The evolution of direct selling – from doorstep to digital


Direct selling is an increasingly popular career move for mums – enabling them to grow a business around their family commitments on their terms.

Paula Gorry from Stampin’ Up! UK explains how the direct selling industry has grown over the past five decades, evolving from neighbour-to-neighbour doorstep selling, to sophisticated digital enterprises.

We’ve come a long way since Tupperware!

The direct selling industry has come a long way since the Tupperware parties synonymous with 1950s post-war Britain. According to the DSA (Direct Selling Association), in 2013 alone there were over 4.8 million direct sales, netting over £2bn for the UK economy.

Given this exponential growth it, would be fascinating to see what the direct seller of early post-war Britain would make of today’s industry.

Are there startling contrasts between the contemporary direct seller and the direct seller of the past? Or are there certain aspects of the industry that have endured with time?

But the basic idea remains the same

But for all the dramatic changes in today’s industry, the basic concept of direct selling has remained largely the same. The DSA summarises direct selling as “a method of marketing and retailing goods and services directly to the consumers, in their homes or in any other location away from permanent retail premises.”

By selling goods outside a fixed retail environment, it offers complete flexibility for the seller – in essence you can expand your business as much or as little as you want, helping you to balance your work with other commitments such as family life.

Post-war mums loved direct selling

As a flexible business model, direct selling was particularly popular among mothers from early post-war Britain. It became an additional source of household income at a time when keeping the home was a full-time job.

Fast-forward to today and the direct selling industry is branching out to a wider audience. The traditional direct selling demographic of stay-at-home mums now accounts for 29% of direct sellers, while men account for 24% of the sector.

As well as providing an ideal way to work for mums, increasingly students and retired people are topping up their income by becoming direct sellers. There has also been a recent growth in multicultural direct sellers.  The DSA surveyed its members and discovered 30% of direct sellers (120,000 people) in the UK are non-British.

Today you can sell a wide range of products

With the industry now appealing to a wide cross-section of society, this has clearly impacted the range of products available to the modern direct seller.

In 1950s post-war Britain, Tupperware parties were the order of the day, with the aim of the hostess to sell as many of these innovative boxes as possible.

While Tupperware is still in wide use today, the direct selling industry is now open to a range of products that can be showcased at parties, including cosmetics, cleaning products, nutritional products, homewares and paper craft supplies to name a few.

How to get started as a direct seller

If you fancy yourself as a direct seller, the first step is to find a product you like and believe in (much easier with today’s broad range of brands!). Then you need to get out there and sell, maximising the opportunities presented by all available sales channels.

Traditionally direct-selling was associated with the door-to-door sales approach. And while this is by no means redundant, today it’s important to consider this process as part of a broader mix of activity.

Stampin’ Up! UK is a leading craft company which operates via a network of direct of sellers. In our experience, demonstrators particularly like to host product parties as they are a great way to meet new people.

Online platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook will also help you to share your product to a wider audience anytime, anywhere and video formats such as YouTube enable you to build your profile and interact with your audience.

Find a balance between face-to-face and digital selling

Today’s industry is a vibrant and dynamic one that appeals to a broad audience.

We’ve always bought and sold things to each other and in this respect, the core aspect of direct selling has a long history. It’s a business model that has always emphasised social interaction – sales are typically conducted face to face with products demonstrated to an individual or a group.

But the key for today’s direct seller is being able to successfully strike a between classic face-to-face interaction, and digital communication.

One thing is for sure, we will always need to buy and sell products. And as new means of communicating and selling emerge, direct selling will expand into these territories, making it a vibrant career as full of possibilities today as it was in the 19050s.

Want more tips on direct selling? Read the five essential traits of a successful direct seller.

Paula Gorry is the UK Business Development Manager for Stampin’ Up! UK, a leading craft company which operates via a network of direct sellers.

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