users fall within this range).

In 2022, TikTok has over 1 billion monthly users. That’s more than New York City’s current population!
TikTok’s brand engagement rates outperform other social media platforms, making it one of the most viable apps for small e-commerce businesses.

charts showing brand post engagement rates on tiktok, instagram, facebook, and twitter in 2020 and 2021

The unique social media platform shows no signs of slowing down. While its user base is still not quite the size of Meta and Instagram, it brought nearly $4 billion in ad revenue and is projected to triple that number in 2022.

TikTok has consumers spending like there’s no tomorrow with user consumption growing from $1.3 billion (2020) to $2.3 billion (2021). Not convinced? The shopping hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has 17 billion (yes, that’s right) views.

Why is TikTok so compatible with social commerce?

Before we dive in, let’s take a few steps back and revisit social commerce. Though it may feel like the buzzword of 2022, this form of online shopping is gaining quite a bit of traction among Gen Z and Millennials.

Imagine a world where all you have to do is scroll through your social app, see an item that catches your eye, tap it, and viola! You’re already at the checkout – all without having to leave the app.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it – it’s already here. Social commerce does exactly this – it’s a specific selling strategy where online businesses sell their product catalog directly through their social media platforms.

So, why is TikTok the new golden platform for social selling? Wouldn’t companies be better off investing in more established social platforms like Facebook and Instagram?

Not exactly… TikTok is the perfect storm of social media capabilities for an e-commerce store, especially in today’s digital atmosphere. Let’s dive in:

Going viral made easy

If you’re on social media, it’s likely you’ve seen a viral video or two (or three). When TikTok first became popular, its video views went through the roof. Why? The platform makes use of hashtags and an intelligent algorithm to retrieve videos that resonate with users.

TikTok users suddenly found themselves with views surpassing the hundreds of thousands, taking them up a step in the influencer world.

For brands, it’s no different. One viral video can get your name (and products) seen by an audience you may have never reached just with Google ads and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Laughs over length

There’s always a time and place for lengthy content – TikTok is not that place. Quick videos showcasing light-hearted, almost satirical tones create a loyal community that appreciates content creation and entertainment above all else.
Take ZARA for example. Their video of a shopper stuffing a giant bear into a laundry machine has over 3 million views…

A zara tiktok video showing their customer stuffing a bear into a washing machine

For brands, having a presence (and purchasing options) on TikTok can help build a stronger community because the content can take a more innovative approach and spark the interest of new audiences.

Plus, it provides ecommerce brands with an army of micro-influencers who are ready to try products for their loyal audiences. A study by Statista found over 100 thousand TikTok influencers worldwide in 2020 – that’s a healthy amount of influencers who can create user-generated content (UGC).

Personalization at its peak

Did you know that over 90% of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with brands that provide a more personalized experience? We’ve got some good news: personalization is at the heart of TikTok.

TikTok’s powerful algorithm serves up only the most relevant content for its users. Based on your likes, your searches, and how long you’re watching videos, you’ll see organic content in line with your history on the app.

For brands, this means items can make their way quite easily to customers who are already taking a look at relevant products or videos (without any other additional financial investment in paid advertising).

For customers, it means a seamless shopping and entertainment experience (when it’s done right!) If brands are being inauthentic in their approach or pushing products without any originality, TikTok users might stray away from the brand and the e-commerce store.

Quality over quantity

TikTok videos may be small, but they are mighty. Within 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 3 minutes, users can create high-quality content: they debunk myths, give singing lessons, develop complete workout guides, paint exquisite pictures, and more.

The best part for e-commerce marketers? There’s no need to spend copious amounts of money on larger-scale productions like photoshoots and commercials. With a simple iPhone and some good lighting, brands can create content that resonates with their audience, in an easily digestible video form.

In short? The shorter, the better. Gen Z may quickly be gaining some of the largest spending power, but their attention span clocks in at only 8 seconds. TikTok users fall largely into the Gen Z and Millennial buckets, so brands should be mindful of their preferences – which include genuineness, and little to no fluff.

What shopping features does TikTok offer?

