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Is it safe to buy from TikTok Shop?

You may be okay if you follow due diligence.
By

Published onFebruary 26, 2024

The TikTok Shop logo

It’s safe to say that TikTok is now a behemoth in the social media industry, rivaled only by the likes of Facebook, X, YouTube, and Twitch. Towards the end of 2023, the service decided to step up its game even further, launching a commerce platform called TikTok Shop. Here’s what you need to know about it before spending any real-world cash, and how to hide the feature if you don’t care about shopping where your funny videos play.

What is TikTok Shop and how does it work?

TikTok Shop videos and marketplace

Fundamentally, TikTok Shop is about enabling impulse purchases directly through the TikTok app. Businesses get their own marketplaces on the service, complete with ads, product listings, promotions, and order tracking. On creator profiles, you may sometimes see a Product Showcase highlighting select items, but an account can have a Showcase without having a Shop presence too. Creators aren’t necessarily directly linked with the business(es) they’re hawking merchandise from, but more on that in a moment.

Currently TikTok Shop is available in these regions:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

We mention impulse shopping because you’re encouraged to make purchases when watching related live streams, as well as what TikTok calls “shoppable videos.” During a makeup stream, for instance, you might see a pop-up for the eyeliner the person is demonstrating, complete with a pricetag and a red “Buy” button. Pop-ups may be more subtle during pre-recorded clips.

TikTok’s efforts go even further, though. Creators can earn affiliate commissions for selling products, and in the US at least there’s a “Fulfilled by TikTok” logistics option in which TikTok will store, pick, pack, and even ship out Shop products, much like Amazon. Businesses can also connect to outside commerce-related platforms like Shopify, Salesforce, BigCommerce, and Zendesk.

Is ordering from TikTok Shop safe?

The TikTok Shop purchase process

For its part, TikTok explains that it works with “trusted third party payment platforms” to provide secure checkout. In the case of US shoppers, all of TikTok’s related data is stored domestically, and overseen by the United States Digital Service — a federal government agency.

TikTok also offers review and reporting options, as well as baked-in returns and refunds. Listings are expected to adhere to both Shop-specific policies as well as the overall service’s community guidelines.

That said, even TikTok acknowledges the possibility of specific merchants or products violating its rules, so skepticism is the order of the day. The US-based Public Interest Research Group notes that some shoppers have already encountered issues with scams or undelivered purchases, and a lot of Shop products are cheap goods from no-name Chinese brands, if not outright counterfeits. Some people are honestly into buying “dupes” — but if you want to avoid rip-offs on TikTok Shop, we strongly suggest sticking to well-known brands regardless of which country they come from.

Why is TikTok Shop so cheap?

Tiktok stock photo on smartphone

“Cheap” will depend on the brand you’re shopping from and the country you’re in, but yes, you may notice that Shop products are remarkably affordable — sometimes even less than a dollar, in an age when retail dollar stores in the US are regularly breaking that price ceiling.

There’s no definitive explanation, but when a merchant isn’t pulling a scam, there’s a good chance they’re a generic Chinese brand selling low-quality output. There are reputable Chinese companies, to be clear — but just as on Amazon, there’s a risk that generic products won’t quite work right, or won’t last nearly as long as they should.

Apart from the importance of skepticism, a good rule of thumb is 'buy once, cry once.'

Generic vendors also don’t have any overhead from running their own websites or retail distribution, and typically, they’ll lack much (if any) post-purchase support. If you buy a $50 knock-off computer desk, don’t expect compensation if your $2,000 computer crashes to the ground.

There have been claims that TikTok may be subsidizing some Shop products to spur transactions, but there doesn’t seem to be any concrete proof that we can find.

Apart from the importance of skepticism, a good rule of thumb is “buy once, cry once.” It may hurt to stomach the upfront price of a high-quality product from a well-known brand, but generics can actually cost you more in the long run if you have to keep replacing them or they never show up at all.

How to remove TikTok Shop from the For You page

Although there’s no quick toggle for whether Shop-related videos will appear in For You, you can filter many or most of them out if they’re interfering with your regular viewing. Here’s how:

  • Open Settings, then tap on Content preferences.
  • Filter out keywords like “tiktokshop,” “commission,” and “eligibleforcommission” from hashtags and descriptions. You can add more keywords if some Shop videos are slipping through the cracks, but be careful not to accidentally filter material you’re interested in.
  • When a Shop video does infiltrate your feed, tap and hold on it, then choose Not interested. This could potentially backfire if the video overlaps with genuine interests, but probably not.

FAQs

No. Some individual vendors on Shop may be scammers, but there are legitimate brands on the platform, and TikTok supports the feature in a variety of ways, including a secure checkout mechanism and even its own logistics network.

The service’s large-scale rollout took place in September 2023. It’s currently available in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

In theory just about anyone can, but you need to apply through the TikTok Seller Center portal and submit verification documents. In practice, therefore, you’ll need to operate a serious business, especially since TikTok claims a commission from sales, charges transaction fees, and will kick you off if you can’t meet requirements like its three-day US shipping window.

There are also prohibited items, ranging all the way from alcohol and other “adult” products through to human remains and military equipment. Even some baby, health, and beauty products may be banned, depending on their purpose, content, and/or local laws. Before launching a marketplace on Shop, check whether your products will be allowed.