TikTok Shop is offering prohibited goods like sex toys and hemp-based products.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/TikTok/Insider

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 in an all-out blitz to make its e-commerce marketplace Shop take off. But as it races to drive up sales, it’s letting prohibited products slip through the cracks.

The Shop marketplace in the US is riddled with goods that TikTok has banned, from maternity vitamins to hemp-derived Delta-9 THC Syrup, a butt plug, parasite cleanses, and weight-gain products, per an Insider review of the marketplace.

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TikTok Shop has over 200,000 sellers, according to the company, which has been a challenge as it tries to keep out banned goods at scale. But unlike other e-commerce platforms where you need to search for blocked items, TikTok sometimes puts them front-and-center via the app’s content recommendation algorithm.

Products like homemade freeze-dried candies, for example, have been so prevalent on the For You feed that TikTok specifically called them out in the food section of its prohibited products page as the company has looked to crack down on the sale of homemade foods.

The company has since removed that specific language as some freeze-dried candies are eligible for sale if they meet FDA labeling requirements.

A TikTok spokesperson said the company uses both technology and manual human moderation to track down prohibited products in Shop, similar to how it monitors non-commerce content. It also scans negative reviews and complaints to identify poor-quality products and leans on independent third-party verification partners to help vet sellers that join its platform. TikTok has a probationary period for new sellers where it limits the number of products a merchant can sell. The period can be either 30 or 60 days depending on where the seller is located.

But ensuring products remain compliant in a marketplace of hundreds of thousands of sellers is sometimes like playing whack-a-mole.

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

TikTok’s policies prohibit “weight gain or muscle gain products that are typically used for pursuing specific body aesthetics” and “any products designed for explicit sexual activity.”

In its terms of service for merchants, TikTok requires sellers to indemnify the company and its affiliates and employees for any claims that might arise from products sold through Shop.

TikTok isn’t alone in failing to keep its e-commerce marketplace clean

TikTok isn’t the only e-commerce player to struggle with marketplace quality.

Longstanding marketplaces, like Amazon and Etsy, have also struggled to police sellers. Etsy failed to block listings of ivory goods, dead pets, poisonous plants, and weapons, for instance.

In the wake of Insider’s reporting about Etsy’s struggles to keep banned items off of its marketplace, the company announced it would invest at least $40 million in 2021 to improve its enforcement capabilities.

Amazon has also battled prohibited items and counterfeits on its marketplace for years. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, its platform was awash with masks, hand sanitizer, and other protective equipment that were counterfeit or lacked certification. The e-commerce giant has said it uses tools like machine learning and automation to identify prohibited products and remove them.

It’s early days for TikTok Shop in the US, and the company is still finding its footing.

Over the last few months, it’s been pushing hard to increase adoption of Shop in the US. It recently rolled out a “Shop” tab to American users. It has offered cash bonuses to influencers to encourage them to tag items in videos while subsidizing shipping and other costs for merchants and customers alike. It even built a dedicated app store for sellers.

As the platform grows, tracking down bad actors will become harder.

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

The TikTok spokesperson declined to share how much the company is spending on Shop enforcement and how many employees are working on the challenge. They confirmed that TikTok has a dedicated team that develops policies for Shop specifically, referred to internally as governance and experience. TikTok is currently hiring for several roles focused on making sure products on its platform comply with the company’s policies and local laws.

Are you a TikTok employee with insight to share? Contact reporter Madeline Stone at mstone@insider.com, mlstone@protonmail.com, or on the secure messaging app Signal at (646) 889-2143 using a non-work phone.

Contact reporter Dan Whateley at dwhateley@insider.com via a non-work device.

 TikTok struggles to monitor banned items in its Shop marketplace, a review by Insider found.  Read More