Whether you’re just launching an online store, or you have an established site with loyal members, TikTok is a great place for ecommerce brands looking to expand their reach. Here are a few ways to integrate your online store with your TikTok profile:

  • TikTok shopping tab. Social shopping is made easy with the TikTok shopping tab. Located right on your brand’s profile, the shopping tab allows browsing, purchasing, and buying – all within the social media app.
  • Collection ads. These ads change the game when it comes to video ads. Instead of a call to action at the end of the video, collection ads allow brands to create product cards throughout the content. Click on a card and explore the full catalog.
  • Product links in videos. Just like a TikTok creator can tag a friend or brand in their videos, brands can tag their products in their own content. Potential customers have the option to make an immediate purchase without ever leaving TikTok.
  • Live shopping. Move over YouTube and Facebook, livestream shopping has found another home on TikTok. The perks? Real-time connection, immediate buying process, and more brand awareness.

7 Strategies to get started using TikTok for ecommerce

1. Use a branded hashtag or two as inspiration for content

In TikTok, hashtags are algorithm accelerators. #FYP #ForYouPage #Trending #BehindTheScenes and #ViralVideos are among some of the most popular hashtags, used on videos that surpass millions of views.

The thing is, these hashtags are being used by all of TikTok’s user base – so, there’s an incredible amount of competition. As a brand, it’s important to use these popular tags, but it’s equally as important to come up with a branded hashtag of your own.

A branded hashtag is a specific hashtag relating to your company. It can be used to promote a campaign or your brand overall – and it can be added to each and every one of your TikTok videos.

The ideal situation? Your branded hashtag gains some traction, and your audience begins to use it as well, allowing your brand reach to grow while collecting some UGC along the way.

2. Share product tips & tricks

TikTok is the perfect social platform to have industry experts showcasing products. Because of its short-form video format, brands can easily leverage TikTok for mini-tutorials, tips, tricks, and more. If your customers have questions, they can comment directly!

Gua sha company Wildling Beauty utilizes TikTok to educate their followers about the traditional roots of the skincare routine, as well as provide them with specific motions and movements for things like headache relief, jaw tension, and neck pain.

a wildling beauty tiktok video showing three areas to work on for headache relief

3. Partner with TikTok influencers in your niche

One of the best ways to attract new customers is to find a way into their regular feed. And we don’t mean shoving a ton of money into TikTok ads in hopes of a stellar return (this method could leave you with empty pockets and annoyed users who don’t want to see any more of your ads).

Instead, try partnering with TikTok influencers who can encourage users to try your products or simply showcase some of your catalog in their everyday videos. By taking this approach instead of a heavy in-feed ads approach, your target audience is likely to trust your brand more when they see their favorite influencer sporting it.

4. Experiment with contests to generate UGC content

Hosting a TikTok contest is a wonderful way to get your audience involved, engaged, and creating content. Not to be confused with TikTok challenges which don’t originate from a brand, TikTok contests are largely created by business accounts, have a defined set of rules, a start/end date, and (of course!) a prize.

TikTok contests give users an incentive to create UGC for a brand, tag a company profile, and share their video with their network. In short, it’s a perfect recipe for reaching a massive audience.

5. Identify popular trends and join in

The best way to get views? Hop on a trend. From music to video and photo templates, e-commerce businesses that keep up with the most relevant trends are most likely to get their TikTok videos in front of a wider audience.

If a #HandstandChallenge is going viral, why not create a fun piece of content that showcases your instructors or models doing handstands in your latest designs?

6. Show BTS at your business

Gen Z and Millennials are all about authenticity. They want to see the nitty-gritty details and behind-the-scenes views. Give your followers an inside scoop on how your products are made, how they’re picked and packed for e-commerce fulfillment, or how your staff spends a day at the office. These types of videos are hugely popular, helping to increase views, and in return, product discovery.

7. Be authentic and avoid sales-y language

Perhaps the worst thing ecommerce brands can do on TikTok is consistently trying to “sell” their product catalog in an aggressive way. Most users come to TikTok to casually scroll, maybe learn something new, or be entertained. If your brand is constantly shoving video ads, in-feed ads, ad campaigns, and more at your followers, it’s likely some of them will click that unfollow button.

