We hate to love it, and we love to hate it.
But, while TikTok can get a bad rap, it can also be an incredibly useful tool for some eCommerce brands.
A recent study found that 61% of users have engaged in eCommerce behaviors while on TikTok (pretty good odds for any online retailer). But there are some other crucial factors to consider when determining the relevance of this marketing channel for your online business.
TikTok isn’t just another social media platform — and it’s certainly not something a brand should jump into quickly and without a strategy.
Bottom line: eCommerce brands shouldn’t be on TikTok just for the sake of it — but rather to meet specific goals and business needs.
This blog will cover some of the pros and cons of this rapidly growing platform. We’ll also give your team some questions to ask when deciding if now is the right time to add an eCommerce TikTok strategy to your digital marketing plan.
Want our team’s personal opinion? Contact us anytime.
TikTok for eCommerce: A Primer
We all know the basics of TikTok: Users share short videos that are entertaining, educational, or otherwise provide desirable content. There’s no strict formula for virality, and oftentimes popularity is just a luck-of-the-draw situation.
However, the way that eCommerce brands leverage TikTok is much different than popular influencers, service providers, or casual users.
Because TikTok relies on authentic user videos, your brand needs to craft a strategy that balances leaning into current trends and sharing value — while avoiding outright advertising. TikTok does offer ad placements for purchase, but authentic user-generated content is going to win out every time at this stage of the game.
And don’t even think about recycling the same strategies you’re using for other social media advertising efforts. They won’t work on TikTok.
Instead, this platform requires a bit of a bespoke approach, patience, creativity, and some luck.
TikTok can be incredibly useful in nudging potential customers through the online shopping journey. The platform can help you raise awareness for your products, deepen customer relationships with interactive content, and provide a platform for product and brand feedback after a purchase.
In fact, studies show that 57% of TikTok users have been inspired to purchase a product they saw on the platform. These users are also twice as likely to contribute to social commerce by creating their own unique content about a product or brand that was purchased through or inspired by the app.
The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and the algorithm-chosen For You page can be powerful sources of word-of-mouth marketing that bring an even bigger range of sales and product awareness than your team can create on its own.
@coolgadget_official It’s a headset or a gyro #coolgadgets #tiktokmademebuyit #unzip ♬ original sound – coolgadget.com
If you can develop meaningful content to grab your audience’s attention and get them to purchase, they’re more likely to expand your marketing efforts by creating their own content about the product they purchased.
This endless loop of what TikTok calls “shoppertainment” is a sweet spot for any eCommerce brand.
TikTok Ads for eCommerce
No matter the platform, paid social ads can be a great way to augment an organic marketing strategy. While TikTok’s eCommerce advertising and shopping features are fairly new, the company is regularly rolling out updates to better capture users’ attention.
In essence, what began simply as a social network is gradually adding more elements of an eCommerce platform within its infrastructure.
The platform’s latest ad iteration includes three types of ads for brands to choose from:
- Video shopping ads
- Catalog listing ads
- Live shopping ads
However, TikTok ads pose two major challenges for eCommerce brands:
- Ad costs can be astronomical, due to the algorithm’s reliance on virality first.
- Ads are not only easy for users to identify, but they’re also less desirable on a user’s feed. When browsing, users can quickly swipe through to skip your ads.
For this reason, brands that create partnerships with influencers to cleverly and authentically advertise their products are going to realize bigger wins than those who rely on ads alone. (To make it easy, TikTok offers Spark Ads, which help advertisers connect and work with influencers without ever leaving the platform.)
Therefore, we recommend that eCommerce brands start their TikTok journey with an organic strategy first before diving into the ad options.
Being on TikTok: Pros & Cons for eCommerce Brands
TikTok is viral, yes. There are over 1 billion monthly users, yes.
But these two things aren’t good enough reasons for every eCommerce business to add TikTok to their digital marketing strategy.
Whether or not this channel is a good addition for you will depend on your brand, business goals, and creative team’s capabilities.
1. Quickly growing platform
TikTok reportedly has over 140.6 million active users in the United States alone.
Contrary to popular belief, teenagers and Gen Z aren’t the fastest-growing user demographics of the channel. Between June 2020 and September 2021, the percentage of users between 30–39 years old grew from 16.4% to 21.7%. The percentage of users in their 40s grew from 13.9% to 20.3%.
You only need to look at other platforms’ mimicry efforts to see just how popular TikTok is. Instagram and Facebook are promoting short-form video options and even paying influencers to create these types of posts over static photo posts.
2. No high-production value required
Because TikTok is all about authentic video, you don’t need high quality to connect with your viewers. In fact, professional-looking videos can feel out of place or odd on TikTok.
This casual nature gives more opportunity for experimentation on your marketing team’s part (as long as your stakeholders will allow for it). In addition, a lower production standard means that you can create content in a much shorter timeframe and, therefore, iterate more often based on immediate audience feedback.
Experimentation is huge for TikTok campaigns. Vary your creative and the length of your videos to prevent audience fatigue and to test which methods most align with your audience. Keep it fresh, authentic, and to the point — and get comfortable with imperfection in your productions.
To get your creative juices flowing, check out these brands crushing it on TikTok right now:
3. Authentic audience messaging
Authenticity is a huge driver in TikTok views. As a result, TikTok content doesn’t always resonate as well when repurposed on other platforms. This channel is unique, which makes it a great opportunity for your brand to play around with different types of messaging.
