TikTok’s days might be numbered: How retailers can get ready now

By reinvesting in their own digital properties, retailers are able to reclaim their digital customer experience, brand identity and first-party data.
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
Elizabeth Christenson profile picture

What this means: Short-form video is trendy across the retail industry, and for good reason, as consumers look to engage with brands and build communities of their own. Even though this buzzy medium looks easy to scale, retailers and brands need to invest time and energy in strategizing short-form video for their end use and their consumers. Short-form video is best suited as another entry point into the brand ecosystem to build awareness, educate and convert consumers.

Meg Siegel
Meg Siegel

TikTok has seen more than its fair share of turmoil in recent months, including recently being banned in Montana. Many marketers are beginning to hedge their bets — creating contingency plans for digital outreach should the video platform be banned in more stores or across the U.S.

The smartest thing retailers and brands can do to safeguard their digital presence against a possible TikTok ban is to reinvest in their own websites and digital properties, bringing the appeal of short-form, vertical video to their own terrain, said Meg Siegel, vice president of brand at Firework. Retail Leader Pro chatted with Siegel about how retailers should invest in their own platforms to engage younger consumers.

Retail Leader Pro(RL Pro): What are the challenges that social media platforms pose for retailers?

Meg Siegel: Social media has long been both beneficial and problematic for retailers. During the past decade and a half, we’ve seen retailers increasingly rely upon social media platforms — like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — as their primary avenue for digital engagement. The problem with this is that by doing so, retailers forfeit a significant amount of control over things like brand safety, customer experience and vitally important customer data. At the same time, these platforms are critical for outreach, engagement, awareness and reaching audiences at scale. The problems become most stark when organizations invest in their social media presence at the expense of their own channels, e.g. websites, apps.

RL Pro: What are the benefits in reinvesting in a retailer’s own digital properties, such as their websites and mobile apps?

Siegel: By reinvesting in their own digital properties, retailers are able to reclaim a great deal of control over many things they’ve given up during the past 15 years. This includes their digital customer experience, brand identity and first-party data — which has become vitally important now that the third-party cookie is being phased out and anti-tracking measures are becoming more commonplace.

Additionally, digital shopping has largely been transactional and built for convenience, but consumers today are craving more immersive experiences online. Compared to shopping in a physical store, the conversion rates are much lower and the return rates are much higher. Retailers who invest in their own channels to make their online experience more engaging, personal and interactive will benefit from better customer relationships and more conversions.

RL Pro: What types of tools and technologies can retailers use to make their own websites function more like today’s social media platforms?

Siegel: We’ve seen a fair number of technologies emerge during the past decade that can make a world of difference for retailers’ digital storefronts. Platforms like Shopify, for instance, have proven incredibly powerful and successful as a means of improving and streamlining retailers’ ecommerce experience. Video commerce solutions are a perfect example of the kinds of technologies available today to help retailers improve the customer experience on their own digital channels. An end-to-end video solution gives retailers the ability to enable short-form, shoppable videos and livestreams anywhere on the open web — including their own websites. This is critical as most consumers today are not comfortable shopping on social media platforms. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of ecommerce sales today still take place on the open web.

RL Pro: How should retailers specifically invest in their platform to engage younger consumers?

Siegel: When it comes to younger consumers, there is no medium more essential than video. Video is, in many ways, the ‘lingua franca’ of the digital world. And, following that same logic, short-form, vertical video is the dialect of Gen Z and younger millennials. It’s become increasingly clear that retailers should invest in video, as it is the best way to engage with younger consumers online – and especially video that comes across as more genuine, accessible and not overly produced. Younger generations are seeking authentic experiences and real connections, both of which are facilitated immensely by video – whether it be short-form, interactive or a livestream.  

RL Pro: Why are short-form videos growing in popularity?

Siegel: There’s a certain immediacy and accessibility that comes with short-form videos that can’t be found in other media. They’re often less produced and therefore perceived as more authentic than long-form video content. And, short-form video is infinitely more consumable. With the average attention span dwindling, it’s likely that short-form video will continue to grow in popularity for the foreseeable future. 

RL Pro: How can retailers best incorporate short-form video into their own platforms?

Siegel: One critical thing that retailers should keep in mind when incorporating short-form video onto their own platforms is the idea that it is very much a unique medium. Short-form video thrives on authenticity, informality and relatability. And unlike traditional video content, short-form content can sometimes lose value in the eyes of the audience if it is overly produced. Retailers should look to use real sales associates and brand ambassadors, rather than celebrities and actors, and should aim for volume and frequency over highly stylized, big-budget productions. 

Also, incorporating the element of shopability in short-form video content — the ability to add items in the video to one’s shopping cart — is also critical for retailers to abbreviate the customer journey and turn traditional engagement into conversions.

Ultimately, consumers come to retailers’ ecommerce websites in order to shop. So, content hosted there should always aim to be additive and helpful to the customer journey. Retailers should focus on formats like product demos, testimonials and the like — anything that showcases the products themselves or tells the stories behind them. 

RL Pro: How should retailers prepare for a potential TikTok ban or other restrictions?

Siegel: The most important thing retailers can do now is to diversify the platforms and strategies used to engage consumers online. It’s never wise to put all your eggs in one basket, and this is especially true considering TikTok’s days may very well be numbered. That isn’t to say that retailers should abandon ship entirely, though. After all, TikTok is still a rapidly growing and immensely popular platform. However, it would be wise for retailers to begin exploring alternatives; especially as to improve the quality and capabilities of their own digital channels. For most retailers, reinvesting in the open web would be a wise decision, regardless of TikTok’s eventual fate.

RL Pro: What do you expect moving forward with the growth of social commerce? What will this mean for retailers?

Siegel: The idea of social commerce is somewhat of a misnomer, as the role of social media platforms is likely to diminish as the open web becomes more dynamic. Moving forward, I think the idea of video commerce — hosted on brands’ own digital channels — will be critical for retailers to stand out online, improve their digital customer experience and reclaim ownership over first-party customer data. For retailers, it will mean reinvesting in the open web, and likely dialing back their investment in traditional social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — especially as younger consumers appear to be losing interest in these platforms.

What’s next: As retailers and brands develop short-form video strategies, it’s important they implement a diversification of platforms and experiences. Brands must be platform agnostic and lead with content that is personalized and authentic and engages their end consumer.