7 December 2023

John Lawson, Founder of Pass The Mic, on Why Fulfillment by TikTok Can Benefit More and More Creators Selling Merchandise

By Ronald Smith

I’m John Lawson, the proud creator behind Pass The Mic. Today, I want to share my thoughts on a game-changing concept called Fulfillment by TikTok. It’s something that can bring a lot of positivity to the lives of countless creators who are eager to sell their awesome merchandise. Let’s dive in!

You know, TikTok has become a huge platform for creativity and expression. People from all walks of life are showcasing their talents and entertaining millions worldwide. It’s truly incredible! But as a creator, it can be a challenge to take that next step and monetize your content. That’s where Fulfillment by TikTok swoops in to save the day.

Fulfillment by TikTok – what’s that all about? Well, let me break it down for you. TikTok is not just about dazzling dance moves and hilarious skits; it’s also a place where creators can sell their own merchandise. Imagine having your very own online store right there on your TikTok profile. How cool is that?

With Fulfillment by TikTok, creators can focus on what they do best: creating amazing content. Meanwhile, TikTok takes care of all the nitty-gritty details like storing inventory, handling shipping, and providing top-notch customer support. It’s like having a personal assistant for your merch business!

Now, you might be wondering, Why should this matter to me? Well, my friend, if you’re a creator looking to sell your own products, this feature is a game-changer. It takes away the logistical headaches and allows you to concentrate on what truly matters: connecting with your audience and producing awesome videos.

Think about it – instead of spending hours figuring out packaging and shipping, you can dedicate that time to brainstorming new content ideas and engaging with your fans. That’s where the magic lies!

And the best part? Fulfillment by TikTok offers a seamless experience for both creators and consumers. Your fans can easily browse and purchase your merchandise without ever leaving the TikTok app. It’s all about convenience and accessibility, my friend.

So, whether you’re an aspiring artist or a seasoned TikTok sensation, Fulfillment by TikTok opens up exciting opportunities for you to turn your passion into profit. It’s a win-win situation!

In conclusion, as the number of creators looking to sell merch continues to grow, the introduction of Fulfillment by TikTok couldn’t come at a better time. It empowers creators like you to focus on what you do best while TikTok handles the logistics. It’s a revolution in the world of e-commerce, and I can’t wait to witness the incredible success stories that will emerge from it.

So, go ahead and embrace the power of Fulfillment by TikTok. Your creativity deserves to be recognized, and now, thanks to this game-changing feature, you have the tools to take your merchandise business to new heights. Keep on creating, my friend, and let TikTok handle the rest!

John Lawson, Founder of Pass The Mic, on Why Fulfillment by TikTok Can Benefit More and More Creators Selling Merchandise

So, me and this ecommerce expert dude named John, aka ColderIce (cool name, right?), decided to switch things up with our show and podcast. We used to call it Watching Amazon, ’cause we were all about, you know, checking out what that company was up to. And trust me, we still plan on doing a lot of that, ’cause Amazon’s always up to something crazy! But now, we’re jazzing things up even more by rebranding it as Pass the Mic, or PTM for short. This new name gives us the freedom to talk about all kinds of topics and dive into different companies. Speaking of which, let’s take a moment to talk about TikTok, ’cause it’s a perfect example of what we’re all about.

In fact, I’ve heard a few rumors lately that TikTok might be following in the footsteps of Amazon. They’re considering building their own fulfillment centers and capabilities to support the creators on their video platform who are engaging in digital commerce. While there haven’t been any official announcements, it got me thinking about whether TikTok could actually make this happen. And if they did, what would it mean for creators and small retailers trying to reach the billions of people who visit the platform every month? Or would TikTok face the same challenges as Shopify, who tried and failed to build their own fulfillment capabilities?

Well, my colleague John and I had quite a debate about this. The idea of the fastest growing video platform taking on such a huge infrastructure project is definitely intriguing. But we didn’t come to any solid conclusions – in fact, we ended up with even more questions than answers.

I’ve got an edited transcript of our chat for you. Just click on the SoundCloud player below to catch the whole conversation.

Are You Prepared for FBT (Fulfillment by TikTok)?

Brent Leary: So, what’s your take on this TikTok news? Word is they might be setting up their own fulfillment centers. Do you think they could give Amazon a run for its money?

Brent Leary: You know, it’s kinda like what Amazon does. If they can control how TikTok creators sell their stuff and handle the orders, they won’t be trying to take over everything, they just wanna keep things in their own little world.

John Lawson: Yep, that’s all they gotta do.

Brent Leary: TikTok is like a crazy train that’s gone off the tracks. The tricky part for these social networks is going from being places where people hang out and chat, to places where they can buy stuff and get it delivered to their door.

John Lawson: You know, when I think about it, this isn’t really the place you come to connect with your friends and family. It’s more of a hub where you find content that’s served to you.

Brent Leary: Yeah, but TikTok wasn’t originally intended for buying things like Amazon.

John Lawson: No way, bro. I believe there are people now who go there not just to purchase, but to check out products and do some research.

Brent Leary: Seriously, to do product research?

