UK online traders warn of ‘potentially devastating impact’ of TikTok ban


A TikTok ban in the US could have a “potentially devastating” impact on some UK businesses, online traders are warning.

President Biden has signed into law a bill that gives TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, nine months to sell its stake in the app or it will be blocked in the US. TikTok has said it will challenge this in court. Some 1.5 million UK businesses operate on the app, according to TikTok.

Isobel Perl, founder of Perl Cosmetics in London, is worried about the possible impact of a ban as a quarter of her sales now come from the US. She told the BBC: “I mostly use TikTok to drive sales to our website, of all the social media apps it drives the most traffic”.

The UK-based global e-commerce expert ParcelHero is also warning that a ban on TikTok will harm many of the most innovative start-up and SME online retail businesses in the US and here in the UK. ParcelHero is particularly worried that the US may exert pressure on its allies to support its move by also imposing a TikTok ban.

Says ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks:

“By wrapping legislation to potentially ban TikTok into its foreign aid and national security bill, the US is now set to ban TikTok unless its China-based parent company sells their stake, something they have repeatedly said they will not do.

“Of course, the fact TikTok is owned by a China-based company is problematic and carries many data security concerns. However, the app is hugely popular with younger people on both sides of the pond and has become a vital source of revenue for beleaguered smaller retailers in the US and the UK.

According to Jinks, Tiktok is an important platform for many people, especially young entrepreneurs. He continues: 

“Crucially, UK TikTok users spend more time on the social media platform than any other country in the world, according to data from the UK digital marketing company Profiletree. 1 in 2 UK users say they frequently purchase products they’ve discovered on TikTok.

“Globally, 58% of TikTok users discover new brands and products on the app – 14% more than on any other platform. 61% of all users have made a purchase either directly on TikTok or online immediately after seeing an ad on the app.

“Many of Britain’s youngest and most progressive online retailers are using the platform to communicate directly with their customers and use short-form videos and creator content to promote their products, from personal care and tech to clothing and fashion. This has created new ways of reaching consumers that would have been impossible before.

“A ban in the US or UK will certainly not be popular with its young viewers. TikTok has 170 million US users and well over 23 million here in the UK. Over 40% of UK TikTok users are aged 18-24 years old. For businesses, this means that TikTok is an excellent opportunity to attract younger customers.

“The new US legislation, and any supporting move to ban the app here in the UK, could mean many of Britain’s youngest and most entrepreneurial businesses lose this vital retail resource, unless TikTok’s owners do decide to sell.”

Chris Price
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