Speculation is rife that TikTok is moving into the eCommerce space. After a spate of job postings looking for employees to help grow its “Fulfillment by TikTok Shop” in the US, searching for candidates to build and manage a global warehousing network, it appears that the social media platform is priming itself to take on retail giants such as Amazon and eBay.

But can a content platform really become a successful digital commerce giant? Short answer – yes. Online retailers have been told for years that ‘Content is King’. That the creation of rich, shareable, informative content remains one of the most consistent methods of driving traffic and improving SEO.

But now, new technologies such as progressive web apps (PWAs) make it easy for businesses to take the reverse approach. Rather than adding a content arm to a retail business, ‘content to commerce’ adds digital commerce capabilities to existing content platforms. Meaning that with the right tools, any business with a highly engaged audience can become an online retailer.

TikTok’s super selling power

Despite being one of the newer entrants to the social media space, TikTok has already established itself as one of the most popular social media apps, particularly amongst young people. In 2022 it became the most downloaded app in the world, with over 750 million current users worldwide. But with TikTok it’s not just about the number of users – it’s the fact that they’re so engaged. In fact, consumers spend more time on TikTok than Facebook and YouTube, and spend ten times as much time watching TikTok videos than Instagram Reels.

With such a highly engaged global audience, the commercial potential of TikTok is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Most retail businesses launch small and build their following over time. TikTok already has millions of loyal followers and enviable traffic – all it needs is the right technology stack to transform it from social media powerhouse to online retail behemoth.  

The rise of content to commerce

Content has always been king, but the pandemic made content more important than ever. Global online consumption doubled in 2020, with the rate of online social media consumption continuing – and even rising slightly – in 2022. It’s unsurprising that social media platforms and other high traffic sites – such as news organisations and popular blogs – might turn their attention to digital commerce capabilities as a way of increasing revenue.

Just this year, one of Australia’s major publishing houses, Are Media, purchased Australian e-commerce business, Hard to Find. The acquisition allows the publishing giant, which already enjoys large numbers of readers and high profile advertisers, to further boost revenue by integrating its sales with content. As the value of content becomes increasingly more apparent, we might well see more publishers, more news sites, and even more social media platforms, exploring how they can add commerce capabilities to their content driven sites.

Selling though stories

Selling through stories isn’t a new concept – brands have been doing this since retail began. In the modern day, selling through stories means offering more than just an online store, but entertaining and educating consumers with blogs, news, and social media content.

Tesla is one example of a brand with a content-heavy approach. Its site is filled with informative articles and how-to videos, while also offering consumers the opportunity to purchase cars online. Customers don’t necessarily visit the Tesla website looking to buy a Tesla. They might have questions about electric vehicles or wonder how electric charging will work. Customers may go back several times before making a purchase – if at all.

But regardless of whether they buy, Tesla’s interesting and informative content helps foster brand loyalty. Apple is another brand that sells through stories – walking consumers through each aspect of its technology and selling them on the aspirational features of its products. With links to videos and events for each product, Apple fans can consume hours of content before making a purchase. But when they do, they feel fully informed and invested in the brand.

Retailers who aren’t already prioritising content, need to start doing so. What we’ve always known about content continues to be true – it improves SEO, it helps to drive traffic, and keeps customers engaged. But now, as social media platforms and publishing houses are starting to move into the digital commerce space, it’s going to be increasingly more important for retailers to ramp up their content capabilities.

After all, it’s easier for consumers to buy when they don’t feel like they’re being ‘sold to’, which is why content platforms like TikTok have such incredible selling potential. Retailers must take the opportunity to convert across every touchpoint, enabling commerce capability in blogs, videos, and other content channels, or risk losing a customer who is ready to buy then and there. Businesses need both content and commerce – it cannot be one without the other. 

James Horne is CEO at Balance Internet.