The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a lobbying group for the MLM industry, reported that in 1990 only 25% of DSA members used the MLM business model. By 1999, this had grown to 77.3%. By 2009, 94.2% of DSA members were using MLM, accounting for 99.6% of sellers, and 97.1% of sales. Companies such as Avon, Electrolux, Tupperware, and Kirby were all originally single-level marketing companies, using that traditional and uncontroversial direct selling business model (distinct from MLM) to sell their goods. However, they later introduced multi-level compensation plans, becoming MLMs. The DSA has approximately 200 members while it is estimated there are over 1,000 firms using multi-level marketing in the United States alone.
Everyday, people get sucked into the lure of MLMs (“multi-level marketing” or “network marketing”) and I can’t stress enough the need to stay far, far away from them. These include Herbalife, Arbonne, LuLaRoe, Younique, Rodan + Fields, and Amway among many others. I understand the need for flexibility, especially if you are a full-time student or are raising young children. Believe me, I also understand getting a job that allows you to create your own schedule and work remotely takes Hunger Games level competition. I am always surprised when I see college educated women sucked into these things. But it’s telling about other issues, like childcare, maternity leave and corporate culture in the US. MLMs are pyramid schemes, and are extremely predatory because the only way to make any money is to sign up more and more people under you which will just ruin your social relationships and make you a pariah where it matters most: your friends and family members.
The Internet has made it so easy now. In the old days you had to actually visit people, or at least call them, to pitch your fabulous new opportunity. Face-to-face marketing is still practiced, but it is not so common these days. Besides, no one really loves the idea of having someone over, so they go online where everyone can be as safe as they want. They create sites with videos, testimonials, and pictures.
MLMs have been made illegal in some jurisdictions as a mere variation of the traditional pyramid scheme, including in mainland China. In jurisdictions where MLMs have not been made illegal, many illegal pyramid schemes attempt to present themselves as MLM businesses. Given that the overwhelming majority of MLM participants cannot realistically make a net profit, let alone a significant net profit, but instead overwhelmingly operate at net losses, some sources have defined all MLMs as a type of pyramid scheme, even if they have not been made illegal like traditional pyramid schemes through legislative statutes.