What to know before buying something from TikTok Shop

If it feels like your TikTok FYP has turned into a glorified products billboard, you’re not alone. 

With the launch of TikTok’s company wide social commerce venture, known as TikTok Shop, the app has dug even deeper into its possible future as a one-stop-shop for content and products — and its beginning to affect users. 

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The shift has long been in the works. In 2022, TikTok teased a QVC-style live shopping experience, which would allow TikTok live viewers to buy products directly from streams. The idea built on an already growing community of multi-level marketers and dropshippers (businesses that don’t make, store, or ship the products they’re selling) using TikTok FYPs as advertising space and TikTok lives as the new social media selling haven

In July 2023, TikTok reportedly planned to integrate an in-app shopping experience for made-in-China products manufactured, stored, and shipped directly from TikTok itself, rather than small businesses. 

Meanwhile, TikTok Shop sellers also opened up a Pandora’s box of legal issues despite TikTok’s lengthy shopping policies, including repeated copyright infringements, illegal or potentially harmful product sales, and outright scams. And many are accused of pressuring popular creators to feature their shops in video content.

The drama isn’t necessarily hindering TikTok Shop’s growth. In fact, it may be helping the social commerce experiment dig its claws in even deeper, building on the idea that sales can go just as viral as trends, memes, or songs. According to some reports, users spent $363 million on TikTok Shop in the U.S. in 2023.

Some users have begun to push back on the overabundance of videos marked with TikTok Shop buying links, affiliate tags, and “eligible for commission” labels, used to mark when a TikTok creator is discussing or recommending a product that can be purchased directly from the app. 

Still, no amount of so-called de-influencing or anti-haul trends can fully eradicate the problem of consumers being duped by TikTok scammers. 

If we can’t win the social commerce war, we can at least try to win the shopping scam battles. Keep these tips in mind before taking advantage of those frankly bonkers TikTok Shop steals.

Research the seller

Even before the official launch of TikTok Shop, consumer protection groups were calling for caution. A 2022 blog post from the Better Business Bureau notes a rise in scams, including cryptocurrency and discount code cons, appearing across the app. 

Digital verification companies have also encouraged users to be more vigilant while scrolling. An industry-curated list of advice from QRFY.com (a QR code business provider), notes that many products featured on TikTok are actually sold through independent third-party sellers such as Depop and eBay, which warrant their own vetting. 

What to do:

  • Check if the seller has a verified checkmark.

  • Visit the seller or brand’s website to verify what you see on TikTok Shop and make sure they have an off-TikTok presence. (Learn how to spot a fake website, too.)

  • Don’t buy from a seller that doesn’t clearly display contact information for their business. 

  • Search for previous complaints of wrongdoing. A simple search of the company name and the words “complaint” or “scam” may reveal more information.

Research the product

Buyers can avoid falling into a seller trap by staying vigilant to the products themselves, long before they have to call in the customer service guns. 

A rule for all shopping: Deals that are too good to be true, are probably too good to be true. 

What to do:

  • Pay close attention to product descriptions, just as you would phishing emails or other text-based scams.

  • Note descriptive words like “refurbished,” “vintage,” or “close-out,” which might indicate used or faulty products.

  • Only buy name brand products directly from the manufacturer or brand.

  • Read customer reviews and be critical of promoted content — including affiliated videos from your favorite creators. 

If you’re set on ordering, the Better Business Bureau still recommends making all purchases on a credit card, rather than a debit card, as it makes it easier to contest fraudulent charges and get your money back. 

Research your rights (and act quick)

An online purchase is, in many ways, an agreement between you and the seller. And that agreement comes with stipulations that the buyer should be careful to read over. On TikTok, that includes both the shop or seller’s policies and TikTok’s own protections.

What to do:

  • Read TikTok’s TikTok Shop policies

  • Understand the seller’s own cancellation and refund policies. 

  • Act quickly if you believe you’ve been scammed or if the product you bought is defective. 

TikTok has its own timeline for buyers issuing after-sale disputes, which can be found on the TikTok Shop Academy. TikTok’s recently updated Order Cancellation, Return and Refund Guidelines state that customers have six days after the package is labeled “delivered” to issue a return or refund.

If an order is marked “shipped” but hasn’t arrived by 48 hours after the estimated delivery date, buyers can request a refund directly from TikTok. 

Sellers must handle all order cancellation and refund requests within 48 hours. 

If a shop is repeatedly scamming TikTok buyers, consider issuing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau directly or through its scam tracker

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