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Is TikTok the key to the bricks-and-mortar retail revival?

21 September 2023. Published by Ela Broderick-Basar, Associate

Against the backdrop of sustainably-minded shoppers and cost-conscious consumerism, one of the key focuses for the retail sector in 2023 was (and still remains) the 'revival' of the UK high street.

However, rising operational costs, on-going disruptions to supply chains and the continued high-level of inflation has continued to disrupt footfall and impact businesses and consumers alike across UK high streets. The latest casualty was the homeware retailer, Wilko, which recently entered into administration, having been a stalwart of Britain's high streets for decades.

This summer, the British Retail Consortium reported that 6,000 shops have closed in Britain in the past five years, with high streets in the North and Midlands seeing the most vacant units. Many retailers and businesses have lobbied for the UK government to review the business rate scheme, which they argue has not kept up with the surge in ecommerce and has put bricks-and-mortar traders at a disadvantage.

However, instead of perpetuating the narrative that the 'internet killed the high street', brands and retailers should begin to recognise the importance of their physical and online presence working together to drive footfall to stores. Social media platforms, such as TikTok, can provide a high level of exposure and opportunity for retailers, who can then use their online platforms to improve their high street performance.

Turning views into value: Why should you care?

Originally launched in China in 2016 and globally in 2017, video creation and sharing platform TikTok, saw its popularity explode in 2019. Now with more than 1 billion monthly users, TikTok is one of the most used social media platforms across the world and it has been a huge source of inspiration for shoppers and a platform for creators to share must-have products, with more than 70% of consumers stating that social media platforms have inspired them to shop, even when they weren't planning to purchase.

The app presents an opportunity for struggling retailers to drive customers into physical stores by utilising the platform's ability to reach larger audiences (and potential customers) and by capitalising on the popularity of the '#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt' trend, live streams and relatable product reviews. The marketing platform, SOCi, has stated that a presence on TikTok is a must for retailers, brands and restaurants as the platform provides a unique opportunity for both local, independent businesses and mainstream brands to thrive. For example, SoSweet, a family-run Devonshire sweetshop, has accumulated almost a million followers and 14 million likes on TikTok (thanks to the owner's son sharing light-hearted videos to promote SoSweet's stock and staff) which has led to the retailer expanding on the high street and opening eight more brick-and-mortar stores across the South West.

British multinational retailer, Marks and Spencer, have also made it their marketing mission to engage gen-Z shoppers via the app. The M&S store in Romford, East London, gained viral TikTok attention when their all-singing and all-dancing staff started creating videos promoting M&S products (as well as the retailer's own charity Christmas single, which reached number two in the iTunes charts). The retailer credits its TikTok popularity to the content demonstrating product value and uniqueness. And it seems likely to be working as the retailer reported a 14.9% increase in store sales in 2022.

How can a brand make social media work for their bricks-and-mortar store?

Building an organic online presence and a trusting relationship with your consumers via TikTok and other social media to increase in-store traffic is key.

To do this, retailers and consumer brands should consider:

  1. starting to create organic social media content, whether that be of products, in-store experiences or entertaining videos with staff. From these posts, learn how consumers engage with your content, and then do more of what works;
  2. using analytical functions and tools, such as geofencing technology, to target potential customers;
  3. taking advantage of the ecommerce functions on apps such as TikTok, Facebook and, Instagram. The revenue can then be fed back into the physical stores. An example of this was seen with the brand Sumayah, which was able to generate £2 million of sales through the TikTok Shop; the brand then used this revenue to launch a pop-up store in Manchester; and
  4. using influencers and/or paid-for ad content to target your key demographic and create hype around certain products to lead consumers to stores.

An effective social media marketing strategy recognises the power that online advertising has on influencing consumers' offline behaviour. Brick-and-mortar retailers which fully embrace this and leverage the app (as well as effective reporting tools) will be the retailers who can help reinvigorate their brick-and-mortar stores and, ultimately, the UK high street.