Consumer behaviour has changed and more and more internet users are turning to TikTok to make searches instead of traditional platforms such as Google. The finding, echoed by Southeast Asian consumer research company, Milieu Insight, examined the popularity of TikTok as a search engine when it comes to the discovery of products, services and places to visit. 

According to the study, TikTok is not just a platform where people consume funny and entertaining videos. A considerable proportion of respondents especially in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are increasingly relying on TikTok as a source of information to search for a topic or discover products, services and places to visit. In Vietnam, TikTok outcompetes Instagram in this regard.

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For Singaporeans and Malaysians, places to eat/drink are the top areas they use TikTok for when it comes to discovery. For Indonesia, travel recommendations is the top search category. In Thailand, clothes and apparel is the top category of interest. While in Vietnam, fashion trends take the top spot when it comes to topics of discovery. In the Philippines, users look for movie/TV show recommendations and clothes/apparel the most when it comes to discovering information on the platform.

The top reasons users use TikTok for product/place discovery are speed to insights, visual mode of content, personalised content based on preferences and up-to-date information. Of those who use TikTok to search for a topic, product, service or discover places to visit, a majority in most markets find TikTok more useful than traditional search engines like Google.

When it comes to taking an action (buying products or visiting a place), the following are the top categories for each country:

  • Places to eat/drink (Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam)
  • Purchase of fashion/beauty products dominate (Thailand and Philippines for fashion, Indonesia for beauty).

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‍This study covers the type of information consumers look for on TikTok, their purchase behaviour and attributes that set TikTok apart from traditional search engines. This can help brands gain insights on consumer behaviour, motivations and purchase patterns on TikTok across different markets in Southeast Asia. The Milieu Insight study was conducted in October 2022.

In a previous conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Joseph Chua, CEO of Aiken Digital, shared that in many markets in Asia, TikTok is the main app on people’s phones for downtime, and the content is tagged by location and topic. As such, people are using it as a search engine for products and experiences. “For the young, Google is often being used to find specific addresses and official sites. For example, you might look up a building on Google for your holiday, but if you are looking for travel guidance, you will be on TikTok looking for places to visit,” he explained.

In Malaysia, the trend is extremely prevalent especially when it comes to dining and travel recommendation, said Serm Teck Choon, co-founder and CEO of martech company Antsomi. Serm added that while the short video format emerged as the leading media consumption among Gen Zs, TikTok naturally became the ‘default’ app to look for information, especially lifestyle-related content such as restaurant, travel and recipe.

Sienna Tsang, digital solutions specialist of Digisalad, added that one of the reasons for this behavioural change could be due to the format and way of displaying information. Search results are typically displayed in text format while content on TikTok is more video-driven. It also has user-friendly features that serve as search engine, such as hashtags, tags and places. As frequent users of social media platforms, young adults and Gen Zs may be more reliant to search content on social media, added Tsang.

TikTok has become pretty influential since its launch. Banana Republic’s Vida Bag went viral on the platform. According to WWD, the Vida Bag amassed 26.4 million views on the platform in October last year.

TikTok also aided in launching KFC Singapore’s limited-edition burger ‘Zhng’ Zinger which was born from KFC Singapore’s outreach and crowdsourcing efforts from KFC fans. Posted on TikTok by social media personality Zaki Hussain, the short clip featured his opinion on how he would elevate the taste of the classic KFC Zinger by adding a few additional ingredients that he loves. The video caught the attention of local content creators who attempted to recreate his burger, while KFC fans flocked to the TikTok post and tagged KFC Singapore to consider the suggestion.

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