TikTok Shop is offering hemp-derived THC syrup, sex toys, and other banned goods to users as the platform struggles with enforcement

  • TikTok is struggling to keep banned goods out of its e-commerce marketplace, Shop.
  • The company is offering hemp products, sex toys, maternity vitamins, and other prohibited items.
  • TikTok has been racing to onboard buyers and sellers as it looks to boost Shop sales.

TikTok is going all out to make its e-commerce marketplace Shop a success. However, in its rush to increase sales, it is allowing prohibited products to slip through the cracks.

According to an Insider review of the Shop marketplace in the United States, it is riddled with TikTok-banned items ranging from maternity vitamins to hemp-derived Delta-9 THC Syrup, a butt plug, parasite cleanses, and weight-gain products.

According to the company, TikTok Shop has over 200,000 sellers, which has made it difficult to keep out banned goods on a large scale. However, unlike other e-commerce platforms where you must search for blocked items, TikTok occasionally places them front and center through the app’s content recommendation algorithm.

Products like homemade freeze-dried candies, for example, have been so popular on the For You feed that TikTok specifically mentioned them in the food section of its prohibited products page, as the company has sought to limit the sale of homemade foods.

Because some freeze-dried candies meet FDA labeling requirements, the company has since removed that specific language.

According to a TikTok spokesperson, the company tracks down prohibited products in Shop using both technology and manual human moderation, similar to how it monitors non-commerce content. It also scans negative reviews and complaints to identify low-quality products and relies on third-party verification partners to vet sellers who join its platform. TikTok has a probationary period for new sellers, during which the number of products a merchant can sell is limited. Depending on where the seller is located, the period can be 30 or 60 days.

However, maintaining product compliance in a marketplace with hundreds of thousands of sellers can feel like a game of whack-a-mole.

When Insider sent over a list of specific examples of apparently prohibited items available in Shop, such as Gshred Supplements’ Weight Gainer drink mix or Pink & Lace’s “B Yours – Eclipse Pleaser – Small – Pink” PVC butt plug with a tapered design, the company removed the products.

TikTok’s rules forbid “weight gain or muscle gain products that are typically used for pursuing specific body aesthetics” as well as “any products designed for explicit sexual activity.”

TikTok’s merchant terms of service require sellers to indemnify the company, its affiliates, and employees for any claims arising from products sold through Shop.

TikTok is not alone in failing to maintain a clean e-commerce marketplace.

TikTok isn’t the only e-commerce platform dealing with poor marketplace quality.

Traditional marketplaces, such as Amazon and Etsy, have also struggled to police sellers. Etsy, for example, failed to prohibit the sale of ivory, dead pets, poisonous plants, and weapons.

Following Insider’s reporting on Etsy’s struggles to keep banned items off its marketplace, the company announced a $40 million investment in 2021 to improve its enforcement capabilities.

For years, Amazon has battled prohibited items and counterfeits on its marketplace. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, its platform was flooded with counterfeit or uncertified masks, hand sanitizer, and other protective equipment. The e-commerce giant has stated that it uses tools such as machine learning and automation to identify and remove prohibited products.

TikTok Shop is still in its early stages in the United States, and the company is still finding its footing.

It has been working hard in recent months to increase Shop adoption in the United States. It recently added a “Shop” tab for US users. It has given cash bonuses to influencers in order to encourage them to tag items in videos, as well as subsidized shipping and other costs for merchants and customers alike. It even created a separate app store for sellers.

Tracking down bad actors will become more difficult as the platform grows.

“This is going to be a learning process for TikTok given how quickly it is growing,” Juozas Kaziuknas, CEO of e-commerce intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse, told Insider.

The TikTok spokesperson refused to reveal how much money the company is investing in Shop enforcement or how many employees are working on the challenge. They confirmed that TikTok has a dedicated team that develops Shop-specific policies, known internally as governance and experience. TikTok is currently hiring for several positions centered on ensuring that products on its platform adhere to the company’s policies and local laws.

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