To try to ensure the products on the shop are of decent quality, TikTok uses technical and human moderation to find listings that violate its policies, says Favazza. The company also looks for negative reviews and complaint rates on sellers, and may take action against them.
Some of the shop’s products are Temu-level cheap. Three pairs of socks, a gold necklace, and a hair trimmer are each advertised for about $1; T-shirts and hair brushes and beauty products for less than $5. TikTok isn’t standing by the quality of its listings: In its buyer policy, TikTok says the company makes “no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that any content on TikTok Shop is accurate, complete, or up to date.”
TikTok Shop has been tested in the US for nearly a year, and it has been available in several other places, including the UK and Indonesia, since 2021. It doesn’t just make it easier to buy the Beachweaver curling iron or Halara skirt that have been mainstay products on TikTok for months—it gives people selling just about anything a direct route to idly scrolling eyeballs.
And that’s because TikTok Shop isn’t really one centralized shop; people can look for products in the app’s search tool, but the algorithm will also force videos into your TikTok feed. These can come from users who include affiliate links and earn a commission. There’s live shopping, too, although this hasn’t taken off as well in the US as it has in other countries. In a way, the shop is like cramming Amazon into every function of TikTok.
Big-name brands, like clothing retailer Pacsun, have pages on TikTok Shop, but some are small businesses finding new audiences for their products. And many are littering the app’s shopping feature with the kind of junk found in niche Etsy searches or the deep pages of Amazon’s unwanted offerings, like Trump 2024 merch, generic home decor, and herbal detox pills.
Part of the appeal for shoppers is that buyers are often offered coupons, flash sales, and other discounts on products, a trend that will come back around for Black Friday deals this fall as the app hopes to compete with giant retailers. And with TikTok handling storage and shipping of the products, it eases the processes for third-party sellers.
With shopping, TikTok is venturing where other social apps have gone and failed. Facebook ended live shopping last fall, and Instagram did the same this spring. But the popularity of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, and the app’s uncanny algorithm, could make shopping a hit on TikTok where it has failed elsewhere. That’s if people can sift through the junk to find what they’re actually looking for.