Community Commerce: How TikTok is revolutionizing the shopping journey and making products sell out

September 22, 2021
TikTok is accelerating the shopping journey and helping products go viral, thanks to the trust between creators and the community. Here's what that can mean for your business.
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The TikTok made me buy it phenomenon has helped products of all kinds fly off the shelves—from leggings and milk frothers to cranberry juice, cleaning products, homewares, and everything in between. TikTok is so notorious for helping brands take off that's it's often covered in the news, and some retailers have created #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt sections in their stores, knowing that shoppers are looking to buy things they see on the app.

But why is TikTok such a force to be reckoned with? How does the platform, and its user base, spark such massive moments of brand success?

The answer lies in Community Commerce,  which is what we're calling the creator-driven word-of-mouth marketing that's taken over the platform. It's a product of the unique discovery-based For You page, which shows users videos that speak directly to their interests, even when that content features products or brands. It's also a testament to users' willingness to buy what they see on the platform and their deep investment in the creators who make content each day—who also provide them with entertainment that they crave. The majority of users report feeling entertained when they use the platform, and people say that ads on TikTok are the most fun and entertaining, compared to our competitors—which fuels the power of product recommendations on TikTok.  Here's what you need to know about TikTok's promising role in the future of e-commerce.

Bridging a growing divide

E-commerce grew 28% in 2020,and it's expected to grow another 14% in 2021. To keep up with this demand, digital commerce offerings expanded nearly everywhere over the last year as many digital platforms ramped up their e-commerce solutions.

While that created a wider array of selling opportunities, it also made for a cluttered, competitive market where brands have to jockey for users' attention and struggle to address the growing disconnect between themselves and their consumers.

This all points to the need for a new way for brands and audiences to interact. And if the early success of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt is any indication, TikTok is one of the only places where that type of evolution can happen.

Plus, people are less satisfied with much of the advertising they see online. They're looking for ad experiences that are genuinely entertaining, especially when it comes to commerce marketing; around one-third of people want commerce to be more entertaining. Consumers feel the growing distance between themselves and brands, too, and they want to go back to feeling like they can connect with advertisers. But they just aren't finding that on most channels.


This all points to the need for a new way for brands and audiences to interact. And if the early success of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt is any indication, TikTok is one of the only places where that type of evolution can happen.

Built by consumers, for consumers

To understand why Community Commerce is such a game-changer, it's useful to look at other e-commerce models, most of which are designed to talk at audiences.Take online marketplaces, for example, which facilitate commercial transactions via digital storefronts. They're useful solutions for businesses that want to sell products easily, since it's simple to get up and running in these spaces and they grant access to a high volume of shoppers. But consumers go to online marketplaces with specific products in mind, not to browse or seek out brands.

Then there’s social commerce, the solutions built into social media platforms. These provide more brand-building opportunities, given that social media is better equipped for storytelling. But they're extremely crowded markets where advertising still prioritizes selling at consumers, rather than inviting them to connect or participate in the sharing or creation of content.

Community Commerce, on the other hand, encourages audiences to create entertaining, compelling content that just so happens to feature brands. That content is then shared with and enjoyed by those creators' trusted communities. In essence, it's the digitization of word-of-mouth marketing—and it empowers brands to form genuine connections with people in a way that drives awareness, favorability, and sales.

A phenomenon that's uniquely TikTok

In theory, digital word of mouth could happen anywhere online. But there are certain characteristics of TikTok that make it the only place where Community Commerce can thrive. One such trait is the hyper-relevant For You page. While other content feeds are built around a user's following, the For You page is built around videos that users like, share, and watch repeatedly. So if someone's For You page shows them a video talking about, say, makeup products or homewares, there's a good chance they care about beauty or interior design.

We also know that users want to buy what they see on TikTok^1. So not only are they interested in the content they see in their feeds, but they're also eager to heed suggestions from fellow users.

And—perhaps most importantly—the longevity of this paradigm comes from the fact that we didn't create Community Commerce. Users did. They were sharing product recommendations in this engaging, fast-paced way long before we noticed it—and now, all we have to do is tap into that behavior.

From funnel to flywheel

Commerce on TikTok, including Community Commerce, is also driven by speed.

Users can go from discovery to action in a split second; they hear about a product in videos on their For You page, then engage with that content and use our advertising products to visit a brand's site to browse or make a purchase. All of this takes place within the TikTok app itself, and it happens so smoothly that users can return to their feeds as soon as they're done, then restart the process.In that sense, TikTok doesn't push users along the marketing funnel so much as it guides them through a flywheel—a continuous loop of awareness, consideration, and conversion that happens in the TikTok environment. By enabling users to discover products and make purchases right on TikTok, then immediately re-enter their For You pages, we're ensuring we don't take them away from the ecosystem they know and love. Rather, we're ensuring that their joyful, endless product discovery can continue, even after they've made a purchase.

Paving a bright future for brands

Brands that found early success with Community Commerce are leaning into the creativity of the platform and emulating creators, rather than focusing on talking at consumers or acting in the ways they've grown accustomed to on other platforms.

By fully adapting to user behaviors, these brands have become deeply engrained in TikTok in a way that drives stronger engagement than they see on other platforms. That's not just a performance metric, either. It's a way for brands to see how they're closing the gap they've long felt between themselves and their audiences. Strong Community Commerce moments also rely on a brand's ability to be honest. Genuine, organic content goes far with TikTok users, who respond well to authenticity. By embracing that honesty, brands can find their voice in a memorable way that helps them drive impact and gives them a chance to really stand out—which, as noted before, is hard to do in other places. Community Commerce content, like all TikTok content, is also efficient to create. The platform was designed to be easy to use and it takes very little time and money to make a compelling video, even for brands. This addresses some of the cost issues that many marketers are facing in other e-commerce areas. (Not to mention that TikToks are full-screen, meaning that brands get 100% share of voice on all the videos they put on the platform. Which is a nice bonus.)

Of course, because that content entertains our users, it has even more power and influence; that's likely why Kantar ranked us #1 worldwide for ad equity in both 2020 and 2021.And for users, it presents a way to own product conversations on the platform and act as the main characters of the stories they tell about brands. It's an exciting kind of marketing that consumers, themselves, have designed. And it's a whole new way for brands to show up—and sell out products overnight.

  1. Marketing Science US Holiday Shopping Behavior Research, conducted by Walnut Unlimited, October 2020 (USA)