TikTok’s uncertain U.S. future has major implications for retailers

While the U.S. government makes up its mind about TikTok, 150 million TikTok users in the U.S. still look to its short-form videos for what to buy, what to consume and where to shop.
Elizabeth Lafontaine
Chief Retail Analyst, Retail Leader
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What it means: Nearly half of people in the U.S. are currently using TikTok, which has accelerated how trends come to market across retail and how information is disseminated between consumers. As a growing number of voices in the federal government call for bans of the platform, the cascade of impacts could easily uproot retailer and brand strategies and greatly shift creator and influencer marketing.


TikTok’s rise from social media platform to a powerhouse in retail has taken the industry by storm. Its ability to curate and disseminate content that rapidly leads to evolving viral trends surpasses any other social media platform. It has changed the way that retail trends come to market and reach consumers, and it has transformed word-of-mouth marketing efforts by brands and retailers alike. Thanks to TikTok, trend curves in retail are shorter and more aggressive than ever before. As highlighted in February’s “Retail Lowdown” report, TikTok has contributed to trend formation in essential retail, as evidenced by recipes like feta pasta, or more recent trends, like one that combines Fruit Roll Ups and ice cream.

TikTok has changed the way retail trends come to market and move through the product life cycle, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing in terms of the platform’s larger geo-political influence. According to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, the platform has an audience of 150 million users in the U.S., or about half of the total population. This number is staggering for a platform that has only been in existence for a few years and only truly found its footing with most consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, legislators have proposed bans on the service here in the U.S. due to Chinese-based ByteDance’s ownership of the platform. Zi Chew testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday to answer questions about consumer data privacy and censorship of potentially harmful content. A potential ban of TikTok has been floated by the current and previous administrations in an effort to protect consumers' privacy and personal data. 

But, what would a potential TikTok ban mean for the retail industry? According to influencer and creator platform and partner LTK, 66% of consumers prefer short-form video over static images. The shift in preference from curated feeds with beautiful imagery to short-form video shows a change in consumer behavior and the desire of the consumer to have more autonomy over their own content and voice. Consumers want to be influenced by trends and creators when it comes to what to buy, what to consume and where to shop that feel real and authentic, and TikTok has served as a perfect vehicle. And, with TikTok gearing up to launch its own e-commerce platform in the U.S., many retailers and brands already have platform-specific strategies in place for growth. Removing TikTok would dramatically shift the way consumers engage with one another, with brands and trends, and it would most likely result in lost sales in the short term.

What’s next: As the House Energy and Commerce Committee weighs the testimony of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, many TikTok users are already spurring debate about the platform's future on the platform itself. The retail industry must put contingencies into place in terms of marketing dollars and social media strategy to mitigate any dropoff from TikTok and continue to pave the way for customer loyalty through other channels.