Brent Leary: Just like Amazon, once you reach a certain point, if you want to have control over the customer experience, if UPS makes a mistake on Valentine’s Day, people won’t go to UPS. They’ll come to us because that’s where they ordered the items from. This is the issue for TikTok, so it’s important for them to have all of that control.

Not All Sellers Use Amazon

John Lawson: Another thing to consider is that not all of the people using TikTok are Amazon sellers, and they might not have their own stores or the ability to be on that platform.

Brent Leary: So, here’s the thing about TikTok’s algorithm. It’s all about showing you videos that it thinks you’d like. But what if they could take it up a notch? What if they could show you videos that make you want to buy something? Now that would be a game-changer.

John Lawson: Actually, I think they’re already on it. That’s why people are getting great results with their ads.

Now, let’s talk about YouTube.

When it comes to TikTok, it seems like there’s something missing. Don’t get me wrong, I do like how they focus on fulfillment. But without that community aspect, you can’t really build a genuine relationship.

A Promising Future for FBT

John Lawson: Now, this is just a rumor, so we don’t have any concrete evidence. But I find it incredibly exciting because I believe there’s a lot of potential here. Many others have tried and failed to create a buzz, but I think TikTok might actually succeed in this game.

Brent Leary: Personally, I still think YouTube has the upper hand. Just look at all the resources and connections that Google has, especially with YouTube. They provide the tools for people to form genuine communities.

John Lawson: I don’t know. I mean, on YouTube, you can actually show your products with a scroll bar, and people can order them directly.

Brent Leary: But that’s just the advertising part. What I’m talking about is the community engagement. TikTok is lacking that. It doesn’t let creators build a strong community.

John Lawson: But Amazon doesn’t allow that either.

Overcoming the business model challenge

Brent Leary: Well, Amazon is primarily an online store. Their main focus is on selling products. The main goal for social media platforms has never been to make people buy things directly on the platform. That’s why Facebook has always had difficulties with this.

Brent Leary: I never go on Facebook with the intention of being bombarded by ads and feeling the need to make a purchase.

John Lawson: I agree completely. We don’t watch sports or anything else because we want to be confronted with advertisements.

Brent Leary: Well, it’s become something we’re used to.

John Lawson: Exactly. That’s what I mean. Perhaps TikTok is already conditioning us to see content that we didn’t necessarily subscribe to.

Brent Leary: Yeah. But hey, let me tell you something, if you’re the one who made it happen, and I’ll just keep referring to Jeb the Boxsmith, because he said it so beautifully – TikTok brings me new viewers, but YouTube is where I can make longer videos and build a community. He also mentioned using Discord and even Twitch. I guess we have to find the perfect balance for all this stuff.

John Lawson: Yeah, but it’s not easy to juggle between building a community and selling products. Not everyone can excel at both.

Fulfillment is no walk in the park, just ask Google

Brent Leary: You’re right. But that’s why I wonder why YouTube hasn’t tried some kind of fulfillment service. I mean, they have their own stuff. Look, Google has Google Pay.

John Lawson: They did try, my friend. They did try.

John Lawson: But let me tell you, they really gave it a shot. They gave product delivery a try, they gave warehousing consumer products a shot.

Brent Leary: It’s a tough industry. That’s why I’m-

John Lawson: It’s definitely a tough industry, and you know what? They said, Forget about it. We don’t need all of that.

How long would it take?

Brent Leary: That’s why I’m curious, do you think TikTok might… I mean, it’s not a hundred percent certain, but if they come out and say, Hey, we’re introducing TikTok fulfillment and we’re going to help all of our creators sell their products right from the platform, and we’ll handle the shipping too, how likely do you think they are to actually make it happen? Because fulfillment is probably the most challenging aspect for businesses like these to conquer.

John Lawson: It’s not very likely.

Brent Leary: You know what people often miss? In just five years, Amazon built a complete shipping network for distribution. Can you believe that?

John Lawson: Nope.

Brent Leary: Really? Did it take longer than that?

John Lawson: They’ve actually been doing this since they sold their very first book.

Brent Leary: I’m talking about the fact that when you click a button on their website to buy something, it’s Amazon who handles everything until it reaches you. No one else lays a hand on it.

John Lawson: Oh yeah, it’s definitely been more than five years.

I’m John Lawson: Yeah, and when you invest that much money in it.

I’m Brent Leary: That’s why I’m uncertain.

I’m John Lawson: Even Amazon is struggling with it.

I’m Brent Leary: But that just proves the point even more. Even they are facing challenges.

I’m John Lawson: Right.

I’m Brent Leary: It’s really a complicated matter.

I’m John Lawson: Very complex.

I’m Brent Leary: And when it’s not your main business, and your main business has been providing videos using algorithms, transitioning to this… I don’t know, man. It’s a difficult task.

I’m John Lawson: It definitely is. But if they decide to do it, they must have some plan in mind. I’m not sure what it could be.

Brent Leary: Yeah, if they do that, it would definitely add more to the situation.

The Complications with China

John Lawson: Well, they’re a Chinese company, so they have other resources available to them.

