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On TikTok Shop, Any Beauty Product Can Be a Viral Star

The platform’s freewheeling approach to e-commerce has opened the floodgates for established labels, grey-market sellers and influencers to entice beauty shoppers to buy. But with little oversight over fake product listings, brands must negotiate how much control they want to give over to the app.
TikTok Shop listings for a dupe of Dior Beauty's lip oil, an unauthorized third-party seller of Olaplex's bonding oil and beauty listings on Revolve's TikTok shop.
TikTok Shop beauty products going viral range from Dior lip oil dupes and unauthorised Olaplex listings to items sold in Revolve's official store. (TikTok)
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TikTok has become a beauty shopper’s playground.

A quick flip through the app’s “For You” page and viewers can now buy Benefit Cosmetics’ new Fan Fest Fanning Volumizing Mascara and Tarte’s Maracuja Juicy Lip Balm with an easy tap. But it’s not just big, established products that are catching users’ eyes.

A post by an influencer who goes by Shay (@shaylynnee) about a $1.99 Lip Glow Oil nearly identical to Dior’s Addict Lip Glow Oil earned over half a million views. Another video by Mama Claire (@mamaclaire02), promoting an unauthorised listing of Olaplex’s No. 7 Bonding Oil for half its $30 price, netted 4.1 million views.

Since TikTok Shop launched in the US in September, it can be described as part curated beauty retailer, part cacophonous open-air market. Any approved retailer can create a shop where users buy directly on the app, and influencers with over 5,000 followers are eligible to add product listings to their posts. Alongside well-known beauty brands are the usual flood of anonymous sellers seen on marketplaces like Amazon. But with the debut of Shop, those same sellers now have the ability to amass millions of views through influencers in an instant, something that legitimate brands typically pay top dollar for through performance-marketing tactics.

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TikTok’s approach to e-commerce differs greatly from that of competitors like Instagram, which ended its influencer affiliate program in August 2022 and removed its shopping tab in January. On Instagram, influencers cannot feature in-app product links and users have to go directly to beauty brands’ accounts to buy. As a result, viral influencer shoppable posts with staggering engagement numbers are a TikTok-specific phenomenon.

The social app has long driven beauty buying frenzies from lines like Cerave and Charlotte Tilbury. Influencers are convinced that the viral success of so many shopping posts is due to a deliberate adjustment of the TikTok algorithm.

“A lot of influencers have started using it as a way to boost their content, rather than actually talk about the products that they’re using,” said Hyram Yarbro, a skin-care influencer who has posted one shopping link from his account.

At the same time, maybe this is TikTok’s plan all along. The app’s freewheeling approach, inclusive of influencers and indie sellers, may be just how it becomes the first big social-media platform to crack e-commerce.

Attractive Incentives

While TikTok remains quiet about whether shopping links can game the algorithm, it is spending big money to encourage beauty brands and influencers to adopt its Shop feature.

The official TikTok Shop Ad Credit Incentive Program, for example, gives new merchants free money. One recent promotion shared with The Business of Beauty offered sellers $1,000 in free ad credit if they set up their TikTok shop in 14 days and spent $100 on TikTok Shop ads.

The social platform is hoping these perks will entice more brands to prioritise TikTok Shop in their year-end social marketing planning, according to Thomas Ma, co-founder of Sapphire Studios, an official creative partner of TikTok that works with beauty labels like Dyson and Ipsy.

“TikTok’s doing everything they can to bring more brands there,” he said of TikTok Shop, noting that the high view counts are especially important because they are driving organic purchases.

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TikTok is also heavily subsidising products found on Shop. The app confirmed that it is offering various discounts to customers, with some listings displayed at up to 60 percent off retail prices. The platform confirmed that it is covering the cost of the first sample requested by creators who are new to the Shop affiliate program.

The incentives are attracting a mix of established names and small indie brands. Revolve lists beauty labels Summer Fridays, Tower 28 and Sol de Janeiro in its shoppable links, which are also promoted through influencer posts. Summer Fridays’ hero Lip Butter Balm has been a hit. After selling over 36,000 tubes as of Monday, the product is now sold out on Revolve in three colors.

Smaller lines have also found viral success.

A body oil by New York-based fashion brand Cee Cee’s Closet went “gangbusters” after influencer Jazzy Mejia (@jazzymegia) posted a video with a link to the product’s Shop listing, said founder Chioma N. Ngwudo. The post received over 15 million views; the line subsequently sold over 13,000 units of body oil through TikTok.

The Rise of Fakes

Alongside the rush of beauty influencers and brands hoping to take advantage of TikTok Shop’s virality are unauthorised entities selling fake products.

The app has been overtaken by talk of COSRX’s Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. Earning a sizeable chunk of the 776 million collective views on the #snailmucin hashtag are videos of influencers holding up two bottles of product and providing granular instructions on how to distinguish real from fake. COSRX has told customers to avoid buying its product from unauthorised sellers, and yet many influencer videos contain TikTok Shop links to third-party sellers.

Olaplex, too, is fighting back in the war on fakes. It recently sponsored a TikTok campaign that enlisted influencers to promote an Olaplex dupe, only to reveal it as the real product. It received over 20 million impressions.

Top beauty influencers are weighing in on the issue.

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The deluge of fake videos on TikTok Shop inspired Yarbro to create a YouTube video teaching followers about how to avoid fake beauty products. Skin-care influencer and Dieux co-founder Charlotte Palermino, meanwhile, earned over 7 million views on a TikTok post she made about identifying illegitimate K-beauty sunscreens.

“You get a lot more eyes for anything you’re creating, which is very different from Amazon. If you post a shop on Amazon, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get any views,” said Palermino.

TikTok’s IP policy states that items listed that infringe on copyrights will be removed, with account removals also possible. Copyright owners must file infringements through the TikTok Shop Intellectual Property Rights Report. TikTok’s IP policy page also advises brands that “contacting the account holder who has infringed on your copyright directly may resolve your complaint more quickly.”

As TikTok negotiates how it fosters consumer and brand trust, brands are weighing just how much power they can give over to the platform in the near term.

“They have so much control over your customers and your community,” said Ngwudo. “We’ll always use [TikTok Shop] as a means of growth, but it will never be the main source of how we build our business because of that lack of control.”

Further Reading

Can TikTok’s Addictive Algorithm Get US Shoppers Buying?

The company, which rolled out its Shop feature to all US users this week, is banking on its powerful algorithm to help it succeed where Instagram and others have failed by delivering a constant stream of products along with its targeted content into users’ feeds.

About the author
Liz Flora
Liz Flora

Liz Flora is a Beauty Correspondent at Business of Fashion. She is based in Los Angeles and covers beauty and wellness.

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