Plus, investing in advertising options only without creating organic content and building a community can prove to be much more expensive, resulting in a lower ROI.

Challenges of using TikTok for ecommerce

It’s not smooth sailing with TikTok livestream shopping

Though livestream shopping is making waves in the social commerce sector, TikTok recently relinquished its livestream expansion in Europe and the US due to a decline in sales, content creator complaints, and data security allegations.

Because TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is in part owned by the Chinese government, plans for western markets livestream and TikTok’s data security in general has been under the microscope, effectively pausing the expansion.

What works for other platforms won’t work on TikTok

While TikTok has its own set of benefits for ecommerce marketing, one thing that causes a bit of a problem is how unique the platform is. There are unwritten social rules and aesthetics that make repurposing TikTok content quite difficult.

What works on TikTok likely won’t work on Meta or Instagram. Not only is the format quite unique, the content itself usually is tailor-made for the distinctive social media platform.

Because of this, some companies are finding it just plain difficult to make TikTok work for their social shopping. For example, luxury fashion brands put massive amounts of time, energy, and funds into high-end photoshoots for their items; however, this approach doesn’t exactly work on TikTok, which prides authentic, of-the-moment content.

TikTok moves at lightning speed

What’s in one day, might be out the next. In order to really take advantage of TikTok’s algorithm and make sure your content is getting the visibility it needs to thrive, you’ll have to stay on top of ever-changing trends. Using the wrong hashtag, outdated background music, and old templates could result in an audience that finds your content “cringe” rather than compelling.

The fix? Make sure your social media team is completely immersed in TikTok – researching influencers and competitors, keeping tabs on viral videos, and consistently pitching content ideas that aligns with what’s most relevant in the TikTok universe.

Brands that have found success with TikTok ecommerce

Gucci

gucci’s tiktok profile

What Gucci got right:

  • Gucci keeps it light and creative; their videos are quick and fun – never clocking more than a few seconds of quirky content.
  • They partner with some of the most famous celebrities and influencers out there while giving their followers a behind-the-scenes look.
  • They consistently use branded hashtags like #GucciBeauty and #GucciMade for brand visibility and engagement.

E.l.f. Cosmetics

e.l.f.’s tiktok profile

What E.l.f. got right:

  • Their bio and username are so trendy; Emojis and puns, what more could you ask for?
  • They leverage TikTok creators for UGC: tutorials, transformations, product reviews, and more – with a nice dose of comedy in there.
  • They utilize collections for different parts of the body (lips, eyes, face) and have branded hashtags like #ElfItUp and #ElfSKIN

Gymshark

gymshark’s tiktok profile

What Gymshark got right

  • Their feed is user generated content galore! It’s a mix of videos highlighting their luxury gym apparel and regular gym-goers.
  • They’re tapping into a very specific niche of content: gym parodies, gym fails – funny gym content.
  • They’re building a community before introducing the shopping features that TikTok offers.

Duolingo

duolingo’s tiktok profile

What Duolingo got right:

  • Duolingo consistently uses workplace humor to connect with its audience. (It’s one of the most popular forms of content on TikTok.)
  • They have a physical brand mascot in most of their videos, which is outside the norm these days.
  • They’re cultivating a community around humor and relevance – and they call themselves and their followers out along the way.

Starbucks

starbuck’s tiktok profile

What Starbucks got right:

  • Starbucks lets their employees create and post videos, showing their audience an inside look they can’t get anywhere else.
  • They include a link to their app and online store right in their bio.
  • They have a great variety of content: UGC, sustainability tips, employee BTS, and more.

Should e-commerce businesses have a TikTok storefront?

In today’s day and age, everyone has an online store. It’s never been easier to sell products online, which is a great thing for aspirational online merchants. However, it comes with a catch. There’s a ton of competition.

How can brands stand out from the crowd while delivering the best possible experience possible? They should meet their customers where they are. With billions of users on TikTok, it only makes sense that many brands are joining the social platform.

So, if you’re even asking yourself whether your brand should have a presence on TikTok, the answer is most likely a resounding yes. Apart from TikTok shopping and ads, the platform itself lends a hand to creating incredible organic content that reaches potential customers across the globe.

Most importantly, it helps brands build a community.

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