Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

TikTok Shop and the transition into consumer-based connection

Illustration+Kellyn+Taylor
Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice.

Social media, once a platform that encouraged interconnectivity on a grander level, seems to be evolving—or devolving—into something beyond exchanging a selfie for likes.

Society’s reliance on the internet and what technology provides for the consumer continues to increase with every new advancement. As customers, users, and members of technology, we subconsciously fall into frivolous ways of consumption. 

Now, we are seeing how these technological advancements are taking advantage of the user—and their wallet—by exchanging social media posts for commission.

Advertising on social media is far from new. Celebrities and influencers have been commodity gateways between the viewer and corporations pretty much since the inception of these platforms. 

What we are seeing now, however, is an adaptation of these marketing tactics. The apps themselves are becoming marketplaces, and the everyday watcher has been transformed into a buyer—and the salesman itself.

Popular social media app TikTok introduced a new feature in September 2023: an e-commerce business called TikTok Shop. It is a separate shopping section of the app where users can purchase items that they see in videos posted directly from the app itself, as opposed to going to a second party like Amazon to find their desired item. The concept in and of itself is not exactly new, as social media apps like Instagram and Facebook also have shopping sections, such as Facebook marketplace. What separates the way these apps utilize shopping sections as compared to TikTok Shop, however, is the way the platforms themselves have set up these shopping avenues, and how they each market their products. 

Facebook Marketplace is much less commercially focused, where users sell and barter second-hand items and potentially advertise small businesses. The Instagram shop section is much less advertised through users and within the layout of the app itself, with no accessible or noticeable section on the homepage of the app. Accounts must opt-in to display their products on Instagram.

What makes TikTok unique from other in-app shopping, is how they have created this shopping space. On TikTok, products are made readily available for purchase via both a section on the homepage of the app, as well as through links placed directly on videos that show up in the user’s “For You Page.” 

At first swipe, the watcher thinks they’re watching a normal “get ready with me” or “fit check” video, only to realize the creator is actually just attempting to casually advertise a product. For each person who views their video and purchases the product, TikTok will give the creator a commission off the sale.

This makes it so that watchers, who are not necessarily opening up the app intending to shop, are now constantly on the receiving end of a sales pitch—now transforming the watcher into the role of a consumer. 

There is this additional aspect of betrayal brought into advertising. Users open the app in search of entertainment and connectivity with creators, but this connection is broken with the realization they are being advertised to for profit. While those who use TikTok are not necessarily expecting it to be high quality, this product soft-launching devalues the user experience and makes it feel shallow.

This new format of shopping is creating a toxic consumer-fueled platform that is removing key aspects of social media like connection, education, and social engagement, replacing it instead with a capitalistic center of profit. The trend cycle is running on an endless rampage where everyone with a username is transformed into not only an influencer but a seller, and there is no escaping the “shop” and “sponsored” icons that have been seared onto what seems to be every video appearing on the infinite “For You Page.” 

Since its inception, social media has maintained its claim to decide what is trendy, popular, and what you as the user need to have to fit in and have a successful social media presence. The meta world may be an ever-changing entity, but the hold it has over what is deemed acceptable in popular culture and our lives remains a key aspect of social media. What we see increasing now is the speed and influence of these trends with help from advanced algorithms and specific user targeting. These factors, which were already somewhat present within original social media culture, are now being combined with heavy influence from fellow users and the commercialization of TikTok specifically. 

With every video displaying a new shirt that is “so coquette”, and for every user that decides “indie sleaze” is the next big aesthetic trend of the new year, more and more watchers will feel the need to rebrand their own look. In turn, they will buy more products to make them feel like they fit in with what is popular and relevant. Social media has recognized this and has consequently created a space that fuels these microtrends for their profit. 

While it is not wrong to have an aesthetic, to want to change one’s style, or to be a consumer, we as constant media consumers have to be aware of when it has gone too far. 

The pressure these platforms have placed on the everyday user to maintain an image and purchase the newest products has grown out of control. The fast-paced consumer industry driven by trends and influencers is further contributing to self-image issues, toxic comparison, and exclusion among young people. Not only that, but there is also the overlying contribution to environmental damage that accompanies consumerism in general, which is a whole other issue in and of itself. 

It is not normal for people to feel as if they have to constantly be wearing the newest style, to always be trying the most recent skincare product line, and to feel excluded or behind on the trends when they don’t. As consumers, we need to be more careful and conscious of our shopping decisions and what we allow to become a habit. 

No one is canceling you for wanting to try the snail mucin off of TikTok Shop, but it is important to recognize that how you as a consumer choose to use your money, time, and attention should be a more intentional decision as opposed to clicking on every new link we see.

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About the Contributor
Sydney Thomas-Arnold, Staff Writer
Sydney Thomas-Arnold (she/her) is a freshman journalism and anthropology/sociology student from Houston, Texas. Sydney hopes to eventually go into the field to study different cultures and document human experiences & lifestyles. When not writing for the Beacon, Sydney enjoys reading and listening to music.

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