TikTok Tests New Visual Product Search Option to Boost its eCommerce Efforts

The Latest Initiative from TikTok

TikTok has been trying to penetrate the eCommerce market, replicating its Chinese market’s success by exploring different options to make in-stream shopping happen. Its current latest initiative is in the form of a new visual product discovery option. The feature enables TikTok users to take a photo of an item and find similar matches in TikTok Shop listings.

The new TikTok image search option is being tested in some markets outside the US and follows the same concept as image search on Google or Pinterest’s Lens tool. Users will take an image of a product, which the app will use as the basis of their search. Hence, this feature provides more discovery potential and makes TikTok more of a shopping search tool.

The Difference Between Western and Asian Markets

While Western users have not warmed up to in-stream shopping in the app yet, the same cannot be said for Asian users. South East Asian TikTok users are adopting live-stream shopping, just like their Chinese counterparts.

In China, on the local version of TikTok, called Douyin, live-stream commerce is now massive and is the app’s largest income stream by a significant margin. It is also seeing steady in-app shopping growth in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This reflects the more adaptive approach of Asian markets to online shopping and the diversification of social apps in usage.

This represents significant opportunity for TikTok, prompting the company to want to crack the US and EU markets to provide more revenue share potential and expand its usage in these regions as well. However, Western users are less open to live-stream and in-stream purchase options, due to concerns around safety, quality and the replacement of in-real-life experiences. During the COVID pandemic, online shopping in the US surged, which accelerated the shift away from physical stores by five years in just a few months. The view was that this would exacerbate the decline of physical shopping. Still, within weeks of the lockdowns being lifted, visits to physical stores returned to the same levels as before the pandemic.

Different Behavioral Shifts:

Western audiences seem more tied to their habitual behaviors in this respect, and while online shopping is rising steadily, it hasn’t become the transformative trend that it has in Asian markets — at least not yet. TikTok’s still striving to catch on and persuade users to shift their behavior towards in-app shopping. As younger audiences move into higher spending brackets, there is an expectation that this change will happen regardless. However, the question remains as to whether TikTok can become the key source of purchases for this audience or whether other apps will outshine TikTok in this respect.

TikTok’s cultural presence should hold it in good stead, but data suggests that more and more young people are using TikTok and IG as search engines over Google, another key behavioral shift in this respect. Perhaps the rise of generative AI will change these factors, but TikTok still hopes to make TikTok shopping a trend. This new search option will be another tool in its growing arsenal to power its eCommerce growth.


  • https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/tiktok-tests-new-visual-product-search-option-to-boost-its-ecommerce-effor/603060/
  • https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/20/tiktoks-in-stream-shopping-efforts-get-a-boost-with-new-visual-product-search-feature/
  • https://www.businessinsider.com/what-makes-china-a-unique-online-shopping-marketplace-2017-10?r=US&IR=T