TikTok is testing an AI tool that identifies products in user videos so it can sell similar items via its e-commerce platform

  • TikTok is testing using AI to identify products in videos that it can sell via its Shop feature.
  • The test entails using machine-object detection to find items and recommend them on TikTok Shop.
  • The move shows how broadly TikTok is experimenting with e-commerce in its app.

TikTok has begun promoting products for sale through videos that have nothing to do with shopping as it expands into e-commerce.

The company uses artificial intelligence to scan videos, identify items, and encourage users to purchase similar products through TikTok Shop, its e-commerce marketplace. While TikTok previously allowed creators to tag products in videos as part of its affiliate program, this new feature occurs without notifying the creator — and without the promise of a commission on sales generated by their video.

According to a TikTok spokesperson, it is an early-stage experiment with limited availability to a small subset of users in the United States and the United Kingdom, and it may never officially launch. According to the company, machine-object detection is used to identify products in videos and suggest similar product categories.

The feature was discovered by Insider on Sunday, when a shopping button appeared in a video uploaded by an Insider reporter.

Shriya Bhattacharya, the reporter, was wearing a lehenga, a South Asian outfit consisting of a blouse, skirt, and a dupatta, or long scarf, in the video. She used the hashtags #lehenga, #Diwali, and #diwaliglam. The video appeared in another Insider reporter’s For You feed, along with a call to action to find “more wedding dresses on TikTok Shop” and a “Shop now” button that takes you to the app’s Shop tab. The button took me to the Shop’s home page, not a specific wedding dress page.

Bhattacharya was not informed by TikTok that her video would be used to sell items in Shop.

While she was not at a wedding in the video, she stated that the off-white lehenga she wore could be worn by a bride, which may explain why TikTok’s system misidentified it as a wedding gown.

A TikTok Shop search for “wedding dresses” yields a variety of bridal gowns, including a “Sparkling Off-Shoulder Crystal Sequined Tulle Ball Gown Wedding Dress” for $973.99 and a “2 in 1 Sparkly Wedding Dress” for between $1,650 and $1,750.

The addition of shopping buttons to regular TikTok videos demonstrates how deeply the company is integrating e-commerce into the overall user experience of the app. In recent months, the company has been on an all-out blitz to get shopping to take off, offering sellers shipping deals and other discounts, paying bonuses to influencers who add affiliate links, and launching a series of Black Friday and Cyber Monday incentives for merchants.

TikTok isn’t the only social app that lets you tag products in photos and videos. Similar tagging features are available for users on YouTube and Instagram, and companies such as Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Google have used machine learning to visually identify products in order to better recommend purchases to users. For example, a bride or groom may use Pinterest as a mood board for wedding planning.

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