ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has stealthily launched a new social networking app called Lemon8 in US and UK markets. The app, which closely resembles the Chinese social e-commerce platform Xiaoghongshu (Little Red Book), was first launched in Japan in 2020 and has since been rolled out in countries around the world. Insider was the first to report the launch of Lemon8 in the Western market. Xiaohongshu—known as Little Red Book or RED in English—has hundreds of millions of users in China and is growing in popularity worldwide. Xiaohongshu started in 2013 as a way to connect Chinese users to international brands and discover new products. Its popularity is likely in part due to China’s ban on Meta apps like Instagram but the app also has captured the trust of Chinese Internet users in its shopping recommendations, which come from celebrities and popular influencers. According to Business Insider, Xiaohongshu captured an estimated 15 percent of China’s online e-commerce market, and now, it seems, ByteDance is trying to grab some of this buying power too.
In March 2022, Lemon8 hit 1 million downloads in Japan and was ranked tenth in the list of Chinese overseas mobile apps in July 2022, according to Guangdada App Intelligence. Although both the app’s listing on the App Store and the app itself lists a Singapore-based company called Heliophilia Pte. ltd as its parent company, multiple sources have already confirmed that ByteDance is behind the app. Previously, ByteDance tried testing a Xiaohongshu competitor in China, where Xiaohongshu is most popular and functions as a replacement for Instagram which is banned in the country. The app, called Kesong, was launched in July 2022 and removed from the app store only a few weeks later. Perhaps that’s why it focused Lemon8 on markets such as Japan and Thailand, where the market is notably less saturated. Motherboard tested out the app, which so far only has 12 ratings in the U.S. Apple App Store. The first page that appears after creating a log-in and picking a user name is a page in which you can choose the categories you’re interested in and include “Fashion,” “Beauty,” “Food,” “Fitness,” and “Travel.” After this, we were welcomed into a feed similar to TikTok in that it is separated by a “For You” page and a “Following” page. The difference, however, is that Lemon 8 is dedicated to still images, particularly images that look like influencer ads.
Lemon8 encourages users to share where they bought things and help other users easily get them too. When posting a photo, there is a section that allows users to tag each product in the photo with a brand and a price. The app also has “Caption templates” for categories like fashion, shopping finds, food, and travel. The templates offer users another way to share where they bought the items featured in the images and how much they were. According to Business Insider, the app has been paying creators in the US and UK to post. They were asked to post three to seven vertical pictures and a 100-300-word caption for each post. This app comes at a time when users in the US have shown a broad reticence to shop directly through social media apps. As a result, Meta’s Instagram announced that it would be scaling back the shopping features on its platform, removing the Shop tab starting in February. Instagram is also removing its live shopping feature in March, which allowed users to shop for products in live streams on the app. According to Tech Crunch, this is another example of how the Western markets’ different cultures and digital habits are incompatible with the success that China sees with its e-commerce platforms. In China, apps like WeChat, Tabao Live, and Douyin have seen great profits from live shopping. TikTok, meanwhile, recently rolled out shopping in the United States.It will be hard to break into a market that is already fed up with the confluence of shopping and entertainment, and shopping and social media. Lemon8, or at least what appears on Motherboard’s feed, looks as if Pinterest were all ads. For example, on our feed are images of “My fav 4 Celine Bags,” “Bella Hadid’s Fav UGG Boots Review,” and “Prada Loafers Review.” Lemon8 is the shameless aggregation of the e-commerce aspects of our popular social media platforms.