Brent Leary: But here’s another thing to consider. Last year, we had that major issue. TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has control over the servers and all the data. So what will happen if they start handling fulfillment?

John Lawson: I think they’ll have plenty of options in the US if they can manage it.

Brent Leary: This just adds more layers of complexity to an already complicated situation.

Brent Leary: Seriously?

John Lawson: … I can’t really explain why.

Brent Leary: Yeah. I thought Shopify would have been much better at handling fulfillment.

John Lawson: They really have no idea how to handle fulfillment.

Brent Leary: Well, what do you think about using videos and social media for fulfillment expertise?

Shopify

John Lawson: I don’t know. I don’t know why. I’m just trying to compare. When I heard Shopify was doing it, I was like, Oh, that’s not going to work. Oh my God, that’s the worst idea. But with this one, I’m kind of like, Oh, that’s pretty exciting. Let’s see what happens.

Brent Leary: I think you’re getting caught up in the excitement.

John Lawson: Maybe. It’s possible.

Brent Leary: You’re into TikTok, aren’t you? You’re always using TikTok.

John Lawson: No, I’ve tried TikTok. It’s not really my thing. I’m not really into making short videos. I prefer watching longer content. In fact, I’m starting to think I don’t even need cable anymore. I could just subscribe to YouTube.

Brent Leary: Oh, so you mean you use YouTube TV?

TikTok Advertising

John Lawson: I know a lot of people who sell T-shirts, and one of them is having great success with advertising on TikTok. It’s pretty incredible.

Brent Leary: Really? Are they collaborating with influencers or creating their own videos?

But when I looked at how much a TikTok user is worth compared to a Google user, I found that the value of a TikTok user is about 27% lower.

Brent Leary: So, yeah. I’m not really… I mean, this TikTok advertising…

John Lawson: So you’re not optimistic about it at all?

Brent Leary: No, not when it comes to TikTok advertising. But when it comes to fulfillment, I’m not sold. Thank you.

John Lawson: I see, okay.

A significant investment and commitment are necessary

Me: Let’s talk about fulfillment. It’s a whole different ball game. It’s like dealing with a massive, wild beast. And let me tell you, even if they announce it, it’s going to take them years to make it happen. Remember when Amazon said they were investing $800 million in their fulfillment? Their stock price went down and we were like, That’s a smart move. [inaudible 00:16:08].

You: Yeah, it was like they were laying the groundwork.

Me: So, think about how much TikTok would have to spend to do the same. It could be a difference of ten years, starting from scratch like Amazon did.

Is TikTok Prime a Thing?

Brent Leary: So, let me ask you this. Do you think TikTok will create a TikTok Prime membership? I mean, Amazon is known for offering all sorts of perks and benefits to their loyal customers.

John Lawson: Well, they don’t necessarily have to go all out like that.

Brent Leary: But if they want to establish a loyalty program, they’ll need people to sign up for something and then receive special goodies. That’s how it usually works.

John Lawson: Yeah, but they could always partner with another company to make it happen.

Brent Leary: True, but when you bring in partners, you also bring in different cultures and sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as planned. Just look at Walmart’s attempts. They’ve certainly faced their fair share of challenges. Who knows what will happen with TikTok? I honestly have no clue, my friend.

John Lawson: Yeah, it’s definitely a tricky situation.

Let’s talk TikTok fulfillment. Now, I gotta admit, I have some reservations about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the advertising and e-commerce aspects, and it does make sense for them to give fulfillment a shot. But let me tell you, it’s a challenging business, no doubt about it. That’s all I’m saying.

Well, you’re right, John. It does make sense for them to try it out.

Oh, absolutely! I mean, it made perfect sense for Shopify too, but unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. You know how it goes.

Yeah, it was a real disaster.

So, what do you think, Sha? Do you think TikTok should go ahead and create their own fulfillment and shipping network for you and all the other TikTokers out there?

Yeah, for you and your awesome T-shirts, for sure!

Would creators be interested in FBT?

Me: Can you imagine if TikTok offered something called FBT – Fulfillment by TikTok? It would mean that you could pay them to handle all the stuff related to getting your products to customers, like packing and shipping. How cool would that be? But then again, what if Amazon offered the same thing?

John Lawson: Actually, there are companies like CafePress that have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. They’ve been handling the fulfillment process even before Amazon got into it. It’s a pretty big deal, especially with print on demand business like TikTok might be thinking of.

Me: Yeah, maybe if TikTok focuses on a narrow niche like digital 3D printing, they could do a great job. They wouldn’t have to worry about moving a lot of stuff from different places.

John Lawson: True, I don’t see them getting into things like refrigerators though.

John Lawson: I totally get it. I totally get it. I mean, I might not be the best person to handle things like candy or shampoo bottles, but when it comes to print on demand, I can definitely see the potential.

This interview is part of our One-on-One Interview series with industry experts. The transcript has been edited for publication. If you’d like to listen to the audio or video version, simply click on the embedded player above. Alternatively, you can subscribe and listen via iTunes or Stitcher.