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The Shopocalypse of Social : Everyone’s complaining but are we abstaining?


The reviews are in: “If Shein and AliExpress had a baby, the result would be TikTok Shop…” Ouch. With the September launch of TikTok’s in-app shopping feature in the U.S., the social platform has quickly transformed from a feed-driven experience into an e-commerce obstacle course. And while it might seem like the natural evolution for a platform already glutted with influencer content and product recs, as we enter the first full calendar year of TikTok shop, we can’t help but ask: is this thing really working?

There are several reasons users claim to be unhappy. Firstly, TikTok’s streamlining of the commission process for sellers is gradually turning our screen time into shopping time. Shop buttons! Discounts! TikTok Shop coupons! This push towards commodifying any piece of content into an affiliate ad, combined with real concerns of scammers, is creating a chaotic bazaar filled with products like the 62 Sol de Janeiro and Cosrx snail cream. Perhaps TikTok could have learned from Meta’s missteps. Users attempting to verify the authenticity of the shop using ‘Purchase Protection Policy’ quickly lost that convenience once the policy was removed. This led to the complete removal of the Instagram Shop tab button in Jan 2023. Given the pushback, one might predict a drop in user activity or lukewarm sales, right? Well, the answer is actually a bit less clear. Direct-to-consumer brands are celebrating record-breaking sales from TikTok Shop this year, and content creators are sharing overnight success stories with floods of personalized product orders.

Actions speak later than words, and the consensus is clear: we’re (actually) shopping. Despite claiming that ads are “ruining the joy of the space,” we eagerly participate whenever the right product captures our attention. And can we blame ourselves? The parasocial relationship between viewers and creators strategically influences our purchasing decisions, blurring the line between genuine recommendations and commercial motives. This, paired with the ease of making purchases without leaving the platform, significantly fuels our consumer behavior. 

Will TikTok shop go away? It’s unlikely. In fact, TikTok is likely to embrace its new role as the go-to destination for impulse buying and late-night online shopping sprees. But in its wake, PRZM predicts a resurgence towards more specialized, shared interest apps like Beli or Letterboxd. By unifying communities around a single passion point (e.g., movies or restaurants), these apps offer compartmentalized experiences that users trust (without the hard sell — at least for now). With these more niche platforms catering to our specific wants, interests, and recommendations, all-encompassing apps will either become digital shopping malls or perhaps revert back to their original purpose: entertainment and social connection. Will we shop ‘til we drop? Only time will tell.