You may know TikTok as the platform responsible for popularizing viral teen dance moves and constantly bringing Republican lawmakers’ blood to a boil, but newly posted job listings reveal a potentially new direction for the company: e-commerce giant.
Over a dozen LinkedIn job listings posted over the past two weeks suggest TikTok is gearing up to build sprawling U.S. fulfillment centers as part of a larger pivot towards live e-commerce. One of listings, first spotted by Axios, explains how the company seeks to create an “international e-commerce fulfillment system,” equipped with international warehouse and “customs clearing” supply chains.
TikTok’s fulfillment centers, according to the listings, would provide warehousing, delivery, and customer service returns, to help sellers on the firm’s video platform increase efficiency and, in turn, hopefully drive up revenue for TikTok. Unlike Amazon, however, Axios notes it appears unlikely TikTok would build out its own transportation unit. Instead, the listings appear to imply TikTok would work with vendors to handle shipping and transportation.
TikTok has some previous experience playing around with livestream e-commerce services in Asia and the United Kingdom called “TikTok Shop” which lets companies and influencers directly push products through the platform. Recent reports suggest TikTok is looking to partner with live shopping platform TalkShopLive to bring that capability, or something similar to it, to North America. The rumored fulfillment centers could directly tie into this shopping experience and provide TikTok with access to and control over a supply chain to serve customers products purchased on its main platform.
So far, the open positions include Logistics Solutions Managers based in Seattle and Los Angeles and a Seattle-based Operation Research Engineer, among others. In one of the job descriptions, TikTok notes the rapid acceleration of e-commerce sales in recent years and says its millions of devoted app users make the brand, “an ideal platform to deliver a brand new and better e-commerce experience to our users.”
According to recent census data, U.S. e-commerce sales shot up from $571.2 billion in 2019 to $815.4 billion in 2020, a 43% increase likely accelerated by the pandemic. Research firm Insider Intelligence predicts U.S. e-commerce sales could crack the $1 trillion mark this year. Unsurprisingly Amazon’s come to dominate the sector and made up around 38% of all U.S. e-commerce sales in 2021. TikTok’s evidently hoping to slither in and steal some of that market share.
In an email to Gizmodo a TikTok spokesperson avoided delving deeper into the company’s fulfillment center hiring and instead reiterated the company’s commitment to TikTok Shop. “We’re focused on providing a valuable shopping experience in countries where TikTok Shop is currently offered across Southeast Asia and the UK, which includes providing merchants with a range of product features and delivery options,” the spokesperson said.
The short-form video platform signaled its interest in e-commerce over the past several years and even partnered with research firm Material to produce a report analyzing the platform’s impact on shopper’s buying habits. The report claims viewers making purchases directly on social and video platforms like TikTok are 1.2% more likely to lead to an immediate purchase when compared to shoppers on online marketplaces like Amazon. The report claims 61% of TikTok users have engaged in e-commerce on the platform while 56% say they already turn to the platform to discover new products and brands.
Specific details concerning TikTok’s e-commerce strategy remains sparse, but one thing’s almost certain: any push into the space will likely face fierce pushback from U.S. lawmakers who believe the company’s ties to the Chinese government make it a national security risk. Some of those concerns, echoed loudly by former President Donald Trump, run the gamut from paranoid blatherings to more even-keeled critics. Both versions of that concern have grown, with senators and business executives recently resurfacing calls to ban the platform.