It was another record year for the direct selling industry, which garnered $192.9 billion (constant U.S. dollars) in estimated retail sales globally in 2018—a 1.2 percent increase over 2017—and produced 24 Billion Dollar Markets, according to research by the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA), its partner DSAs and direct selling companies around the world.
Global direct selling performance since 2015 has added $9.3 billion to the industry overall, which constitutes a 1.7 percent Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). And in that time, the growth of China as a direct selling powerhouse prompted expectations that the Chinese market would eventually reach the top spot on the Direct Selling News Billion Dollar Market List.
In 2018, estimated retail sales in China barely eclipsed those of the United States, prompting WFDSA to announce a tie for the top spot. While data may be restated later in 2019 as actual sales data becomes available, this represents an anticipated change and could usher in a new era within the global direct selling industry.
The top 24 sales-producing countries—the Billion Dollar Markets—comprised 94 percent of $192.9 billion in global retail sales. 2018’s 1.2 percent global growth was driven by regional increases in Asia, the Americas and Africa/Middle East. Europe reported flat sales performance. All told, however, sales in 65 percent of direct selling countries around the world were up.
The industry’s global sales force reached 118.4 million, up 1.6 percent over 2017. Since 2015, more than 13.8 million more individuals have joined the ranks. New sales force segmentation data shows 10.5 million full-time (30+ hours weekly), 42.9 million part-time (up to 30 hours weekly) and 64.9 million who have recently joined; many who join because they love the product and want to purchase at a discount; and others who join but just never become active. Seventy-four percent are female; 26 percent are male.
The Americas 2018 year-over-year performance was up 1.5 percent from a flat 2017, while Asia experienced the largest regional up-tick with 1.8 percent growth. The smaller developing Africa/ Middle East grew 1.4 percent, but Europe declined slightly—0.3 percent.
“We are pleased by the solid growth considering the uncertainties in the overall retail market vis- à- vis online sales. Thus, the numbers were a bit of a surprise and also were a confirmation of the robust nature of direct selling.” —Joe Mariano, President U.S. Direct Selling Association
Regional fluctuation is common with Australia, Taiwan and Thailand losing ground in Asia; Canada and Brazil in the Americas; and Italy, the United Kingdom and Russia dropping within the broader European market in 2018. But there was plenty of growth to offset declines. India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Peru, Colombia, and Poland marked significant growth, as did Argentina’s inflation-fueled escalation of 23.1 percent.
The global industry is on track, believes Tamuna Gabilaia, Executive Director and COO, WFDSA. Economic circumstances produce flat sales in some markets in some years. “If you look at CAGR, where we measure sustained growth of the industry, it was 1.7 percent. This shows sustained growth and that our industry is basically resilient,” she says.
Emerging Markets Expanding Their Global Share
Underway for years is a trend toward global market balance. The trajectory of emerging market sales began rising, while advanced/developed market sales plateaued. Nine years ago, 68.1 percent of sales came from advanced markets, but emerging markets continue to expand their global share of sales.
In 2018, emerging markets made up 42.7 percent of global sales. This overall trajectory of emerging markets will eventually overtake advanced economies, which made up a 57.3 percent share in 2018.
“Everywhere you look, emerging markets or developed markets, people are looking for an additional way to earn income. In the age of the gig economy, a 9 to 5 job is becoming the past and everyone wants to be his or her own boss. Direct selling offers the opportunity for people to do that,” Gabilaia says.
The combined markets of North America and South/ Central America reported $62.4 billion in estimated retail sales for 2018, a growth of 1.5 percent. 2015-2018 CAGR was up slightly at 0.5 percent. The Americas comprised 32 percent of global retail sales with eight Billion Dollar Markets. Cosmetics and Personal Care products hold 34.6 percent of sales; Wellness at 26.7 percent; and Household Goods and Durables a distant third at 12.1 percent. There are 31.0 million independent representatives, down 2.1 million from 2017. This 6.5 percent drop in 2018 follows a loss of 5.8 percent in 2017. All told, sales force reduction since 2015 stands at 3.6 million, due in large part to the re-segmentation of their sales forces by U.S. companies.
Regional data for the Americas are reported together; however, the Americas are split here to better understand each of the distinct markets.
