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TikTok going big in US e-commerce? Job offers provide clues

TikTok plans to operate its own US warehouses, including the type of packaging and shipping facilities used by Amazon and Walmart.

TikTok appears to be deepening its foray into e-commerce, with plans to operate its own warehouses in the United States — the sort of packing and shipping facilities more associated with Amazon or Walmart than the social media platform, best known for addictive short videos.

Over the past two weeks, TikTok has posted several job listings on LinkedIn seeking candidates to help it develop and grow its “Fulfillment by TikTok Shop” in the US to accommodate sellers using the app. According to the listings, TikTok plans to offer sellers stock, delivery, and return options.

A company spokesman declined to comment on TikTok’s e-commerce plans in the US.

But the US job listings offer a glimpse of potential US e-commerce expansion. In some listings, TikTok says it is looking for a candidate who can manage a free returns program, plan how inventory is moved from one warehouse or company to another, and develop its fulfillment service in the United States.

In another listing for a Seattle position, the company points to a global e-commerce team and a team member who will be responsible for building a global warehouse network, signaling that its plans could be much bigger.

“The e-commerce industry has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and has become a hotly contested area among leading internet companies, and its future growth should not be underestimated,” the company wrote in the job posting. “With millions of loyal users worldwide, we believe TikTok is an ideal platform to offer our users a brand new and better e-commerce experience.”

Axios first reported on the job postings.

Shopping on social media sites, known as social commerce, is a $37 billion market in the US led by Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, according to Insider Intelligence. ByteDance, the Beijing-based company that owns TikTok, already runs a thriving social media marketplace on Douyin, its twin video app for the Chinese market.

The TikTok spokesperson said the company is focused on “providing merchants with a range of product features and delivery options” in places where e-commerce programs currently exist, such as Southeast Asia and the United Kingdom.

Insider Intelligence estimates that about 23.7 million U.S. shoppers will make at least one purchase through TikTok this year, either by using affiliated links or by completing a transaction on the platform itself.

Some of these sales are already having an impact. Communities like #BookTok, a corner of TikTok dedicated to literature and reading, have been credited with boosting print love book sales this year. To enable more purchases, TikTok said last August that it would partner with Canadian e-commerce company Shopify to let users buy items directly in the app.

TikTok has intensified competition from Meta and other rivals, attracting younger users — as well as popular influencers — from YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The site’s bite-sized, entertaining clips are served up by an algorithm that often seems to know what people want before they do.

The results are hard to ignore. In July, Meta saw its first revenue decline in history, in part due to competition from TikTok. YouTube, meanwhile, recently announced that it would qualify short video creators to participate in its revenue sharing program. Previously, YouTube only allowed revenue sharing for longer videos.

Compared to digital advertising, e-commerce is a tiny revenue stream for Meta and likely will be for TikTok for the foreseeable future. At the same time, TikTok executives likely want to expand the company’s revenue streams beyond advertising — a market dominated in the US by Meta and Alphabet, which own YouTube and Google.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said TikTok’s reach and influence is helping it become a powerful force in advertising and sales, and expanding that capacity with warehouses and other facilities would allow it to offer a full service.

“This would be an additional revenue stream and would improve the quality of the shopping experience for consumers,” Saunders said. But a serious move into warehousing would be an expensive proposition, and TikTok would face established competitors like Amazon and Walmart.

“However, TikTok has a huge audience and customer base, so it has more than enough demand to make sense,” Saunders said. “Provided TikTok maintains its popularity, it could pose a threat to incumbents and prove to be a highly disruptive force.”

Others strike a different note.

“It’s idiotic,” said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. “They have no chance of asserting themselves and it’s a complete waste of money and time.”

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