When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, his motto was “get big fast,” and apparently, ByteDance is applying the same ethos to set its meteorically popular social media platform, TikTok, hot on Amazon’s heels. In the past few weeks, TikTok has posted a series of job listings that, as Axios reported, mark TikTok’s first major move into US e-commerce—unpredictably, by building Amazon-like fulfillment centers.
Job listings for “Fulfillment By TikTok Shop” seek to staff key roles like logistics solutions managers or operations research engineers to assist TikTok in building “international warehousing, customs clearings, and supply chain systems that support domestic e-commerce efforts in the US and cross-border e-commerce efforts,” Axios reported.
It looks like TikTok is building a US-based workforce capable of warehousing, delivering, and processing returns.
Ars reviewed the job listings that Axios found, confirming that TikTok is seeking staff in major US cities where it already has offices, like Los Angeles and Seattle. Earlier this year, The Puget Sound Business Journal reviewed LinkedIn profiles and reported that TikTok’s expansion into Seattle poached employees from Amazon, as well as from Meta, which has had its own success venturing into e-commerce through Facebook and Instagram. (Meta did not immediately provide Ars with comment on its e-commerce operations.)
“Over 170 people work for TikTok or ByteDance in the Seattle area, according to LinkedIn profiles,” the Business Journal reported. “Of those, over half came from Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook’s parent company, Meta.”
TikTok already operates TikTok Shop outside the US, and TechCrunch reported that within the US, TikTok already has a shopping feature in the works facilitated by Shopify. Now it appears TikTok has bigger plans in mind to potentially move beyond modest aspirations of facilitating sales for influencers and actually become an online retail giant.
By establishing its own US-based fulfillment centers, reports suggest that TikTok could explode a whole new revenue stream and become a preferred online shopping destination for its broad, young audience. But TikTok’s not ready to talk about any of that yet.
A TikTok spokesperson provided Ars with the same statement it gave other outlets, insisting that ByteDance is focused on its existing e-commerce operations, not any US expansion.
“We’re focused on providing a valuable shopping experience in countries where TikTok Shop is currently offered across Southeast Asia and the UK, which includes providing merchants with a range of product features and delivery options,” a TikTok spokesperson told Ars.
TikTok Shop going live in US before the holidays
Although TikTok officially says that it’s focused on its operations in places like the UK, the Financial Times reported earlier this month that the UK TikTok Shop struggled to take off. It could be that the US market is more likely to embrace TikTok shopping, and according to FT, TikTok plans to launch a US shopping feature ahead of this holiday season.
Or it could be that social media platforms don’t make great shopping destinations anywhere. TikTok’s shopping feature would allow influencers to drop links to products during livestreams—which Meta tried and failed to do with Facebook, shutting down a similar feature earlier this month. It’s still unclear if TikTok could succeed where Meta failed.
Although TikTok’s US fulfillment centers may be ByteDance’s newest idea to expand into US e-commerce, it’s clearly just beginning to break ground on this project. However, Amazon’s success story shows how quickly a company can build an empire once it’s connected to a broad customer base online. Within four years of launching, Amazon went from mostly selling books in the US to dominating global e-commerce.
The Associated Press noted that TikTok’s popular #BookTok community “has been credited with driving a spike in the sales of print romance books this year,” so it makes sense for TikTok to follow in Amazon’s footsteps and want to move beyond just selling books for other retailers. Forbes reported last year that the TikTok hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit attracted 2.3 billion views, while a similar TikTok hashtag #amazonfinds captured 6.7 million views. If TikTok maintains its popularity and influence, AP reported that the social platform could do the impossible and become a disruptive force, even to an e-commerce giant like Amazon.
Not everyone is convinced that would happen, though. At least one wealth management expert told AP that he thinks the notion of TikTok moving into e-commerce is “idiotic.”
TikTok is remaining quiet as it fields applications in major US cities but previously told FT that its interest in e-commerce stems from users seeking a “seamless” experience while using the app. It likely became too tempting for the social platform to imagine the potential revenue stream it could generate if the billions clicking the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit could make purchases right there in the app—with TikTok then fulfilling the orders and even processing returns.
“When it comes to market expansion for TikTok Shop we are always guided by demand and are constantly exploring new and different options for how we can best serve our community, creators and merchants in markets around the world,” TikTok told FT.