Social content platforms have quickly become crucial marketing and sales channels for retail brands, and with the rapid rise of newer platforms like TikTok, this trend is only set to grow. Indeed, a recent report by Oxford Economics found that SMEs in the UK who use TikTok generated £1.2bn in additional revenue in 2022.
Social networks break down barriers and enable businesses to build communities around niche products and deliver offerings that may have been previously hard to find in the marketplace. TikTok creators can find overnight success without a huge existing following thanks to the platform’s recommendation systems, and the same is true for small businesses. Entrepreneurs of different ages and backgrounds, all selling completely different products, have found success through TikTok Shop.
According to the Oxford Economics research, around three-quarters of the GDP contribution from SMEs using TikTok came from outside London. The report also found that 38% of the SMEs that use TikTok have ethnic minority ownership, compared with just 26% of SMEs in the UK. This suggests that entrepreneurs from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds face fewer barriers when starting out online.
Dominique Bogle is one UK-based entrepreneur who has found success through community commerce. After experiencing hair loss to alopecia and psoriasis, she’d found it almost impossible to find affordable high-quality wigs in the UK. Realising that consumers often had to look abroad for reasonably priced alternatives, she founded Hair Anatomy in 2020.
“You’d have to spend thousands of pounds to get a good-quality wig, which isn’t accessible for the masses,” Bogle explains. “We use synthetic fibres, but they feel and look like human hair. This is about providing accessibility, affordability and timeliness.”
Initially investing £500 of her savings into Hair Anatomy, Bogle continued to work in her corporate finance job during her first two years in business. In July 2022, she started using TikTok to promote her products and joined TikTok’s ecommerce platform, TikTok Shop, that October.
Bogle says that since joining TikTok Shop, the business has grown exponentially and in-app sales through TikTok Shop is now a key part of her growth strategy for the next three to six months. “TikTok Shop is very much embedded in driving sales, and we find the conversion is a lot higher than our website right now,” she says.
Hair Anatomy has generated over £240k since Bogle joined TikTok Shop in October 2022, enabling her to work full-time on growing her company. “It’s given my brand the opportunity to be discovered by a diverse audience,” she says. “We have a following of 30,000 people, which has been built organically without any paid ads.”
The ability to build a community through social content platforms is invaluable for entrepreneurs. By sharing their interests, creators can form trusting relationships with their followers. “If you’re really passionate about something, it shows – and your audience can pick up on that,” says Nadiyah Patel, junior copywriter at UK bookseller, Books2Door.
Starting out as an eBay business in 2004, Books2Door had enjoyed success by selling on other digital platforms, but was struggling to reach a wider audience. After joining the firm in July 2022, Patel suggested that it create short-form content targeting TikTok’s vast #BookTok community, which she uses regularly herself to find new reading material. Since doing so early this year, Books2Door has become one of the leading sellers of books in the UK.
A key feature of the platform is that honest conversations go both ways. For example, Books2Door regularly receives requests from users for titles to be included in its book bundles. This feedback is crucial in helping businesses understand and meet customers’ needs. The Oxford Economics report found that 72% of SMEs using TikTok found its ability to interact more with customers and receive feedback as either a very or fairly positive impact of the platform.
George Robinson is the owner of sweet shop brand SoSweet, which has multiple locations in the South West of England. For him, the ability to communicate more openly with customers has been invaluable. “It creates a forum for conversation, rather than just a review if a customer is unhappy with an order,” he says. “You can create a video taking five or 10 seconds to fill and a few minutes to edit that can obtain feedback for a product we want to launch. It’s all possible.”
In March 2020, Robinson took over the business – then a purely bricks-and-mortar concern – from his parents. Hecustomers’ needs. The Oxford Economics report found that 72% of SMEs using TikTok found its ability to interact more with customers and receive feedback as either a very or fairly positive impact of the platform.
SoSweet uses Fulfilled by TikTok (FBT), a service that lets vendors store stock and outsource the logistics of delivery for certain products. In a highly viral and seasonal business, FBT helps the firm to control its operations costs. “We’re not suddenly having to scramble to meet demand internally,” he explains. “That’s all handled by the FBT team at the same cost to us as a business. It lets us focus more on actually just driving sales for the product.”
When it comes to social content, Robinson stresses that business owners shouldn’t over-analyse posts, but instead focus on creating entertaining material that’s authentic and relatable: “TikTok is very fast paced. You can strip back the curtains, get a bit messy, make some mistakes and have fun with it. And that’s often the content that does the best for us.”
Ahmad Muhamed is the founder and CEO of Mdahx, a firm that imports sea moss from Zanzibar to produce a nutritional gel. His approach to content creation is that he has “never planned a video and never written a script. I just post an idea.” Muhamed’s simple advice to fellow small business owners is to “be authentic. Just be real with everyone. People love authenticity.”
He reports that selling through TikTok Shop has accelerated his business significantly, with more than 90% of its revenue coming via this channel. Noting that Mdahx’s sales conversion rate benefits from having the audience remaining in the app rather than getting sent to the firm’s website, he says: “It’s much easier for someone to see a video of our product and after three clicks they’ve bought it and are carrying on with their day.”
With SMEs making up 99% of all businesses currently operating in the UK, encouraging entrepreneurship from all backgrounds and supporting small businesses is vital for economic growth and innovation. By providing a forum to directly communicate with and build a relationship with customers, an easy in-app route to purchase and a fulfilment process managed by the platform, community commerce can be just the vehicle entrepreneurs need to grow their business.
Find out more about TikTok Shop at shop.tiktok.com/business/en