TikTok officially launches e-commerce services in US despite crackdown
Published: Sep 13, 2023 09:25 PM
TikTok Photo: VCG

TikTok Photo: VCG

TikTok, the popular short-video app owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, officially launched its e-commerce business in the US after months of testing. The platform, with 150 million monthly active users, is expected to play a catfish role in North America's livestreaming e-commerce sector despite growing uncertainties about a potential US crackdown, industry analysts said.

Having survived ruthless curbs imposed by the former Trump administration, the popular app has grown stronger despite geopolitical tensions, which will help it better withstand challenges as the US presidential election comes near, they said. 

Called TikTok Shop, the service offers shoppable videos and livestreaming directly to users, giving brands, merchants and creators the tools to sell directly, according to a TikTok post.

It also has a new feature called Shop Tab, where businesses display their products on a new product marketplace and customers can search and discover promotions.

More than 200,000 sellers have registered for TikTok Shop and more than 100,000 content creators are participating in the affiliate program. The Shop Tab is now available for 40 percent of users on the app's home screen, and the feature will be rolled out gradually until it is available for all users by early October, the Global Times learned from TikTok.

TikTok Shop's landing in the US followed its move into some Southeast Asian countries and the UK. Chinese-backed cross-border e-commerce platforms including PDD Holdings' Temu and Nanjing-based Shein have both had success in the US.

"TikTok is making headway in the US, showing it aims to generate more revenue in the world's second-largest e-commerce market," Wang Chao, founder of the Wenyuan Institute for Politics and Economics, a Beijing-based think tank, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Amazon holds a dominant position in the US e-commerce industry but when it comes to social media-featured e-commerce or livestreaming e-commerce, "it is not what the US heavyweight is good at," Wang noted. 

Liu Xingliang, director of the Beijing-based Data Center of China Internet, told the Global Times on Wednesday that due to the stellar performance of its Chinese sister app Douyin, TikTok sees that e-commerce has become a new growth engine apart from advertising and wants to replicate that success in the US.

"The momentum that TikTok's forerunners are gaining in the US illustrates that North America is a prospective and lucrative market that e-commerce players cannot miss out on," Liu noted.

The rollout of TikTok Shop came amid continued threats by some American politicians who are hysterically fixated on the app's data security issue and link to the Chinese authorities despite there's no evidence.

Since the former Trump administration, the US has relentlessly cracked down on TikTok citing so-called national security.

In May, TikTok filed a federal lawsuit against the US state of Montana after the state became the first to pass a bill in an attempt to ban the app from operating in the state.

Despite potential challenges for the new e-commerce service, Wang said that TikTok has grown stronger after tough tests in the US.

"It can be anticipated that bipartisan forces will stir hype and pile up pressure against China and Chinese firms as the US presidential campaign is heating up, and TikTok could easily become a target," Wang said.

"For the 18-35 age group in the US, the vast majority are supporters of the Democratic Party, who are also users of TikTok. If the app is banned across the country, it will severely damage the party's voter base," he said.