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Thursday, Feb. 29
The Indiana Daily Student

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COLUMN: Is TikTok Shop making the online shopping problem even worse?

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For months I have been looking for a tote bag – not a canvas one, but one that has integrity to it. I would prefer it to have pockets, a zipper, enough space that I can use it as a school bag and to be stylish of course. For countless weeks, I have been searching through vintage stores and on Etsy shops and haven’t been able to find just what I am looking for, but TikTok sure thinks they’ve found just what I need.  

The carry your whole life” bag has inundated my entire For You Page, and for just under $10 and a post tagged “Eligible for commission,” you could have it too. For a bag that costs the same as a venti Starbucks drink, influencers seem to be raving about its quality, urging their viewers to buy it using their affiliate link.  

But it’s not just the square canvas tote bag that TikTok thinks I need. It’s the similarly priced leather shoulder bag which miraculously doesn’t smell like faux leather, the viral “Criss-Cross” chair, the Stanley cup dupe and The Shadow Work Journal, too. I interacted with one post promoting a bodysuit, and now it's seemingly featured in every third video on my timeline.  

Besides being annoying as a content consumer (on top of regular ads, I must scroll past indirect ads now too?), the whole marketplace is sort of ambiguous. How and where these products are produced, as cheaply as they are, is murky – and not necessarily ethical. TikTok Shop seems like another avenue to flesh out fast fashion.  

That assumption isn’t crazy to make, either. According to Reuters, TikTok launched the e-commerce company Sept. 12 in the United States after months of testing with hopes to replicate the success from platforms such as Shein and Temu, which have both received immense notoriety for their reported unethical practices.  

TikTok Shop has, however, given small business owners the opportunity to sell on the platform, which many testify has boosted their sales incredibly. While TikTok Shop is giving away large discounts and coupons to encourage more activity on the platform, the sellers testify they still get paid in full, which doesn’t make TikTok look like such a bad guy.  

It is also important to consider the two things TikTok and online shopping have in common that make this collaboration such a dangerous model: dopamine.  

Dopamine is a type of monoamine neurotransmitter, or a “feel-good” hormone and directly corresponds with our brains’ reward systems. Once we feel a release of dopamine, we are motivated to get more of that feeling. TikTok videos are short and engaging, and the app provides endless access to more of that content we need to fill our dopamine fix. That’s what makes the platform so addicting. Forbes even referenced TikTok as “Digital Crack Cocaine.” While online shopping, we get multiple hits of dopamine at different stages. Our brains can get a hit of dopamine from just browsing, then adding things to our carts, then hitting purchase and then ultimately waiting for our package to arrive.  

TikTok scrolling and online shopping can be equally compulsive behaviors. Now the two are united. Consumers can be both influenced and make the purchase without ever leaving the one app. How convenient is that?  

The only criteria creators must meet to earn commission from TikTok Shop in the United States is that they have 5000 followers and are over the age of 18, which is not a grand venture considering the platform’s algorithm. With a large population of TikTok users eligible to reap the benefits, TikTok’s feed is oversaturated with salespersons’ videos.  

The content is just so mind-numbing, for lack of better words. I came across a creator who made a promotional video titled, “the 7 different ways to sit on the viral criss cross chair.” Do viewers really need a tutorial on how to sit in a chair?  

Creators are taking any promotional concept and running with it, which effectively ruins the entertainment climate of the platform. The actual, quality content drowns in the surplus of consumer-based videos.  

The ultimate appeal of TikTok Shop is convenience, but do we really need any more convenience? Especially from platforms that are promoting bad, expensive, wasteful habits?  

So, no, TikTok – you have not found the perfect tote bag I have been searching for. The hunt for something more ethical continues. 

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