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TikTok usage is starting to slow -- is TikTok Shop to blame?

TikTok may have been the world's top app by downloads and consumer spending in 2023, but it was not the top by actual usage. Last year, Facebook again maintained its No. 1 position by monthly active users, followed by other Meta-owned apps WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger -- all of which were ahead of TikTok at No. 5. Now new data indicates that TikTok's growth has started to slow, begging the question of whether the app's move into e-commerce via TikTok Shop is to blame.

According to new data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, while TikTok's growth remains positive, that growth is decelerating. In 2022, TikTok's monthly active users grew an average of 12% year-over-year per quarter, but this figure fell to 3% year-over-year per quarter in 2023.

The change comes on the heels of TikTok's launch of TikTok Shop in the U.S.

The video app began testing Shop in the U.S. in November 2022 and those tests expanded at the beginning of last year as more brands came on board, including PacSun, Revolve, Willow Boutique, and beauty brand KimChi Chic, among others. While the Shop didn't "officially" launch in the U.S. until September 2023, it was only one of several efforts to translate the influence of TikTok videos -- essentially the whole "TikTok made me buy it" meme -- into real-world sales.

Last summer in the U.K., for example, TikTok experimented with an in-app shopping section called "Trendy Beat," which offered products sold by TikTok parent ByteDance. TikTok also offers an affiliate program that allows creators to earn commissions from products, as the AP and others have reported.

But sellers' embrace of the shopping platform has started to lead to complaints, as Business Insider noted in November, with some lamenting that TikTok Shop was turning the app into an "ad-filled wasteland" and a "dystopian" space. Elsewhere on the web, Redditors have been debating whether TikTok Shop has "ruined" the app, which is now filled with "people dropshipping/selling cheap products," as one Reddit user put it.

"Personally, I’m starting to get really annoyed by how almost every other video on my [For You Page] is someone overhyping a product from the Shop feature to try to get it to go viral and make a lot of commissions," wrote Redditor u/megg-salad-sammich in September. "It’s great that it’s a new avenue for creators to make money, but I find myself scrolling less and less because I know pretty much every video is just trying to get me to buy some random thing," they said.

A search across Reddit finds many more threads complaining of the same thing throughout last year -- saying how TikTok is "annoying" now because of TikTok Shop and seeing ads every few videos is a frustrating experience.

While TikTok users are adapting to their favorite social network turning into an online mall, TikTok's Shop Seller app, which powers its e-commerce initiative, has grown.

Sensor Tower data indicates the Shop Seller's growth has been "robust" since the fourth quarter of 2022, rising 230% year-over-year as of the fourth quarter of 2023. However, the app has only a fraction of TikTok's active user base -- currently 1.4 billion as of the first quarter of this year. Shop Seller, meanwhile, has just around 6 million monthly active users, the firm reported.

Instagram could ultimately benefit from the user frustration around TikTok Shop, given that the Meta-owned app removed its own Shop tab in January of last year and killed off live shopping in March. This could potentially make it more acceptable to those wanting to avoid more direct calls to action to shop in-app.

Meta's move was triggered by broader industry trends, which seem to not bode well for TikTok Shop's future. Live shopping had blossomed during the pandemic, and e-commerce sales skyrocketed. But when things returned to normal, social commerce (including live shopping) was found to have made up only around 5% of total e-commerce sales in the U.S. as of 2022. That seemed to indicate that U.S. consumers may not have been as primed to shop directly from videos, though they are obviously still influenced by online trends.

However, users aren't yet so upset with TikTok Shop as to abandon the app for Instagram Reels.

Sensor Tower found that Instagram's monthly active user growth has been relatively consistent at "mid-single digits" and hasn't been significantly impacted negatively or positively since the launch of the TikTok Shop Seller app.

Data from another firm, Appfigures, also supports this conclusion but adds that, although TikTok's revenue has been growing, its downloads have been stagnant or dropping more than growing -- a trend that's been going on for over a year now, including both globally and in the U.S.

Image Credits: Appfigures

Image Credits: Appfigures