North American direct sales increased in 2018, up 1.1 percent. The United States rebounded from its flat 2017 performance with growth of 1.3 percent and sales of $35.4 billion. However, U.S. CAGR sits at -0.7 percent. Canada produced $1.9 billion in sales in 2018, a drop of 2.4 percent. Despite the 2018 loss, Canada’s 3-year CAGR from 2015-2018 is 1.5 percent.
“New economic trends such as the growth of e-commerce and the collaborative economy show that more than ever, direct selling is a pillar of the retail sector.” — Marie Lacroix, acting Director of Seldia, The European DSA
North American independent representatives number more than 17.8 million, with 16.5 million in the U.S. and just over 1.2 million in Canada. While Wellness is the top U.S. product category at 35.6 percent, Canadians’ largest selling category is Cosmetics and Personal Care items (36.8 percent).
“We are pleased by the solid growth considering the uncertainties in the overall retail market vis-àvis online sales. Thus, the numbers were a bit of a surprise and also were a confirmation of the robust nature of direct selling,” says President of U.S. DSA Joe Mariano.
Like every industry, 2018 posed challenges for the U.S. market ranging from economic to regulatory. Last year produced even more growth with both independent work/gig economy and the U.S. DSA’s work to protect independent contractor status at the federal and state levels.
In 2019, Mariano expects fluctuation in the economy and on the regulatory stage, as independent work and those seeking flexible work schedules continue to expand. “We will continue to ensure direct selling is a strong, viable option for entrepreneurs who seek to make some extra income and enjoy a flexible schedule,” he says.
“This past year, we saw an uptick (2 percentage points) in the share of people involved in direct selling in the U.S. under 35. This is a promising indicator that our industry is maintaining relevancy and appealing to future generations, and it reinforces the optimism we have with our industry projections,” Mariano says. Share among seniors has remained stable.
With strong retail numbers and by further distinguishing full- and part-time sellers from customers, Mariano says, “We are able to see consumers still loving and buying products and services offered by DSA members. We are predicting between 1-3 percent annual growth over the next three years and will see greater focus on customers of direct selling companies.”
“We are predicting between 1-3 percent annual growth over the next three years and will see greater focus on customers of direct selling companies.” —Joe Mariano, President U.S. Direct Selling Association
Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador make up the South/Central American Billion Dollar Markets. Brazil reported the only downturn (-1.5 percent), but all other markets grew in 2018, representing 2 percent regional growth and reporting $25.1 billion in estimated retail sales. This region’s 3-year CAGR is 2.3 percent.
Market performance breakdown is as follows: Brazil ($10.2 billion, -1.3 percent CAGR), Mexico ($5.9 billion, 2.3 percent CAGR), Colombia ($2.5 billion, 1.7 percent CAGR), Peru ($1.9 billion, 5.2 percent CAGR), Argentina ($1.6 billion, 33.4 percent CAGR), and Ecuador ($1.2 billion, 7.8 percent CAGR). It’s important to note that Argentina has a highly inflationary economy.
There are nearly 13.2 million independent direct selling representatives in South/ Central America. Cosmetics and Personal Care products comprise 62 percent of those sales, down from 66.0 percent in 2017.
Forty-six percent of global retail sales are generated in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes 10 Billion Dollar Markets. In 2018, Asia-Pacific sales totaled $89.2 billion with growth of 1.8 percent; 3-year CAGR stands at 1.9 percent.
In 2018, this region added some 4.6 million independent representatives to its direct selling sales force—a total of 69.7 million. This figure comprises some 59 percent of all direct selling independent representatives in the world. 41.2 percent of market sales are Wellness products and 29 percent Cosmetics and Personal Care products.
China is the largest market in the Asia-Pacific region with 2018 estimated retail sales of $35.7 billion, up 2.0 percent over 2017. China accounts for nearly 40 percent of Asia-Pacific’s sales. With estimated growth of 2 percent over 2017 and an estimated 3-year CAGR of 2.3 percent, WFDSA has ranked China in a tie with the United States for the number one spot on 2018 Billion Dollar Markets List. WFDSA estimates nearly 5.6 million Chinese participate in direct selling.
