Avon, the acceptable face of multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, acquired more than twice its usual number of
suckers sellers during the lockdown period.
According to the BBC, the lack of jobs and opportunities during the pandemic has led to a "sharp rise" in people signing up to sell makeup to their friends and family, although of course the real way to make money in these schemes is to recruit people to sell underneath you. You then get a cut of their sales, and the person above you (your "upline") gets a cut of yours, and so on.
If you're new to the concept of MLMs, they're the reason your teenage bully suddenly sends you Facebook messages out of the blue offering vague opportunities to "work from your phone" and "start your own business." They're also the root of the infuriating #BossBabe and "CEO Of My Life" nonsense plaguing social media, from women (it's almost always women, MLMs tend to target stay-at-home mums specifically) trying to stand out among the thousands of others selling the same products at the same prices.
Avon, having been established in the 1800s, is one of the earliest examples of MLM or 'network marketing'. More recent upstarts include Younique (also makeup), Herbalife, Forever Living and Scentsy. There are also MLMs trading on the reputations of existing companies to get people to agree to sales parties in their own homes, like The Body Shop At Home and Ann Summers parties.
As with many MLMs, your Avon starter kit costs money, because everyone knows you have to pay to work (what?). Usually, you have to sell £90 of stuff before you got any commission at all, but the company has generously cut that to £1 during the corona crisis.
Image: screenshot from the Avon website
In the US, MLM companies have to produce income disclosure statements. An analysis of those showed that 99.7 per cent of people who sell for them lose money overall.
Meanwhile, Tracy Powers of Avon UK tells the BBC:
"The majority of people who are joining the business at the moment are those who've been affected by the global pandemic and are either being furloughed or are worried about their jobs."
Cool. Those definitely sound like people who can afford to lose money.
If you want to learn more about how MLMs came to be, why they're often linked to the Mormon church and what happens to people who join them, we highly recommend the podcast series The Dream, and Elle Beau's amazing (and hilarious) account of what happened when she joined Younique, or as she calls it, Poonique. Fair warning: you will lose a whole afternoon reading her story, and it's worth every second.