People are more connected to brands that teach them something new or provide some entertainment on TikTok — even more so when the content they publish is relatable.
Instead of just jumping in and posting, you need to first understand the nuances of TikTok, especially the human side of the platform. Your relationship with your audience needs to be authentic from the get-go, and you should avoid corporate messaging at all levels.
Because TikTok is so relationship-driven, B2B companies can struggle to find their footing on the platform. However, like with B2C brands, the more you can integrate your product or offerings into an existing trend, the better.
You never ever want to talk about your product blatantly in your videos.
1. Heavy on the video creative
Posting at least once a day — and rotating creative more frequently than you would on other platforms — is the best way to keep yourself at the top of the algorithm. That means investing in your creative.
On average, a more detailed post with lots of video content and multiple shots can be filmed in about 30 minutes to an hour. Editing can take another 30 minutes.
Remember: The final product doesn’t have to be perfect, which helps cut down on the time involved. But, if you don’t have an experienced video team, there will likely be a steep learning curve involved.
Have team members who are comfortable on video? TikTok loves faces, so stock footage won’t perform as well as a human talking to the camera.
Finding a team member or two who can communicate authentically and act as the face of your company on the channel can be tricky, especially for remote teams.
2. Hard-to-crack algorithm
TikTok’s algorithm leans very heavily on virality, and it’s incredibly hard to “game” the system.
The platform often takes a lot of time to learn your content, and the algorithm is always changing. But don’t get discouraged by low view numbers; all it takes is one viral video to see a spike in followers and engagement.
Many brands make dozens of videos before seeing success with one. Understandably, this can be discouraging for creators and make it difficult to show the value of investing time and money into the platform.
When you’re just getting started, it’s better to show who you are and what your brand stands for rather than just jump in on unrelated trends. Sprinkle what you hope to be your viral content as a pillar; don’t use it as your whole strategy.
3. Potential legal woes
One of the biggest risks brands who do choose to invest resources in TikTok take is that the platform may eventually be completely banned in the United States.
Both the FCC and CFIUS have raised concerns about data mining and this growing information infrastructure. Some commissioners believe that because a foreign company holds the platform, Chinese-owned TikTok could influence local elections, government, and other societal systems.
As of the writing of this piece, no such ban has been announced — but talks are ongoing and potential restriction remains on the table.
Brands should recognize the risk in this platform and act accordingly. Any new social platform or eCommerce marketing opportunity comes with inherent risk.
The risk with your eCommerce TikTok strategy: You could invest a lot of resources into a unique platform, only to have it shut down by the government on short notice. Ask yourself: Would you be okay if you invested $100k into the platform to have it banned tomorrow?
Weighing the risk and reward isn’t an exact science. Your unique intersection of product and audience may make pursuing TikTok worth it — or not.
Questions to Ask Before Launching Your eCommerce TikTok
To determine whether TikTok is right for your brand, ask yourself and your team the following questions.
1. What’s your business goal/need to be on TikTok?
It’s not enough to say that “everyone else is, so we should be, too.” You should have a specific business goal — increasing brand awareness, growing video content, etc. — before starting your account. Otherwise, it’s highly likely your efforts will crash and burn.
Remember: The TikTok app is unique, with an audience made up of specific demographics with very specific expectations when it comes to content. Manage your expectations of key metrics in this emerging landscape, and don’t rely solely on sales as the indicator of success.
2. What’s your audience demographic? Are they on TikTok?
If your audience is anywhere in the 12–45 age cohort, it might be worth it to expand into TikTok territory. If your audience is largely made up of customers over 50, TikTok might not be the right avenue for you right now.
Similarly, if you’re a B2B eCommerce brand, you may have a harder time connecting with your intended audience, who likely won’t be searching for business solutions here instead of on other platforms like LinkedIn.
3. Does your industry fit into the TikTok brand/algorithm?
eCommerce brands that sell products that can easily fit into (or start) trends on TikTok are more likely to do well than those whose products are harder to organically feature.
Again, B2B content is harder to feature authentically — but B2C companies may have an easier time sliding into the existing TikTok landscape and making current trends their own.
4. Do you understand the metrics of TikTok success?
When it comes to most social media marketing strategies, brands are focused on ROAS — but it would be a mistake to use this same metric when assessing your TikTok strategy’s effectiveness.
Brand awareness is far and away the critical indicator of impact on this platform, not eCommerce sales (although if you’re nailing your awareness goals, sales are sure to follow).
5. Do you have the content production skills to keep up?
While the content on TikTok does not (and arguably should not) be too polished and perfect, it should be frequent and consistent.
Producing videos on at least a daily basis is going to require new systems and output from your team. This is often a stumbling block for smaller eCommerce marketing teams.
Creating a Social Strategy for Your eCommerce Brand
Obviously, TikTok is dominating a huge percentage of global social media use each day. With a burgeoning user base and a thumb on the pulse of what’s trendy, it’s easy to see why an eCommerce brand would want to build a foundation on this platform.
That said, eCommerce on TikTok is a fledgling enterprise, which means you need to be nimble and patient to see results.
If your brand isn’t ready for TikTok today, that doesn’t mean you can’t find paid social success elsewhere. Plenty of other social networks aren’t dead yet and are still worth your brand’s investment!If you need help creating your eCommerce brand’s social media strategy — which may or may not include TikTok Ads — Inflow’s team is happy to help. Request a free proposal today to learn what we recommend for your brand’s social media advertising efforts.