JOSEPH PISANI | Associated Press
NEW YORK – Next to Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids, a candy store in New York sells fruit-shaped soft gummies that have taken up shelf space because they went viral on TikTok.
Last year, a video stream showed people biting the plastic sheath of gummy candies and squirting artificially colored jelly out of their mouths. Store employees at It’Sugar called on her to stock up, and the gummies were so good that TikTok became part of the company’s sales strategy. The network now has app logo signs in stores, and TikTok items account for between 5% and 10% of weekly sales.
“That’s an insane number,” said Chris Lindstedt, assistant vice president of merchandising at It’Sugar, which has about 100 stores.
TikTok, the app best known for its dance videos with a billion users worldwide, has also become a shopping phenomenon. National chains, hoping to attract mostly young TikTok users to their stores, are creating TikTok sections reminiscent of As Seen on TV stores that sold products advertised in commercials.
At Barnes & Noble, there are signs on the tables with #BookTok, the book recommendation hashtag on TikTok that pushed paperback books to the top of the bestseller list. Amazon has a section of its site that it calls “Famous on the Internet,” with product listings that anyone who has spent time on TikTok will recognize.
The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 5 billion views on TikTok, and the app has made an unexpected hit with a selection of products: leggings, wallets, cleaning products and even feta cheese. Salty white cheese flew out of supermarket fridges earlier this year due to videos of baked feta pasta recipe.
It’s hard to figure out the code of what’s going to be the next TikTok sensation. How TikTok decides who sees what remains a mystery. Companies are often caught off guard and tend to rush there after their product hits the spot, bombarding creators with free content, hiring them to participate in commercials, or buying up ads on TikTok.
“It was a little scary at first,” said Jenny Campbell, Kate Spade’s chief marketing officer, recalling when searches for “heart” on Kate Spade’s site skyrocketed earlier this year.
The culprit was a 60-second TikTok video posted by 22-year-old Natalie Covarrubias. She recorded herself in a parked car pouring into a pink heart-shaped handbag she had just bought. Others copied her video, posting on TikToks about buying a bag or trying it on with other outfits. The $ 300 heart-shaped wallet has been sold out.
“I couldn’t believe it because I wasn’t trying to advertise the bag,” said Covarrubias, a makeup artist from Salinas, California, who was not paid to post the video. “I was really so excited and happy about the purse and how unique it is.”
Kate Spade sent free Covarrubias items in exchange for another TikTok posting when the bag goes back to stores. (This video was flagged as an advertisement.) It turned what was supposed to be a limited Valentine’s Day wallet into one sold year-round in different colors and fabrics, such as faux fur.
According to Hana Ben-Shabbat, founder of Gen Z Planet, TikTok is a powerful shopping push for Gen Z because the creators look authentic, unlike Instagram, which aims to post the most perfect selfies. Her consulting company focuses on the generation born between the late 1990s and 2016, a cohort that practically lives on TikTok.
Users trust the recommendations, she said, “This is a real person telling me a real story.”
Instagram, YouTube and other platforms connected people with friends or random funny videos before marketers realized their sales potential. For TikTok, losing the look of authenticity as more ads and shopping options flood the app can be a risk. “If the ad looks ‘frank or inconvenient, it’s more of a problem,’” said Colin Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at the University of San Diego.
Influencers who are paid for brands are getting better at offering products to their followers, telling them that even if they get paid, they recommend a product they really like. “They feel like our friends, although they are not,” he said.
Channa Myers, a 21-year-old barista from Goodyear, Arizona, bought a pair of Aerie leggings for $ 50 after watching several TikTok videos in which women say the cross-stripe at the waist gave them a more hourglass-like figure. “It’s funny, I rigorously shop at Aerie and I had no idea they existed until I saw them on TikTok,” Myers said.
After Aerie’s leggings went viral on TikTok in 2020, the teen retailer extended the same design to biker shorts, tennis skirts, and bikini bottoms, which can be found by searching “TikTok” on Aerie’s website. It cannot be said how many leggings were sold.
TikTok, along with other tech companies like Snapchat, is gearing up to challenge Facebook as the social shopping powerhouse. According to eMarketer, social media purchases known as social commerce are worth $ 37 billion in the US, mostly from Instagram and its parent company Facebook. By the end of 2025, that number is expected to more than double to $ 80 billion.
Last month, TikTok began testing a way for brands to create in-app stores and send users to checkout on their sites. But TikTok has hinted that there is even more to come. Over time, it may look more like Douyin, a subsidiary of TikTok in China, where goods can be bought and sold without leaving the app – just like on Facebook and Instagram.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen a new type of shopping experience created by the TikTok community,” said TikTok general manager Sandy Hawkins, who works with brands to get them to buy in-app ads and help. they increase sales. “We’re excited to continue to listen to our community and create solutions to help them find, engage and buy products they love.”
This includes The Pink Stuff, a British cleaning product that was not available in the US last year. That all changed when videos of people using it to wash rusty pots and greasy countertops went viral on TikTok, pushing the brand to cross the Atlantic. It launched in the US in January on Amazon, sells 1.3 million cans a month, and receives calls from major stores looking to get it, according to Sal Pesce, president and chief operating officer of The Pink Stuff US.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.