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TikTok disputes reports of a slowdown in its European e-commerce ambitions

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

July 5, 2022 | 5 min read

TikTok is reportedly freezing its e-commerce expansion in Europe in the face of a lack of traction for its flagship livestreaming commerce options.

Reports suggest that plans for expansion into other territories hinged upon success in the UK, which failed to materialize.

The Chinese-owned social video platform was betting upon its live e-commerce option, which would allow users to instantly purchase items related to a video they were watching. In practice, this meant buying clothing collections while watching curated livestreams.

What does the future hold for shoppable livestreams?

It follows what seemed like early positive news for the tool, after MediaCom led the creation of a live shoppable TikTok concert featuring the musician Zara Larsson last year. The e-commerce functions of TikTok meant that while they watched the concert, audiences could purchase any of the Ellesse-branded clothes showcased by Larsson. The actual live experience generated 4.2bn hashtag views and 92m engagements, which the team noted far exceeded all its success metrics. Whether this translated into sales is unclear.

TikTok disputes that is has withdrawn, stating that it had no plans to roll the tool out into other territories in Europe. Instead, it says the plan is still to focus on making it a success in the UK, stating: “We are always looking at ways to enhance our community’s experience and regularly test new features that inspire creativity, bring joy and innovate the TikTok experience in markets around the world. Brands on TikTok have found a creative outlet to authentically connect with audiences and we’re excited to experiment with new commerce opportunities that enable our community to discover and engage with what they love.”

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There is also the question of what ‘success’ looks like, with wider e-commerce trends supporting the idea that livestream shopping will find footing among audiences – eventually.

Marcel Hollerbach, chief innovation officer at Productsup, says “the QVC-style shopping market isn’t as lucrative as once thought“ – at least not yet.

“This makes it the perfect time for retailers and brands to get ahead of the curve by taking full advantage of the livestream market space before it becomes mainstream. Despite the downturn, live stream shopping is expected to be worth $25bn by 2023, so investing in technology to help retailers seamlessly handle the product information needed for successful live shopping will pay dividends in the future.”

Hollerbach believes that appealing to underlying trends of interest to consumers will similarly help boost the success of livestream e-commerce. “Research shows 88% of consumers care about sustainability credentials, so having this information clearly presented can have a positive influence on buying decisions,” he says.

It’s a view shared by Harry Hugo, co-founder of The Goat Agency, who says: ”TikTok has spearheaded the rollout of live shopping across social media in the west, but the format comes with its own barriers. Not only are we facing a cost of living crisis in Europe, but live stream shopping can be time consuming, important information can be missed and not all questions can be realistically answered.

”Europe is a very different market to China, with the latter being further ahead in accepting technology. Europe needs a more extended period for consumers to adjust to new technological advances that enhance shopping online, especially among older demographics. YouTube and Pinterest aren’t slowing down with live commerce, suggesting this format is here to stay.”

Despite the reports around TikTok, livestream shopping remains extremely strong in China and rivals such as Instagram are also slowly rolling out the technology, suggesting that the tech platforms are massaging audience habits first rather than going all-in on livestream shopping.

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