Sales agents in MLM companies frequently work for commissions on sales. In addition, MLM agents typically get commissions on the sales of their “downstream.” Sales agents are able to recruit new sales agents into their “downstream,” and those sales agents can recruit new agents as well. An MLM sales agent usually makes money from each sale in their “downstream,” creating a form of passive income.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by effectively requiring "independent" distributors to sell at the same fixed price) and making exaggerated income claims. The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as "pyramiding".
MLM salespeople are, therefore, expected to sell products directly to end-user retail consumers by means of relationship referrals and word of mouth marketing, but most importantly they are incentivized to recruit others to join the company's distribution chain as fellow salespeople so that these can become down line distributors. According to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission's website, at least 99% of people who join MLM companies lose money. Nonetheless, MLMs function because downline participants are encouraged to hold onto the belief that they can achieve large returns, while the statistical improbability of this is de-emphasised. MLMs have been made illegal or otherwise strictly regulated in some jurisdictions as a mere variation of the traditional pyramid scheme, including in mainland China.
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