TikTok has been, for a few years, the center stage of heated debates about being a Chinese propaganda machine in the West. The irony of American tech companies and social networks pointing the finger on how TikTok could sabotage democracies when the January 6 committee is still trying to figure out how these same companies helped a coup from former U.S. president is, of course, lost on no one. This doesn't mean that TikTok is not a potential menace. It's certainly the fastest social network growing in the West, while most GAFAMs are in the process of firing enormous amounts of staff.
But what is often lost in translation is that TikTok's influence on the EU and the U.S. is, first and foremost, about retail. From 2021 to 2022, TikTok's sales of Chinese products increased by about 500%.
Well, as reported by Semafor, while Amazon and others have tried to duplicate the extraordinary dynamics of Chinese streaming e-commerce retail platforms in China (and mostly failed), TikTok is currently succeeding at replicating the formula in the West.
Last year, merchants from China produced over five million videos and livestreams on the app, marketing products ranging from platform pool slides to puffer vests, the records show. The content was made as part of "Project Aquaman," TikTok's ambitious plan to bring a version of China's $400 billion livestream shopping industry to other markets around the world. At the center of the initiative is TikTok Shop, a feature that allows users to buy items directly through the app without needing to navigate to an external website. It launched in the UK in 2021, but is most widely used in Southeast Asian countries, like Indonesia and Thailand. TikTok began testing the feature in the U.S. late last year, Semafor previously reported.
The secret sauce of TikTok is using its mothership company, Douyin playbook: building a partner network and training them in livestreaming "à la Chinese."
TikTok has gone to great lengths to teach its partners what it believes are the best ways to sell products via livestreaming, according to internal information reviewed by Semafor. It has hosted training webinars in China and the U.S., and provided partners with detailed learning materials. TikTok goes over even the smallest aspects of hosting a successful stream, such as what kind of lighting to use, how hosts should dress, and the optimal time to go live, which it says is 9:30 PM EST.
I was already pointing at Alibaba in 2018 as not just a retail platform but a retail operating system. This is the 2023 update.
Meanwhile? E-commerce in the West seems to still try to catch up with 2013...