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TikTok’s Plan? Conquer E-Commerce, Gaming and Everything Else

TikTok’s Plan? Conquer E-Commerce, Gaming and Everything Else

Friday, 23 July, 2021 - 03:30

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration’s initial threat to ban ByteDance Ltd.-owned TikTok, entangling the social media platform into the unpredictable web of geopolitics. But despite the existential distraction, the app has thrived over the past year.

And now with its surging popularity TikTok may achieve the goal of the major US technology companies: a super-app for the Western world.

TikTok’s growth and the level of its user engagement have been remarkable. According to Sensor Tower, the app was the most downloaded and highest grossing non-game during the first half of this year, surpassing 3 billion total installs. Analysts expect TikTok to continue to grow faster than its competitors. EMarketer projects the app’s user base in the US will rise by 18% this year, compared with a 1% increase for Facebook Inc. and a 4% gain for Facebook’s Instagram. Most impressive of all, TikTok users are growing more addicted to the short-video service. Research firm App Annie says the app has surpassed Google’s YouTube for average time spent per user in the US and the UK.

It’s not a surprise that competitors are noticing the app’s rise and taking action. Last month, Facebook executive Adam Mosseri said Instagram plans to move beyond its core photo-sharing feature and embrace full-screen mobile video entertainment, citing TikTok’s success. Similarly, YouTube and Snap Inc. have launched short-video services and are also paying creators directly for their content.

But TikTok may be in the best position to win. Because it has the largest audience for short video and an unrivaled ability to add innovative features to the medium, there is little reason for creators to go elsewhere.

TikTok is expanding its ambitions. Already, the app has made several moves beyond its core of recorded video entertainment—from gaming and jobs services to live music concerts—that could presage a larger offering in each space. For example, I’m having fun playing with TikTok’s experimental farming simulator mini-game on user profiles. And the company’s innovative TikTok Resumes, which lets people apply for positions at dozens of companies through video applications, is a good example of the company’s creativity.

However, TikTok’s own career site gives the clearest insight on what the app will focus on for its next big thing: live streaming social commerce.

By searching through the company’s job listings, I found there are more than 100 openings with “e-commerce” in the title and almost 90 for the word “live.” Reading through the descriptions, it’s clear TikTok plans to invest aggressively to cultivate live-streaming creators in numerous categories—including fashion and beauty, lifestyle and technology—and empower them to sell merchandise directly on the platform. It’s likely to be a large and lucrative opportunity.

A roadmap is laid out if one looks at TikTok’s sibling app Douyin in China, which is also owned by ByteDance. Influencers there use the app to regularly sell millions of dollars’ worth of products from their live video streams. Think a QVC-style sales pitch, but across a limitless number of channels on TikTok.

Of course, TikTok is not fully clear on the US governmental scrutiny front. While the administration of President Joe Biden revoked Trump-era app bans last month, it opened a review of foreign-owned apps that could pose a data security risk to Americans. With the new order, TikTok could still face regulatory action. And Beijing’s clampdown on US-public listings, following Didi Global Inc.’s controversial one, could make TikTok’s eventual initial public offering more complicated.

But a public-listing delay may turn out to be beneficial for the video service. With the financial opportunity in e-commerce live streaming—not to mention gaming and from other services—the company could be setting the stage for an even bigger IPO splash.


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