Despite some challenges, TikTok remains committed to enabling in-app shopping, aiming to emulate its success in the Chinese market with Western users. The platform's latest effort is a visual product search tool that allows users to photograph an item and find similar products within TikTok Shop listings.
This new feature, currently under testing in select markets outside the US, operates similarly to Google's image search or Pinterest’s Lens tool. Users can take a picture of a product and use it as the basis for their search. This function could expand product discovery possibilities and position TikTok as a shopping search tool.
While Western users have been slow to adopt in-app shopping, it's become prevalent among many Asian users, particularly in South East Asia. Live-stream shopping, which is extremely popular in China through Douyin, TikTok's Chinese counterpart, is also gaining traction in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
However, the adoption of live-stream and in-app shopping options is more hesitant among Western users due to concerns about safety, quality, and the displacement of in-person experiences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while online shopping saw a significant surge in the US, visits to physical stores returned to pre-pandemic levels once lockdowns lifted.
Despite this, TikTok continues to push for change in user shopping behavior. As younger audiences become major spenders, a shift towards online shopping is inevitable. However, whether TikTok will become the primary source of purchases for this demographic or lose out to other apps remains to be seen.
With its substantial cultural influence and data suggesting younger people increasingly use TikTok and Instagram over Google as search engines, TikTok remains hopeful about its eCommerce future. The visual product search tool is a valuable addition to TikTok's efforts to drive eCommerce growth.