TikTok Shop Has a Snail Slime Problem

TikTok Shop Has a Snail Slime Problem

Snail mucin, for the uninitiated, is part of a skin-care regimen that’s meant to leave faces glowing and hydrating. Yes, it’s snail slime, and it’s exactly the sort of product primed to explode on TikTok—where skin-care content is king and millions of people watch as influencers dab serums and gels and makeup on their dewey faces.

But as snail slime explodes in popularity on TikTok Shop, many are wondering if they’ve been duped. People are posting videos of two versions of the product labeled as COSRX, a Korean skin-care company, side by side and asking a simple question: Is it the right kind of slime?

COSRX did not respond to a request for comment, but the company did reshare one influencer’s video alleging a scam on its TikTok, and said, “Warning! Numbers of fake COSRX products are sky-rocketing.” It encouraged people to buy from “authorized sellers,” but did not specify where.

On TikTok Shop, which began rolling out to all the app’s US users this week, a lot of the prices look too good to be true. At the cosmetics store Ulta, the COSRX snail mucin costs $25. On Amazon, it’s marked down to about $16. But one seller on TikTok lowered the cost to $5 and sold 37,000 bottles, according to the listing on the shop. Another has sold more than 40,000 bottles for around $15 each. Counterfeit and fake products are banned from the shop.

Jamie Favazza, a TikTok spokesperson, says she could not confirm whether the COSRX products in a video flagged by WIRED were real or fake, as the person complaining about alleged fake products did not say which seller they came from. But the problem doesn’t stop with snail slime; there are allegedly fake brand-name perfumes and trendy to-go cups. TikTok Shop is also filled with cheap clothing and household items from third-party sellers. In searches, WIRED found several examples of products prohibited by TikTok’s terms being sold, including menstrual products and prenatal vitamins. Favazza says two products flagged by WIRED under this category have now been removed.

As TikTok’s retail ambitions grow, the catch-all shop is so far shaping up as an unwieldy and chaotic competitor to ecommerce giants like Amazon. TikTok has ambitions to bring in $20 billion in merchandise sales this year. But that success is threatened by uncertainty over these potentially fake or shoddy products.

The number of prohibited or questionable product offerings “shows that TikTok is irresponsibly rushing into this expansion, if consumers can’t trust the products online,” says Olivia Little, a senior investigative researcher at Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group. “It’s really dangerous when the platform is being irresponsible in terms of product approval.”

Other people are complaining that they may have been tricked into buying fake Stanley cups—the viral to-go mugs, noting that the handle’s placement seems amiss and a straw cover doesn’t fit. Stanley declined to comment on the videos. Several people posted videos saying their Sol de Janiero perfumes came and lacked a scent or had an off-putting one. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

To try to ensure the products on the shop are of decent quality, TikTok uses technical and human moderation to find listings that violate its policies, says Favazza. The company also looks for negative reviews and complaint rates on sellers, and may take action against them.

Some of the shop’s products are Temu-level cheap. Three pairs of socks, a gold necklace, and a hair trimmer are each advertised for about $1; T-shirts and hair brushes and beauty products for less than $5. TikTok isn’t standing by the quality of its listings: In its buyer policy, TikTok says the company makes “no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that any content on TikTok Shop is accurate, complete, or up to date.”

TikTok Shop has been tested in the US for nearly a year, and it has been available in several other places, including the UK and Indonesia, since 2021. It doesn’t just make it easier to buy the Beachweaver curling iron or Halara skirt that have been mainstay products on TikTok for months—it gives people selling just about anything a direct route to idly scrolling eyeballs.

And that’s because TikTok Shop isn’t really one centralized shop; people can look for products in the app’s search tool, but the algorithm will also force videos into your TikTok feed. These can come from users who include affiliate links and earn a commission. There’s live shopping, too, although this hasn’t taken off as well in the US as it has in other countries. In a way, the shop is like cramming Amazon into every function of TikTok.

Big-name brands, like clothing retailer Pacsun, have pages on TikTok Shop, but some are small businesses finding new audiences for their products. And many are littering the app’s shopping feature with the kind of junk found in niche Etsy searches or the deep pages of Amazon’s unwanted offerings, like Trump 2024 merch, generic home decor, and herbal detox pills.

Part of the appeal for shoppers is that buyers are often offered coupons, flash sales, and other discounts on products, a trend that will come back around for Black Friday deals this fall as the app hopes to compete with giant retailers. And with TikTok handling storage and shipping of the products, it eases the processes for third-party sellers.

With shopping, TikTok is venturing where other social apps have gone and failed. Facebook ended live shopping last fall, and Instagram did the same this spring. But the popularity of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, and the app’s uncanny algorithm, could make shopping a hit on TikTok where it has failed elsewhere. That’s if people can sift through the junk to find what they’re actually looking for.


Amanda Hoover

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