1 2019 National Salesforce Study
2 2018 Growth & Outlook Survey
3 DSEF Fellow, Dr. Anne Coughlan, Polk Brothers Chair in Retailing, Professor of Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
The direct selling product and service range is as diverse as all of retail. Legal services, insurance, nutritionals, cookware and energy — these are only a few of the many products and services marketed through the direct sales channel.
It is difficult to estimate the number of direct selling companies operating at any given time. This is a result of several factors. First, most states do not require direct selling companies to register as such. Therefore, no exhaustive list exists. Second, as with any business, many direct selling companies do not thrive in the direct selling market and have a relatively short life span. In fact, many companies may even come and go before they could even be “counted.” However, DSA estimates that the sales made by its members account for more than 80 percent of all direct sales in the United States and there are approximately 1,100 direct selling companies in business in the U.S. in any given year.
While our member companies maintain a base of independent salespeople that represents more than 80% of the direct selling industry in the United States, DSA does not represent every company. When a company commits to DSA membership, it commits to maintaining the highest ethical standards and consumer protections by adhering to the rigorous standards and policies set forth in our Code of Ethics. Not every direct selling company decides to make the commitments necessary to comply with the Code.
What benefits does DSA provide a direct seller of a member company?
A direct seller with a DSA member company will receive the benefit of the company’s pledge to abide by the DSA Code of Ethics. The direct seller is encouraged to share the affiliation of the DSA member company with all their customers as DSA membership is a symbol of the highest possible business ethics. A direct seller can expect the company to:
Additionally, the individual may be eligible to participate in DSA’s health and liability insurance plans for direct sellers of participating DSA member companies. If you are a direct seller at a DSA member company, please contact your company for information about participating in either of these programs.
A direct seller of a DSA member company is responsible for upholding the same high standards of business ethics the company has pledged to uphold, which are embodied in the DSA Code of Ethics. A direct seller must always:
Proselyting, the attempt to convert one or more salesforce members from one company to another is not addressed in the Code of Ethics, but the legality of such activities is a subject of frequent and intense discussion by industry members.
If at any time a DSA member company direct seller or customer feels that the company has violated one or more provisions of the Code of Ethics, the incident should be reported to DSA’s independent Code Administrator. The Code Administrator will review the incident in question and prescribe a remedy based on his findings. DSA member companies are required to abide by all rulings made by the Code Administrator to maintain membership in the association.
Direct selling encompasses a variety of distribution methods; multilevel marketing is one type of distribution and compensation method. Multi-level marketing is a type of direct selling recognized by the Federal Trade Commission and used by hundreds of companies, including some of world’s best-known consumer brands. It is not synonymous with pyramid schemes, illegal business operations, unless the multi-level marketing company compensates members of its salesforce primarily for recruiting new participants, instead of for selling products and services to customers.
By definition, all pyramid schemes are illegal business operations seeking to defraud consumers. Pyramid schemes harm consumers by manipulating their salesforce to enrich company leadership at the expense of individual participants. This is accomplished by compensating members of the salesforce primarily for recruiting new participants, instead of for selling products and services to customers or purchasing them for personal use.
DSA's Code of Ethics explicitly prohibits pyramid schemes as a condition of membership and as a condition of continuation of membership. Before a direct selling company is accepted into the Association, the company’s business plans, marketing plans, websites and other assets are reviewed and evaluated, as are records from consumer protection agencies such as the Better Business Bureau and state attorney general’s office. DSA takes compliance with the Code of Ethics and the consumer protections it promotes very seriously; if a member is found to be out of compliance in any area, we reserve the right to take disciplinary action up to and including expulsion. DSA and its member companies believe pyramid schemes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
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A special thank you to DSA’s 2024 START Summit sponsors for their generous support.
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