Amway stresses that the main difference between a legitimate MLM business model and a pyramid scheme is that a legitimate MLM is focused on selling products, not recruiting more salespeople. In a legitimate MLM, it should be possible to make money by simply selling products directly to customers. With that main criterion in mind, here are some other ways to identify product-based pyramid schemes:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states: "Steer clear of multilevel marketing plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors. They're actually illegal pyramid schemes. Why is pyramiding dangerous? Because plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors inevitably collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. And when a plan collapses, most people—except perhaps those at the very top of the pyramid—end up empty-handed."[45]
MLMs are also criticized for being unable to fulfill their promises for the majority of participants due to basic conflicts with Western cultural norms.[57] There are even claims that the success rate for breaking even or even making money are far worse than other types of businesses:[58] "The vast majority of MLMs are recruiting MLMs, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLMs is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company."[58] In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further "recruit people to compete with [them]"[4] leads to "market saturation."[22] It has also been claimed "(b)y its very nature, MLM is completely devoid of any scientific foundations."[59]
An example of a high-profile multi-level marketing company defending its practices is Herbalife Ltd., a manufacturer and distributor of weight-loss and nutritional products with more than 500,000 distributors. Although the FTC had been investigating Herbalife, it was activist investor William Ackman who shed a national spotlight on the company by shorting $1 billion of the company’s stock in 2013. Ackman accused the company of operating a pyramid scheme and backed his allegations with a bet the company’s stock price would fall under the weight of the scam.  
MLM restructures the traditional business model — manufacturer to retail shop to customer — such that sales agents working for the manufacturer sell directly to customers, bypassing the retail shop altogether. MLM companies can then convert customers into advocates for their products and possibly even sales agents. Because there is no retail store for the products they sell, MLM agents typically work from their homes, interacting with customers in the community or, more often, over the internet.
I agree with you that much of the industry is flawed, but what about an MLM that has a service rather than a product such as electricity. It’s not like that could go out of style or that once you buy it you don’t need it again or that your monthly supply is too much and you’re going to stop the monthly subscriptions. I can honestly say that I cannot stand most MLM companies because regardless what you believe or how much you like the product, if you have to try to convince someone else to use it then inevitably the system is flawed and eventually your residuals will dry up. Electricity though, that’s different in my opinion, no one has to convince me to use it, it just comes by default. Find me an MLM that is not selling so much as showing someone an alternative to what they already have to pay and I’d be interested.
Also called pyramid selling or network marketing, multi-level marketing companies grow revenue by hiring and recruiting non-salaried employees referred to as distributors, influencers, consultants, salespeople, or promoters (among other names). In other words, employees generally receive compensation from performance through a pyramid-shaped compensation system.
Kathleen, you are right about the “direct sales” thing. They use it because MLM has the well-deserved bad connotation with pyramid schemes. I try to explain to people that true direct selling would be something like Ebay… there’s no inherent multi-level commissions implied by the term “direct sales.” It almost reminds of calling an illegal dog fight a “recreational gaming event.” It may be true, but is far from an accurate description.
As non-employees, participants are not protected by legal rights of employment law provisions. Instead, salespeople are typically presented by the MLM company as "independent contractors" or "independent business owners". However, participants do not possess a business in the traditional legal sense, as the participants do not hold any tangible business assets or intangible business goodwill able to be sold or purchased in a sale or acquisition of a business. These are the property of the MLM company.
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4. Cassette tape or video sponsoring. If your company has an exciting cost-effective product cassette tape, it can be used in place of or in addition to a brochure. These are automatic merchandisers that stimulate people to action. While opportunity tapes are important, most successful recruiters lead with a good product tape. Once people appreciate your product offering, they're more open to the business opportunity.

This article was really informative and honest! I’m not presently involved in an MLM and I don’t ever plan to be especially after reading this article and the comments below. Why? Well because of EXACTLY the kind of “networking” and “recruiting” that these companies and many of the people commenting on here are advocating. I have been bombarded on my facebook, and other social media from people I haven’t spoken to or seen in years. Its becoming constant, and I am not on social media to make money. Roden and Fields, shakeology, some girl I went to high school with is now trying to get me to buy leggins from her. I have a cousin that I actively avoid now because he is constantly steering every single conversation to Herbellife and why I NEED it to be healthy. Jesus. Its just enough already. I’m all for empowering people, and I love the idea of earning an additional income to take care of your family or yourself. But I could not imagine alienating or even just annoying friends and family in order to make an extra dollar. What I dislike most is that many of those that are recruiting make it seem as if they recruiting you simply because they want to “help” you or provide you with an opportunity. They make it seem as if they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, when really the actual motivation is line their own pockets with more money, because the more people you recruit for your team, the more money you make. That feels dishonest and slimy to me. Unless I’m asking for “help” or an “opportunity” I wish people would assume that I don’t need and am not interested in one!


I have a friend who is proposing I join Arbonne? She would be good to work with although I am not educated on all the MLM companies and don’t want to make the wrong choice. I also have a blog which I want to leverage and it seems like most of the health and wellness MLMs utilize hosted parties. Are there any that are more internet based that have had a long time track record! Thanks and sorry for all the questions!
MLM itself is a legitimate business strategy. However the subject of ethics can be rather vulnerable. The pyramid scheme, unlike MLM, is clearly a scam. In a pyramid structure, a member pays a fee to join. A portion of the money will then be remitted back to them when they bring a new member into the scheme. No products are involved in this scheme, simply get more people to dump in money for your chance to make more money.
Specifically, they struggle to jump start their health goals, to connect with new people, to learn new things, and yearn to be a part of a community.  What I am telling you is that the average retiree is at least 25 pounds overweight, feels tired for some part of the day, may be moderately depressed about something, has low self-esteem in one or two areas of life, acknowledges they only kind of have a best friend, and overall lead pretty plain lives.
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