“The millennial generation looking for more entrepreneurial ways of earning is helping to boost the sector’s independent sales force and leading to the development of new, younger customer bases.” —Susannah Schofield, OBE, Director General of U.K. DSA
But the story of the Asia-Pacific region is not limited to China. There are nine other countries on the 2018 Billion Dollar Market ranking: Australia ($1.3 billion, -4.1 percent CAGR), India ($1.5 billion, 10.9 percent CAGR), Indonesia ($1.5 billion, 13.1 percent CAGR), Japan ($15.6 billion, -1.0 percent CAGR), Korea ($18.0 billion, 1.8 percent CAGR), Malaysia ($5.3 billion, 3.7 percent CAGR), Philippines ($1.4 billion, 8.6 percent CAGR), Taiwan ($3.9 billion, 3.2percent CAGR) and Thailand ($2.9 billion, 0.2 percent CAGR).
Direct Selling in Europe comprises a 21 percent share of global sales. Over 14 million people are active in direct selling, with just under 6.9 million located in the European Union. For Europe overall, Wellness accounts for 32.6 percent of sales, Cosmetics and Personal Care for 25.6 percent of sales, and Household Goods and Durables for 14 percent of sales, rounding out the top three European product categories.
“New economic trends such as the growth of e-commerce and the collaborative economy show that more than ever, direct selling is a pillar of the retail sector. The challenge for the coming years will be to adapt our channel of distribution to these new trends, to the rapid digital evolution, as well as to increasingly demanding customers,” says Marie Lacroix, Acting Executive Director of Seldia, the European DSA.
Germany ranks at the top of European Union countries on the Billion Dollar Market list with $17.5 billion in sales—a slight increase of 0.2 percent in 2018 and 2.7 percent CAGR. Poland increased nearly $1.2 billion in sales last year, up 4.5 percent from 2017 with a 2.3 percent CAGR. But the biggest European Union gains were in France with nearly $5.4 billion in sales, up 3 percent year over-year and 3.3 percent CAGR.
Companies operating in France are optimistic and predict growth, as they increasingly adopt multi-channel distribution, adjust to constant digital evolution and new consumer trends, says Jacques Cosnefroy, Executive Director of the French DSA. Italy ($3.3 billion, down 2.0 percent for 2018) and the United Kingdom (nearly $3.6 billion in sales, down 7.6 percent) experienced losses; CAGR stands at 2.0 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. Giuliano Sciortino, Executive Director of the Italian DSA Avedisco, reports that recruitment difficulties due to a new state welfare legal status, the inability of traditional companies to adjust to new trends and digitalization, and a higher turnover rate among top distributors adversely affected Italy’s sales in 2018.
“Everywhere you look, emerging markets or developed markets, people are looking for an additional way to earn income.”— Tamuna Gabilaia, Executive Director and COO, WFDSA
Susannah Schofield OBE, Director General of the U.K.’s DSA, says the complete withdrawal of a U.S. company from the U.K. market, as well as two companies going into administration tipped their market sales down last year.
However, Schofield adds, “Consumer trends such as the demand for increasingly personalized retail experiences are providing significant opportunities for growth in the sector. In addition, a millennial generation looking for more entrepreneurial ways of earning is helping to boost the sector’s independent sales force and leading to the development of new, younger customer bases. It’s due to such factors that we expect 2019 to be a year of strong growth for many of our member companies, despite challenges such as Brexit.”
Russia, along with the smaller markets of Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine, represents the WFDSA data subcategory “Rest of Europe.” Russia’s nearly $2.5 billion in sales comprises 57 percent of all sales in Rest of Europe and identifies them as this region’s sole Billion Dollar Market. Their 13 percent growth in 2017 was not repeated, as 2018’s estimated retail sales dropped 5 percent. However, CAGR remained fairly steady at 6.1 percent.
The Rest of Europe generated nearly $4.4 billion in estimated retail sales last year, a drop of 1.4 percent and CAGR of 6.1 percent. Independent representative numbers also dropped by 7.4 percent—more than half a million—to 7.5 million. Estimated sales and product category reporting by the five main players in this region is inconsistent. But Cosmetics and Personal Care products rank number one, comprising 43.6 percent of sales in Russia and 65.4 percent in Ukraine. Within the Rest of Europe, Turkey had sales of $585 million in 2018, which makes it a market to watch in the coming years.