Can TikTok bring joy to commerce?

TikTok is changing retail trends. Find out more about the platform that banks on the art of joyful buying.

Can TikTok bring joy to commerce?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

It’s a usual post-work evening, and you’re scrolling through TikTok. You see a creator trying out lip oil and hydrating face drops for a “glazed donut” look. The creator doesn’t talk about the product; she tries it on, and you end up watching the entire video. The next day when you walk into Sephora, you see the same product on offer and take it as a sign. You don’t need the salesperson to explain its benefits; you already know you want it. 

We encounter several ads packaged in 30-second DIY recipes, OOTD videos, comparison reviews, and more, which are often sponsored. But with an appeal so subtle, engaging, and entertaining, those few seconds drive impact for consumers – from discovery to consideration to buying.

While ads come in all lengths and formats, advertisers are using unconventional ways to claim a larger audience share, and TikTok has emerged as a clear leader in this field. While users turn to brands, creators, and trending topics to discover new products, TikTok blurs the line between creator and consumer.

“We’re finding that due to consumers being highly engaged and entertained on TikTok, some of the experiences that traditionally used to be pure commercial transactions are becoming more interactive experiences,” says Aref Yehia, Head of Retail & E-Commerce Business Partnerships at TikTok MENA.

TikTok’s quick ascent is well known. Last year, it topped the charts ranking as the world’s most widely used digital platform, surpassing even Google. The reason goes beyond its appeal with GenZ. There’s no end to possible reasons for its phenomenal success. Its user base is growing.


With over 1 billion active users and its ad-length videos, a report states approximately 167 million TikTok videos are streamed each minute of the day. The platform even overshadowed Google’s activity, which handles 90% of all internet searches with 5.7 million searches per minute. Moreover, the numbers fail to capture the platform’s actual reach, given that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube embed TikTok videos to drive up their footfall and site visits. 

What does it mean for advertisers seeking to reach this younger audience? How can brands leverage their presence by ignoring the traditional rulebook of making ads? 


Perhaps the biggest advantage TikTok enjoys is a nexus of communities built around entertainment. 

“As long as brands understand the right community towards fulfilling their business objectives, they can find those audiences on our platform and the best way to communicate authentically,” says Yehia.

Beyond identifying the communities that need to be targeted, brands need to dig deeper. For brands, Yehia recommends understanding what relevant communities do on TikTok, what content drives them, and what trends they are partaking in. 

“Find ways to communicate with these communities authentically without interrupting that entertaining experience via traditional advertising,” says Yehia. “This is why we tell the brands, don’t make ads, make TikToks, meaning communicate natively.”

Brands can easily relay messages if they utilize the platform as users do. “As long as you target the right audiences and the communities, there will always be people interested in engaging with your brand and ever-changing trends.” 


To achieve their marketing objectives on TikTok, businesses need to strike the right balance, Yehia adds.

“Every brand needs to drive the right balance between prospecting audiences and then retargeting them. If you are working in retail or eCommerce, you must ensure that you are starting with building brand awareness and driving the upper funnel metrics needed. Continue engaging audiences to drive consideration, and make sure that you are focusing on how best to drive those into sufficient conversions on the platform,” says Yehia.

In addition to TikTok’s ad-driven experience, which comprises a suite of tools and solutions to help brands and creators deploy shoppable content and experiences in their feeds, the platform recently launched shopping ads, catalog listing ads, and live shopping ads. These moves showcase the platform’s interest in doubling down on its personalized commerce offerings.


TikTok thrives on the community that survives on trends. These trends may be valid for 24 hours or longer, depending on several factors. Given the fluidity and entertainment culture, the platform encourages, users never fall short of trends. “The trends are organic and are always changing. We don’t take credit for starting these trends, but we make sure that we work with our partners to help them tap into them via different platforms and services we offer,” says Yehia. 

#TikTokMadeMeBuyit has grown exponentially and made its way to parlance. “So many brands have been able to leverage it, to bring to life products that might not have been thought of as mass, by leveraging the insight that audiences discovered them because of TikTok,” he adds. “It all falls back to that joyful discovery where you are browsing, you’re in a good mood because TikTok is inspiring your creativity and bringing you joy, and then you stumble upon a video with a product that you might not have known about in the past, and you end up buying it because of TikTok,” says Yehia. 

“We’re finding that the traditional marketing funnel, while still applicable, is starting to become slightly outdated because the typical user journey doesn’t necessarily follow the linear journey of first becoming aware of a brand, then considering it, then purchasing it.” 

To enable brands to reach out to these communities, Yehia adds, “We make sure that we not only focus on using advertising solutions but also support and consult with brands regarding their content strategies on our platform. We make sure that they know the insights of the relevant audiences for them and build plans that align with what works on our platform.” 


True to TikTok’s nature, to understand the future of retail and go beyond the Black Friday hype, they launched an interactive podcast series, The Future of Retail, featuring partners such as Yoox-Net-a-Porter, Majid Al Futtaim, InstaShop, Chalhoub Group and more, to create a nuanced dialogue around where the industry is headed. 

“The future of retail for some is about sustainability and luxury fashion’s circularity; for others, it’s about what we are going to do with shopping malls and these physical spaces that were traditionally only for shopping and leasing, and how we can turn them into cultural destinations. For others, it’s about the evolution of quick commerce and how we can maintain profitability while driving all deliveries in under 15 minutes. For other partners, it’s about curation and driving personalization at scale.” 

Whatever that future looks like, TikTok is set to play an important role in shaping it by offering a blend of community, entertainment, and shopping.


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