TikTok shopping and the rise of “social commerce”
The Pink Stuff, an abrasive cleaning paste for hard surfaces, has “done absolutely nothing for 15 years,” said Henrik Pade, managing director of UK-based parent company Star Brands. In 2017, it got a little boost from cleaning influencers on Instagram and YouTube. The company, which at the time was selling most of its cleaning products through local grocery stores, began investing in social support, but “we didn’t know enough about it,” Pade said.
Then came TikTok. “We cannot accept it as a major strategic plan,” said Mr Pade. “It happened and we started following them.” Videos of people cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, and off-label items – shoes, car wheels – with Pink Stuff have garnered more than 250 million views in just over a year. Some are effective demos. There are enough jokes.
Three years ago, Mr Pade said, sales of the paste were around £ 2 million, or around $ 2.6 million. Last year they exceeded £ 25 million, or $ 34 million, and accounted for half of the company’s total revenue. “In the UK, it has gone from being a niche product to being a widespread retail product,” said Pade. In the US, on the other hand, 85 percent is sold online, mostly on Amazon, thanks largely to TikTok.
Stories like this suggest with some credibility that TikTok doesn’t have any thing may be the next big thing. The app that always tells you what to see next and that also easily tells you what to buy next. Yet its version of shopping is also strikingly makeshift, with a heavy reliance on Amazon, where creators search for viral gold and users follow. For an international technology company, this may feel like untapped potential.
Features like storefronts for brands could be seen as TikTok’s attempt to catch up own recent attempts to become a one stop shopping destination. However, some hinted at a desire to make TikTok even more independent and trade-oriented, following the path of TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin, which has more than 600 million users. Brands and users on Douyin can beautiful Sell and buy products without leaving the app, millions of times over. It has its own payment system and has started siphoning off market share from China’s e-commerce giants, which it has specifically identified as competitors.
Whether “an end-to-end shopping experience”, as Mr Irigoyen described earlier this week, is what people ultimately want from their social spaces remains an open question: Perhaps it is bare consumption by #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt only tolerable for the extent to which it feels organic. Or maybe TikTok is different. It’s a platform that never pretended to be anything other than a machine for producing and monetizing virality, and it’s never been shy about telling us what to do next. What do we have to lose if it becomes a mall? The best of the rest of TikTok feels fleeting even when we enjoy it – that was always part of the fun.