Walmart’s late entry this week into the scramble to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations left some people with a question.
Two questions, actually:
But the proposed teaming up of the giant retailer and Microsoft to run the video app in the United States makes more sense in light of the direction TikTok’s owner has taken its sibling app in China, its home country.
That version of the app, Douyin, which works much like TikTok but is available only in China, has become not only a platform for goofy videos but also an e-commerce destination with the kind of reach among young buyers that Walmart would love to have.
The Chinese social media giant that runs both apps, ByteDance, began testing e-commerce features on Douyin in 2018. That was well before the company rolled out a “Shop Now” button on TikTok in recent months that redirects users to shopping sites.
Smartphone users in China have taken, in a big way, to buying things while they watch people hawk the products — think QVC and late-night television infomercials reinvented for the mobile age. Chinese e-commerce platforms have for years been adding livestreaming to their apps, and video apps have been adding shopping functions. In all, $140 billion in merchandise could be sold in China this year via livestreaming, more than double last year’s amount, according to estimates by the research firm Bernstein.
The sheer size of the Chinese consumer market has created a vast field for retail experiments of other kinds as well. One of the country’s newest e-commerce giants, Pinduoduo, has turned internet shopping into something more like a surreal video game. For Pinduoduo’s fans, the process of stumbling across strange new products, at ludicrously low prices, is a big part of the experience. Actually receiving those products is almost secondary. Currently, nearly 570 million people use Pinduoduo’s app every month.