TikTok Shop – how to shop safely
Watch out for scams, beware of fakes, and when to find a bargain
In 2021, TikTok launched its e-commerce platform TikTok Shop – a similar marketplace to eBay or Etsy. There are seemingly millions of bargains on TikTok Shop... but watch out, policing is limited and you can't rely on all the sellers to be legit. We'll show you how to find the bargains and avoid duds and scams.
What is TikTok Shop and how does it work?
It's an e-commerce platform, exclusive to the free TikTok app, where you can buy a range of products such as make-up, clothes, and tech.
- Products are sold by third-party sellers, not TikTok itself.
- Sellers are usually individuals, though brands such as Lookfantastic, I Saw It First, and HarperCollins are also on there.
- Items sold on TikTok Shop should be brand-new. Individual private sellers tend to get their stock from wholesalers, or from drop-shippers, though sometimes they'll sell hand-made items too, such as baked goods, hair oil... and even slime.
- Discount vouchers and flash sales are regularly available, so you can bag a bargain. But it won't always be the cheapest place to buy – see our TikTok Shop need-to-knows below.
How do I buy something on TikTok Shop?
The main way is to use the search bar and type in what you're looking to buy. As an example, we searched for sunglasses.
A range of videos and products tagged with your chosen search will come up. Click on the "Shop" tab at the top and you'll be able to browse the products available.
TikTok Shop need-to-knows
Be wary of scam ads and make sure you're only purchasing via the TikTok app
If you're buying from TikTok Shop, ALWAYS do it via the TikTok app – if you leave the app at any point to buy (or are asked to buy outside of it), this could be a scam.
It's not difficult to be caught out. One MoneySaver was duped by a scam ad, believing they were buying something from TikTok Shop. It resulted it them unknowingly signing up for a £28 fortnightly subscription to be entered into a monthly prize draw to win some headphones.
TikTok Shop told us it has 'measures in place to detect and remove fraudulent ads'. As we've seen for ourselves though, people are still getting scammed. If you see an advert on TikTok which is selling off the app, it's best not to go through with it, and to report it to TikTok.
TikTok Shop doesn't give protection for any purchases made outside of the app. If you're unsure whether a product you see advertised on TikTok is being sold on TikTok Shop, use the search bar in the TikTok app to find products, rather than going through an ad.
Below is an ad one MoneySaver saw on TikTok Shop for earbuds:
As you can see, the advert suggests that you can buy earbuds for £3. While this does seem very cheap and too good to be true, we have seen genuine items priced this low before. The pop-up is still part of the TikTok platform, but once you tap 'Learn more', the advert takes you off the app and to the scam deal:
After making the purchase, the MoneySaver checked for order confirmation through TikTok Shop, and was immediately worried when it wasn't listed.
They did some digging and found the T&Cs of the offer and realised that rather than buying the £3 earbuds as advertised, they'd been entered into a prize draw and subscribed to an 'affiliate service' for £3, later to be renewed with a €33 (£28) charge every 14 days, unless cancelled.
The MoneySaver searched through their inbox for any form of order confirmation, and found this in their spam:
They cancelled their subscription, and luckily were able to get a refund for the £3 from their bank.
Be cautious buying electrical goods as online marketplaces aren't required by law to check safety
It's important to be wary of the quality and safety of items you're buying from TikTok Shop, particularly when it comes to electrical items. Electrical safety charity Electrical Safety First states in its 'Don't be Electricked' campaign that:
"Online marketplaces, like eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and Facebook Marketplace are not currently required by law to check the safety of products sold on their sites, in the same way traditional high street shops, such as John Lewis and Currys are."
MoneySaver Annie had issues with an electric hair curler bought from TikTok Shop:
Bought a hair curler, exploded when I wasn’t using it (plugged in but not switched on) and burnt a hole in my carpet & dressing table 😬 got a full refund though 😄 glad I was there to hear it go bang, could’ve been a lot worse 🔥
We asked TikTok for a comment about faulty electricals being sold on its platform and it told us sellers 'must only promote and list products with information, videos and images that accurately represent the product they are selling'.
Electrical Safety First told us it recommends buyers stick to 'reputable high street or online retailers' when buying electrical goods.
Shoppers using TikTok Shop need to remember they are usually buying from a third-party seller, not directly from a reputable retailer or manufacturer. This can leave them exposed to being duped into buying a dangerous electrical product that is not produced in line with safety standards for sale in the UK.
We urge shoppers to stick to reputable high street retailers they know and trust or their online equivalent. This way they can be sure the product they purchase has been sourced from a reputable manufacturer who would comply with local laws.
- Martyn Allen, Technical Director, Electrical Safety First
Your rights if an item is faulty
If you do buy a product that turns out to be faulty – electical or otherwise – you're entitled to a full refund in most cases, up to 30 days after the product is delivered. See our full Consumer rights guide.
Anyone can create their own shop and sell goods so it's vital to read seller reviews before buying
It's very easy to become a seller on TikTok Shop – when we tried it, all we needed to do was show two forms of ID, and submit a few details, and that was it. Many individuals choose to sell their own handmade items on the platform due to the ease of becoming a merchant.
Of course, some sellers will be better than others, so it's important to check other buyers' experiences with that seller to get a better idea of the quality of product and service you'll receive.
Don't be duped by counterfeit items – we've tips to spot them
TikTok Shop has increased the popularity of 'copycat' products – items that are very similar to well-known, usually expensive, branded items – however, there is a fine line between copycat and counterfeit items. A copycat doesn't claim to be the exact same item, but a counterfeit item will be a replica of an authentic product, and is often sold as if it's the real thing.
Selling fake replicas of an authentic product is forbidden according to TikTok Shop, but when we asked Trading Standards about issues of counterfeit items, it told us that "the reality is that it is difficult for all regulators to keep up with these fast-moving developments in online sales."
