‘As seen on TikTok’ is the brand new ‘As seen on TV’

NEW YORK (AP) – Located near the Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids at It’Sugar are random items – fidget toys, soft fruit candies – that earned a spot on the shelves of the candy store because they went viral on TikTok.

A flood of videos last year showed people biting into the plastic wrapping of the fruit gums and splattering artificially colored jelly from their mouths. Store workers pushed the company to stock up, and the rubbers did so well that It’Sugar decided to include TikTok in its sales strategy. The chain now has signs with the app’s logo in stores, and TikTok merchandise accounts for 5 to 10% of weekly sales.

“That’s an insane number,” says Chris Lindstedt, Assistant Vice President of Merchandising at It’Sugar with around 100 locations.

TikTok, an app best known for dance videos with 1 billion users worldwide, has also become a shopping phenomenon. National chains hoping to get the mostly young TikTok users into their stores are setting up TikTok areas reminiscent of “As Seen On TV” stores selling products offered in infomercials.

At Barnes & Noble, the tables have signs with #BookTok, a hashtag for book recommendations on TikTok that pushed paperbacks up the bestseller list. Amazon has a section of its website called “Internet Famous,” which has lists of products that anyone familiar with TikTok would recognize.

The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt received more than 5 billion views on TikTok, and the app made a huge selection of products a surprise hit: leggings, purses, detergents, even feta cheese. Videos of a baked feta noodle recipe made the salty white cheese fly out of supermarket refrigerators earlier this year.

It’s hard to crack the code of the next TikTok sensation. How TikTok decides who gets to see what remains largely a mystery. Companies are often surprised and tend to intervene after launching their product, shower creators with free material, hire them for commercials, or buy ads on TikTok.

“It was a bit of a headache at first,” said Jenny Campbell, Kate Spade’s chief marketing officer, recalling when searches for “heart” spiked on Kate Spade’s website earlier this year.

A 60-second clip on TikTok that was posted by 22-year-old Nathalie Covarrubias turned out to be the culprit. She recorded herself in a parked car raving about a pink heart-shaped handbag she had just bought. Others copied their video, posted TikToks of themselves buying the bag or trying it on with different outfits. The $ 300 heart-shaped wallet was sold out.

“I couldn’t believe it because I wasn’t trying to promote 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 wallet and how unique it was.”

Kate Spade sent Covarrubia’s free items in exchange for releasing another TikTok when the bag was back in stores. (This video was tagged as an advertisement.) It turned a supposedly limited-edition Valentine’s Day wallet into one that sells year-round in a variety of colors and fabrics, such as faux fur.

TikTok is a strong buying spurt for Gen Z because the creators look authentic, unlike Instagram, where the goal is to post the perfect-looking selfie, said Hana Ben-Shabat, founder of Gen Z Planet. Her consulting firm focuses on the generation born between the late 1990s and 2016, a cohort that practically lives off TikTok.

The users trust the recommendations, she says: “This is a real person who tells me a real story.”

Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms connected people with friends or random funny videos before marketers realized their sales potential. Loss of authenticity could pose a risk to TikTok as more ads and shopping options flood the app. When ads “are obvious or awkward, that’s more of a problem,” said Colin Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at the University of San Diego.

Influencers who get paid for brands get better at offering goods to their followers and telling them that even though they’re getting paid, they’re recommending a product they actually like. “They feel like our friends even though they aren’t,” he said.

Channah Myers, a 21-year-old barista from Goodyear, Arizona, bought a pair of Aerie leggings for $ 50 after watching multiple TikTok videos of women saying the cruciate ligaments on their waists gave them a more hourglass-like figure . “It’s funny, I shop at Aerie religiously and I had no idea they existed until I saw them on TikTok,” Myers said.

After these Aerie leggings went viral on TikTok in 2020, the teenage retailer expanded the same design to include biker shorts, tennis skirts and bikini bottoms, all of which can be found by searching for “TikTok” on Aerie’s website. It wouldn’t tell how many of the leggings were sold.

TikTok, along with other tech companies like Snapchat, is preparing to challenge Facebook as a social shopping powerhouse. Shopping on social media sites, known as social commerce, is a $ 37 billion market in the US, according to eMarketer, sourced primarily from Instagram and its parent company Facebook. By the end of 2025, this number is expected to more than double to 80 billion US dollars.

Last month, TikTok began testing a way for brands to set up a shop within the app and send users to checkout on their websites. But TikTok has hinted that more is to come. At some point it could look more like Douyin, TikTok’s sister app in China, where products 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 come to life driven by the TikTok community,” said Sandie Hawkins, general manager of TikTok, which works with brands to get them to advertise in the app to buy and help “We look forward to continuing to listen to our community and develop solutions to help them discover, engage, and buy the products they love.”

This includes The Pink Stuff, a UK cleaning product that wasn’t available in the US last year. That changed when videos of people scrubbing rusty pots and greasy countertops with them went viral on TikTok, leading the brand to cross the Atlantic. According to Sal Pesce, president and chief operating officer of The Pink Stuff US, it launched on Amazon in January with 1.3 million tubs sold per month and is receiving calls from big stores wanting to stock it

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.


Follow Joseph Pisani on Twitter @josephpisani

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