TikTok, TikTok: Clock ticks for Amazon as Shopify brings short-video ecommerce to the West

By Elles Houweling

Social media platform TikTok announced on Tuesday that it is piloting a new in-app shopping experience as part of its ongoing partnership with Shopify. The new feature will allow select merchants from the US, Canada and the UK to sell goods directly from their Shopify storefronts through the TikTok app.

Shopify merchants who have a TikTok business account would be able to use the feature to add a shopping tab to their profiles, the company said in a blog post.

Essentially, this new feature is a dedicated section of a TikTok profile with a scrollable list of products that are directly linked to the merchant’s online store.

The app first announced its partnership with Shopify last October. In February, the company said it would expand to certain European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Following Facebook and Instagram, ByteDance – TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company – is also ramping up its efforts to move into the ecommerce business in overseas markets.

The Chinese version of TikTok, known domestically as Douyin, has in recent years become a prominent player in the ecommerce business in China, specifically with its short-video advertisement and live broadcast strategies.

Through these live streaming sessions, shoppers can request to see product details up close. They are an interactive way for consumers to engage with sellers through the app. Douyin proudly said in a statement earlier this year that its short-video broadcasting approach introduced the concept of “interest ecommerce,” which keeps consumers engaged and makes online shopping fun.

“It’s clear that this trend is gaining significant traction in the Chinese market, and western tech companies are taking note,” says Luke Gowland, senior analyst at GlobalData.

The amalgamation of ecommerce and social media – a form of social ecommerce if you like – is blurring the lines between online entertainment and online shopping, a trend that social media platforms in the West are now also picking up.

Reality TV star Kylie Jenner is among the early adopters of TikTok’s new service and will use the feature with her Kylie Cosmetics brand, which will be available to shop directly on the app.

“I built my business on social media; it’s where my fans go first to look for what’s new from Kylie Cosmetics,” Jenner said in the Shopify blog post. “I have so much fun creating TikTok videos, and I love sharing posts of my fans using the products. That’s why I’m excited for Kylie Cosmetics to be one of the first to let customers shop directly on our TikTok!”

Ecommerce remains the fastest-growing channel in retail, and according to GlobalData’s thematic research, the market increased from $399bn in 2010 to $.2.2tn in 2020. The key to this growth has been the spread of the internet.

Covid-19 has also played a significant role in the accelerated adoption of online shopping. With consumers locked in their homes, more and more people turned to ecommerce platforms for daily goods.

The next stage in the expansion of ecommerce will be the large-scale adaptation of smartphone shopping, an area in which social media platforms arguably have a comparative advantage.

The trend of social media companies moving into the world of online shopping may threaten well-established ecommerce giants such as Amazon, as Gowland explains:

“As it is the gatekeeper of the western ecommerce market, I think Chinese ecommerce companies entering the western market will be a significant threat to Amazon. The company struggled to compete against Alibaba and others in the Chinese market, failing to keep up to speed with same-day delivery and free shipping. With Alibaba facing regulatory headwinds in China, its next option to sustain its current levels of growth is to look to western markets.”