Of course, another serious issue with counterfeit items is ingredients may not be labelled correctly, which could cause problems for those with allergies.
How to spot counterfeit items
- Is the price too good to be true? If a branded item is being sold considerably cheaper than anywhere else online... it may not be genuine.
- Is the seller reputable? There may be a flash sale on a brand's TikTok Shop, making an item cheaper than elsewhere. But, if an individual private seller is offering a massive discount with little-to-no reviews, it could be a red flag.
- Inspect the photos closely. If an individual seller is using only professional images (like you'd see on the John Lewis website for example), this could be a telltale sign that they're trying to make you believe a product is genuine. Also, look at the quality of the photo. If it's very blurry, what are they trying to hide?
- Compare with a product you know is authentic. Comparing the packaging, description, and labelling with the item being sold from a trustworthy website will help you work out if a product is genuine or not.
- Search out spelling errors. Read everything carefully, and with an eagle-eye. In an example we spotted, an item which looked to be a copy of perfume brand Barakkat was spelled 'Baccarat'.
When it pays to shop on TikTok
Generally you'll want to look out for short-lived promotions, as it often makes TikTok Shop the cheapest place to buy – though as we warn above, do your research on the product AND the seller to be as sure as you can be that it's legit.
We've seen positive reviews from MoneySavers who've used TikTok shop, but mixed feedback when it comes to delivery times.
We decided to buy the viral 'TikTok toilet roll' to assess the process.
We initially price checked, and although the same product is sold on Amazon, TikTok Shop was indeed cheaper. We added it to our basket, redeemed available voucher codes (which automatically appear on your account), and that was that. Delivery was supposed to take five to seven days, but was delivered to us fully tracked in four.
Tips to shop safely on TikTok Shop
As TikTok Shop is a relatively new shopping channel, it's important to be careful when buying from it. Below are our tips to shop safely.
Flash sales are common, but don't get caught up in the hype and feel pressured to buy
One of the main ways TikTok Shop differs from similar sites such as eBay and Etsy, it that it has a live streaming feature where sellers can interact with viewers and run exclusive limited flash sales and deals via TikTok Live. It's comparable to shopping channels such as QVC, but with a more intimate and instant user/seller relationship, and more significantly, without regulations – sellers can choose whatever price they want.
Flash sales and talk of limited stock give a sense of urgency and can pressure you into buying items you may not need. It's important not to get caught up in this and to research if it is a good deal, and something you need and can afford, before you buy.
When buying big-ticket items, pay using a credit card to get Section 75 protection
As TikTok does not sell any items itself, if you have any issues with an item you buy from TikTok Shop, it's up to the merchant to resolve this. Unlike eBay, which has a 'Money Back Guarantee' for its users, TikTok Shop's T&Cs say that it can facilitate communications, but has no obligation to resolve a dispute:
You and each Merchant that you choose to purchase from are responsible for resolving any dispute that may arise between you... The logistics for arranging a return of a Product and any association fees will be as you agree with the Merchant... TikTok may facilitate communications between Merchants and Buyers... but TikTok is not a party to any such dispute and has no obligation to do so.
Sellers can leave TikTok Shop, making it harder to resolve issues
A TikTok Shop seller could in theory leave the app 90 days after your purchase (TikTok's terms state it has to be more than 90 days since the last order was completed), leaving you no one to resolve any potential issues with after that time.
While TikTok's T&Cs state that 'the seller is still responsible for performing all of its obligations to buyers post-termination', if the seller has completely closed its shop and left the app, there's no way to get in touch with it. We asked TikTok what a consumer would do in this instance and how they would get an issue resolved, and it told us:
As per our terms of service, even if a merchant leaves TikTok Shop, they are not able to delete their account until all outstanding orders must be dealt with and a 90 day grace period from the last order has passed. Our terms of service also re-iterates the merchant must satisfy all obligations to customers during that 90 day period.
We asked TikTok a few times how users were meant to contact the merchants directly if they've left the platform, but we didn't receive an answer.
For any purchase over £100, pay by credit card for extra valuable protection
Do this, and the card company has a legal responsibility to help if something goes wrong with a purchase, and you may be able to your money back. See our full Section 75 refunds guide for how it works.
TikTok Shop isn't always cheapest so check prices elsewhere
While TikTok Shop can sometimes be the cheapest place to buy, particularly during sales, it's important to check prices elsewhere to make sure you really are getting a good deal. Free comparison tools such as Google Shopping, Pricerunner and Price Spy will quickly trawl through selected retailers' to the find the cheapest prices.
Don't assume a product is unique to TikTok Shop
Some items sold via TikTok Shop can appear as though they're handmade or exclusive to one seller, but that isn't always the case. It's worth checking if the item you're looking at is sold elsewhere – both within the TikTok app itself, and at a big retailer's site.
The top three images below show the same shirt being sold on TikTok Shop by different sellers. The bottom three images are the same shirt sold by big retailers such as New Look. Prices vary by £11, so it's worth checking if an item's sold elsewhere. You can try putting the name or description of the item into a search engine, or use Google Lens to search for items which look identical.
Don't always trust 'influencers' – check product reviews elsewhere too
Live chatting and buying is similar to QVC in this way, but much more informal and personal. This is one of the reasons why some people like TikTok Shop – it's a very personal experience. As you can see below, users are asking questions and the people hosting the live stream can directly reply in real-time.
Beware though, often these influencers will have affiliate links, meaning they're paid commission to show off an item – so do bear this in mind before letting someone's glowing reviews influence your spending. It's a good idea to do an online search of the product being offered and looking at user reviews on Google or other sites to get a better picture of how good a product might be.
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