TikTok Owner ByteDance Is Building an International Shopping Platform

  • ByteDance is hiring for dozens of jobs related to e-commerce around the world.
  • “TikTok is an ideal platform to deliver a brand new and better e-commerce experience,” listings say.
  • The move comes after Amazon pulled thousands of third-party sellers in China earlier this year.

TikTok’s owner ByteDance is launching an international shopping platform, according to job listings reviewed by Insider.

The service, which will compete with Amazon and Alibaba’s AliExpress, could be rolled out as a separate app or integrated into TikTok, the Chinese media outlet The Passage reported last month. The offering will likely focus on selling products made in China to buyers in other countries.

On its website, ByteDance is hiring for dozens of positions related to e-commerce around the world. In several of the listings, ByteDance says: “TikTok is an ideal platform to deliver a brand new and better e-commerce experience to our users.”

Some of the job descriptions indicate ByteDance plans to onboard independent sellers to a platform that may be similar to AliExpress. An operations manager in Singapore, for example, will be responsible for establishing “a global merchandise business data and tracking system.”

ByteDance has already begun investing in a domestic e-commerce strategy and launched its own mobile-payment service in January. This new expansion would represent its first major foray into the online-shopping sector beyond China.

“They’re definitely dying to be in e-commerce,” Rui Ma, a tech analyst and the founder of the podcast “Tech Buzz China,” said.

“Most Chinese entrepreneurs think Western e-commerce is backwards compared to China,” she added. “They think it can be disrupted and that basically no one aside from Amazon and Shopify have made a dent really, so I do think they see this as a relatively open opportunity.”

ByteDance’s move comes after Amazon removed thousands of third-party sellers in China earlier this year over allegations that they used fake reviews and violated other rules. Many of the merchants are now looking for other ways to reach customers, which makes them an easy target for ByteDance’s new service. 

Some smaller e-commerce sites and factories in China are already using TikTok to reach shoppers in North America and Europe, even though the app is technically not available in China’s app stores.

The Chinese government is also taking steps to boost the international online-shopping industry, including opening more “cross-border e-commerce zones,” where export taxes and other government fees are lower. In August, the Commerce Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality announced it would award about $310,000 to qualified Chinese merchants for each independent online store they launched.

“Cross-border is, like, the hottest thing right now — everyone is trying to sell more directly from China,” Ma said. “Amazon has banned a ton of Chinese merchants, some for good reasons, and others people think not for good reasons. So there is a bit of a vacuum, and also there is tremendous growth predicted ahead.”

Juozas Kaziukėnas, the founder of the e-commerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse, said ByteDance’s experience with TikTok would help differentiate its service from competitors like Amazon, AliExpress, and Wish.

“I doubt they will materially improve pricing or offer unique selection, but I think there is a lot of opportunity in how shoppers interact with that wide selection,” he added. “Wish rebuilt with the experience from TikTok sounds interesting.”

ByteDance has already begun rolling out some e-commerce features on TikTok, including a Shopify integration that lets businesses add a shopping tab to their profiles. Facebook launched a similar feature last year.

It’s unclear whether many TikTok users will want to try a new shopping service connected to the app, but data from US Customs and Border Protection indicates that Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable buying goods from overseas companies directly, instead of relying on traditional domestic retailers.

The agency found that the total volume of small packages imported into the US increased by 28% last year, even though the overall number of international mail shipments decreased by 19%.


Katheleen Knopf

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