The turbulent expansion of TikTok in the UK.  Why is an exodus of employees

The conflict focused on the e-commerce initiative of the social networking company TikTok Shop, which was launched in the UK in October, according to the Financial Times, quoted by ZF.

Joshua Ma, CEO of ByteDance in China, owner of the viral video app and head of TikTok Europe’s e-commerce department, outraged London employees at a dinner this year when he said that as a “capitalist”, “do not believe” that companies should offer maternity leave.

The episode is emblematic of a wider dispute within the e-commerce division. At least 20 members of London’s e-commerce team, about half of all initial staff, have left the TikTok Shop launch, while others say they are about to resign. Two employees received statements due to working conditions.

“There are people who leave every week, it’s like a game, every month we ask who was fired, who resigned”said a current employee.

Ma’s visit was to check the launch of TikTok Shop on its first market outside of Asia. The feature is an effort to bring QVC-style shopping to British users. Brands and influencers broadcast live on the social app and sell products via an orange basket that can be tapped on the screen.

On Wednesday, TikTok sent an e-mail to staff announcing that Ma had “retired” from her role while conducting a formal investigation into the comment and other allegations against the Financial Times. FT spoke with 10 former and current members of London’s e-commerce department, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The company said it has a clear policy on maternity leave in the UK, including 30 weeks of paid leave.

ByteDance raised $ 5 billion in December 2020 at an estimated $ 180 billion, and revenue rose 111 percent last year to $ 34 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is trying to justify this assessment by expanding its e-commerce offering, using a model that has proven profitable for Douyin, TikTok’s sister application in China. Rivals YouTube and Instagram are developing similar features in Europe, while the rapid growth and popularity of TikTok among younger users was recently cited by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, as a threat to its business.

London e-commerce team members said they expected to work frequently for more than 12 hours a day, starting early to accommodate talks with China and ending late as livestreams were more successful in the evening, with “feedback reports ”Which had to be filed immediately thereafter.

Images of employees working until the early hours of the morning were shared in internal communications as examples of “commitment”, while a handover of tasks in which an employee said he would work during the holidays was shared as an example of good practice.

TikTok said employees sometimes have to work flexible hours that “fit customers’ usage patterns” and aims to make this “the exception rather than the norm”.

Many employees became ill with stress, while some employees were removed from customer accounts or demoted after taking leave.

“Culture is really toxic. Relationships there are built on fear, not cooperation. “said a former London team leader. “They don’t care about exhaustion, because it’s such a big company that they can just replace you. They are based on the TikTok brand. “.

As a source of income, TikTok Shop seems to be unsuccessful in the UK and is running at a loss, while many livestreams generate zero sales.

Employees complained that they had to achieve “unrealistic targets” of up to £ 400,000 a month in total livestream sales, given that a successful stream of an average salesperson could generate less than £ 5,000. pounds. TikTok charges a 5% commission, which is often waived to attract new brands to the platform.

Those who failed to meet targets or respond to overtime work requests were identified and reprimanded on the company’s internal messaging system, the former employees said. A former member of the management team said that this culture almost pushed her to a nervous breakdown.

“TikTok Shop has been operating in the UK for only a few months and we are investing rapidly in expanding resources, structures and the process to support a positive employee experience.”, said TikTok. The company provides support for health and well-being, as well as training and mentoring, she added.

TikTok Shop’s strategy is to buy items directly from the cheapest manufacturers in both the UK and China and sell products at discounted prices.

Popular offers include a £ 14 Dyson dupe, a Dyson Airwrap-like hairdresser with a suggested retail price of £ 450.

Dyson says he doesn’t support “inferior imitation products ” and encouraged TikTok to play a more active role in elimination “Imitation products for sale”. TikTok says it has a team that monitors counterfeit products and has strict product guidelines.

Well-known brands, including Lookfantastic, L’Oréal and Charlotte Tilbury, sold products through TikTok Shop. Brands are encouraged to offer flash sales and big discounts, which TikTok often subsidizes. Operating costs for live broadcasts of influencers, such as studio space and technical staff, are also often funded by TikTok.

The model does not work because it is a different market and ecosystem in the UK, but the management does not listen and refuses to make changes. “, said a current employee. European brands did not feel comfortable with the level of reduction of their products, said employees who had direct contact with the brands.

TikTok has hired people with experience in e-commerce and luxury brands, including Harrods, Asos and Amazon, offering hiring bonuses and stock options.

Employees used their contacts to attract big brands to the platform, but some said their long-term professional relationships with these companies were ruined by the fact that they had to aggressively negotiate discounts and then sometimes close contracts without explanations. “I lost my credibility in front of traders”said a current employee.

TikTok said that it is “constantly learning and improving the service” and that it is guided by its community, influencers and traders.

Influencers are expected to stream biweekly, receiving a pre-set sales commission. Sometimes they are paid a fixed fee, but this has recently been reduced for some of them, which has led many to give up the partnership.

“TikTok Shop model does not work in the UK”, said a former employee. “It will only work if the company is willing to listen to how to do it in a culturally acceptable way that works for British brands and consumers.”

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