Tiktok: Why viral product hype becomes a challenge for small manufacturers

Viral hits
Suddenly far too many customers: Why Tiktok hype is becoming a challenge for small manufacturers

With Tiktok, success can come very quickly – too quickly for some retailers

© Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press / AP / DPA

Going viral on Tiktok means quickly reaching millions of people. For smaller companies, however, rapid success there can be more than just a blessing. Especially if they sell directly through Tiktok.

A small clip is often enough. Anyone who uploads a particularly funny, exciting or otherwise moving clip to the Tiktok video network can accumulate millions of views overnight. For a company, such viral success of a product often means tons of new customers. But that can bring its own problems.

“It was simply not physically possible to process the orders together with my husband and keep a family going at the same time,” Jessica Slone told the “Insider”. Slone runs the Bad Addiction Boutique – and was swept up in a viral hit out of nowhere. A sweater with various motifs of jars of pickled cucumbers suddenly became a highly sought-after product on Tiktok. And more than 42,000 customers suddenly wanted to buy the $44 sweater.

Tiktok as a shopping app

She did not sell the sweaters on a third-party platform, but directly on Tiktok. The shop function used for this is not yet available in Germany. In since 2021 In the UK and Indonesia in a test run, it was also introduced in the USA in mid-September. Amazon and Co. probably don’t have to fear real competition at the moment. An initial analysis by “Bloomberg” found that the shop was not only difficult to navigate, but was also somewhat disappointed by the offerings. In particular, cheap goods from China can be found there, according to the business magazine. But also one or two gems that suddenly become a hit thanks to the infamous Tiktok algorithm hit.

This can quickly become a challenge, especially because of the strict requirements. Anyone who wants to operate a shop via the video app also undertakes to deliver after a maximum of three business days. Not an easy task when you have only sold small quantities so far. “We sell so many every day that we have to stay awake day and night just to be able to supply everyone,” marvels Ashley Martinez, who was also swept up in the wave of cucumbers. And of course the night shifts also require that there is enough inventory.

“We had more than 1,000 orders a day. That’s great in itself – but you have to be able to produce so much in one day,” complains Lindzi Shanks, the co-founder of a marshmallow manufacturer. “Otherwise the orders will just pile up.”

Risk of viral success

However, building up the necessary capacities for production and shipping entails its own risk. The nature of viral trends also means that they can end at any time – and you are simply left with the additional capacity that was purchased at a high price. “When things are going well, it can always be an anomaly,” explains Michael Herling, who sells self-sewn caps on the platform. “Or it’s just a blip and it will be fixed next week.”

This can be seen wonderfully with the cucumber shirts from Slone’s Bad Addiction Boutique: While some clips have over 30 million views, others have a few thousand. Candy dealer Hira Tariq can also confirm this. “Sometimes I post a video and the orders go through the roof. But then there are always periods when nothing works. It goes up and down.”

Not just any online shop

When it comes to specifications, Tiktok is clearly based on the big online role models such as Amazon, which also insist on fast delivery. Basically, this is understandable from Tiktok’s point of view. After all, customers in online retail now expect delivery as quickly as possible. If you try out a new sales platform and find a seller who doesn’t deliver or delivers slowly, you might stop using it.

However, Tiktok is not just an online shop – and unlike other sales platforms, it can suddenly unleash millions of potential customers on a little-known retailer. At least initially there is even a protection mechanism for this. New traders first have to prove themselves for a period of 30 to 60 days; the platform limits their visibility somewhat during this time frame and limits the maximum number of daily orders. If the new dealers adhere to the rules and deliver on time, the restriction will be lifted again.

Close support

In fact, Tiktok seems to be willing to learn. In Great Britain, the company has already tested mechanisms that are intended to curb the blatant fluctuations. The maximum shipping time there is four days instead of just three. The platform provides warehouses and a shipping offering that can provide support in the event of sudden spikes.

The team also supports retailers quickly and easily with direct contacts at Tiktok. “Whenever we reach out to them with feedback, they are very interested and curious,” explains Marshmallow entrepreneur Shanks. However, there are doubts among retailers as to how long this direct communication will remain viable if the business continues to grow so quickly, according to “Insider”.

But optimism currently prevails. “It has completely changed our lives and our business,” enthuses boutique owner Slone. “Tiktok is like a roller coaster ride where the only place we can go is up. And we will ride along until the wheels fall off.”

Source:insider, Tiktok, Bloomberg

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