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Teen-Friendly App TikTok Dabbles With Social Commerce but What Are the Retail Risks?

It was only matter of time before TikTok moved into monetization.

The short-form video social media phenomenon popular with of tweens and teens, which Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak called “the platform to watch in 2020,” is reportedly testing out commerce features, Techcrunch first reported. TikTok surpassed the 1 billion-download mark earlier this year and, according to Business of Apps, attracts more than 500 million users monthly consuming the quick-hit videos largely of silly antics and skits set to music.

TikTok users can now integrate e-commerce links into their profile bios and “creators,” those who produce music-driven clips for the platform, have carte blanche to direct followers to any website they like, which could make these influencers much more valuable assets for the site.

However, Monique Becenti, channel and product specialist at SiteLock, warns of the security risks stemming from the “swipe up” approach TikTok has adopted for its first foray into social commerce experimentation.

“’Swipe up’ features on social media platforms create a prime opportunity for hackers to exploit for phishing scams and redirects to malicious sites,” Becenti said. “Unlike traditional hyperlinking, these social platforms redirect their users to online stores, which could lead to bigger security issues since users may not always be linked to a trusted or verified site.”

In their eagerness to seize upon this new opportunity, “retailers that want to reach the app’s young and growing fan base should also have cybersecurity in mind when creating these new features,” she added.

“Since retailers often use influencers to gain their audience’s attention, they can create alternative links that still help influencers cash in on their conversions while maintaining a solid security posture,” Becenti said. She recommends creating short trackable URLs that directly link to the influencer. TikTok users can then type the URL in a browser to effectively vet the website and verify the SSL certificate for themselves before going ahead with a purchase.

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As brands have flocked to Instagram and especially its Checkout feature, it’s all but inevitable that merchants will take advantage of this new way to entice TikTok’s impressionable young audience with targeted products and offers.

And keeping users inside the app ecosystem while they transact “is the next evolution of social commerce,” said Darin Archer, chief strategy officer at Elastic Path, an API-based e-commerce software company that helps businesses create unified commerce experience across devices, channels and business models.

Archer describes TikTok’s approach of allowing links to outside websites as “a bit disjointed for the consumer,” though the platform is likely testing how receptive its audience is to blending commerce into the entertaining short-video experience.

As the transaction moves from a linked e-commerce site to an in-app function, brands need to ensure they’re “creating an in-app purchase experience that’s consistent with, and connected to, a consumer’s overall experience with the brand—even though they don’t own the channel,” Archer added.

If a brand’s TikTok strategy isn’t integrated with other commerce touchpoints—the main e-commerce site, for one—the merchant stands to “lose shopper engagement” when the experience is anything but seamless, he noted.

For now, Instagram has emerged as a sort of “gold standard” for where social commerce rivals should strive to land, according to Archer.

“Instagram has already rolled out Checkout where shoppers can buy from brands without ever leaving the app,” he explained. “I think we’ll continue to see other platforms working up to this level of in-app social commerce that really turns browsing into buying.”