Is MLM Amway a scam? And how much can you earn with them?

Is MLM Amway a scam? And how much can you earn with them? We investigate the real earning potential of Amway, and find out what it’s like as an Amway rep.

Over the past two years we’ve researched a number of MLMs. But there’s one we’ve yet to properly look into, and that’s Amway.

Amway was started in 1959. Today it’s the biggest MLM in the world, earning $8.80billion global revenue in 2017, and is currently #42 in Forbes list of America’s largest privately owned companies.

Amway also has powerful political ties.

The DeVos family who founded the company were good friends with US presidents George W Bush and Gerald Ford, a relationship that appeared to come in very handy when they fell foul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as The Washington Post reported:

“In 1975, when Amway came under a Federal Trade Commission investigation as an alleged pyramid scheme–a charge that was later dropped–and for making misleading promises of riches to prospective distributors, Van Andel and DeVos had a 43-minute Oval Office visit with Ford.”

Amway ‘has donated as much as $200 million to the Republican Party’

The DeVos family are also donors to the Republican Party (the G.O.P.), as Vanity Fair reports: “Since the 1970s, members of the DeVos family had given as much as $200 million to the G.O.P.” Today Betsy DeVos, wife of former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, is the US Secretary of Education.

It’s not just in the US that Amway has managed to gain the support of politicians. In 2015 in the UK, Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry, and Nick Boles, then Minister for Skills and Equalities, even shared the ‘wonderful story’ of Amway in a debate in the House of Commons.

Heaton-Harris incredibly, and in our opinion irresponsibly, states on record that “pretty much everyone can succeed in the [MLM] industry if they put their mind to it” – a common MLM lie that their own income disclosure statements prove is not true. Funnily enough, Andy Smith, the general manager of Amway UK and Ireland (and current Director General of the DSA), is a constituent of Heaton-Harris.

So surely a company of this size, with this history, and with this amount of political clout must be vastly different from other MLMs? Amway can’t be a scam, right?

To find out, we investigated the incomes of Amway reps, and the testimonies of former Amway reps. Here’s what we found.

How does Amway work?

In Amway, you make money when people buy products through you, from both the mark-up in price and through earning sales bonuses if you hit targets. You can also earn when you recruit people to sell products under you.

Amway makes a wide range of products, including beauty, nutrition, home care and energy and sport products. And, as Amway admits, they’re often more expensive than competitors’ products – as is common with MLMs, like doTERRA and MONAT.

As The Dream podcast discovered, the reason for this is often the real retail price in MLMs is the cost to the reps, as they’re the real customers. (It’s very common for MLMs like Amway to require reps to purchase a specific value of products themselves each month just to stay active.)

How much CAN you earn with Amway?

So how much can you earn with Anyway? To find out let’s take a look at their 2017 income disclosure statement for UK and the Republic of Ireland. (Amway apparently does not produce income disclosure statements for the USA, so sadly we can’t investigate those.)

As of 31 August 2017, it says that Amway had 17,205 registered Retail Consultants. However, of these only 4,735 received a rebate from Amway. This means that 12,470 people – 72.5% – earned nothing.

And of the 27.5% who earned anything, the average monthly payment was just £41.82, giving them an annual income of just £501.84 before deducting expenses.

In the same time period, Amway had 19,669 Certified Retail Consultants. Of these, 62.3% (12,256 people) earned nothing. The average rebate of the 7,413 people who DID earn anything was just £100.43 a month (£1,205.16 a year – again before business expenses are deducted).

At the top of Amway’s pyramid-shaped earnings table are Business Consultants. In 2016-17 they had just 66 of these, and the average income for them was just £2,281 a month, or £27,372 a year.

Only 66 people earned more than £110 a month with Amway

This means that, of the 36,940 people in the UK and the Republic of Ireland who were with Amway in that year, only 66 people earned over £110 a month on average.

Here’s what the earnings were in summary. Of the 39,940 people who were signed up to Amway in 2016-17:

  • 66.9% earned nothing.
  • 12.8% earned £41.82 a month.
  • 20% earned £100.43 a month.
  • 0.17% earned £2,281 a month.

(Amway’s 2015-2016 income disclosure statement shows similar results.)

According to tax returns even top Amway reps make a loss

But even if you’re a top Amway rep (and remember, this is just 0.17% of all people who join), you’re still not out of the woods, because you need to deduct your expenses from your income. And when you do that, your ‘profits’ shrink considerably, if not disappear completely.

As research published by the FTC reveals:

“The average net income (after subtracting expenses) for the 200 top Amway distributors in Wisconsin was approximately minus $900.”

So, the top Amway reps in Wisconsin actually made a LOSS on average, based on their tax returns. (This information was taken from state tax returns obtained and used by the Office of Attorney General for the State of Wisconsin in a 1980 suit against Amway.)

The same research found that you were 286 times more likely to win from a single spin of a roulette wheel in Las Vegas than you were to profit as an Amway rep.

So how do you lose money working for Amway?

How is it possible to lose money in Amway? To find out, we read the testimonies of a number of former Amway reps. And it was easy to see how the costs of running an Amway ‘business’ (MLMs say you have your own business, but actually you’re a glorified, unpaid sales rep with zero rights) add up.

One former Amway rep said that they showed the plan (the Amway sales pitch which involves giving potential recruits a kit to take away with them) between seven to 10 times a week, and and each kit they gave out when they showed the plan cost $35. About half of these they never got back. So that’s a loss of between $122.5 and $175 a week.

Annually, this loss alone adds up to between $6,370 and $9,100.

They also said they spent around $125 a month in subscription expenses, and purchased books and CDs to help them succeed. The Finance Guy reveals the pressure to buy these ‘motivational’ subscriptions:

“I was briefly a member of Amway and my sponsor’s upline became very upset when I refused to pay for a monthly subscription to their motivational CDs.”

And then there’s reps’ own required personal purchase of Anyway products:

“If an Ambot is CORE and has no downline or no customers, a usual condition for Ambots, and they buy at least 100PV around $300/month in shitty overpriced Amway products then they’ll qualify to make a commission of $10.”

Amway reps ‘are expected to attend expensive events’

The biggest expenses, however, appear to be the events Amway reps were expected to attend. One former rep said that if they didn’t attend events, their Amway upline would withhold mentorship.

And these events weren’t cheap. One ex-rep said that the cheapest function cost 70$ per ticket for an evening, which included dinner. And the most expensive events were weekend trips, which cost around $250 a head for tickets and included breakfast and lunch (you were expected to buy your own dinner).

You also had to pay for your travel and accommodation costs for events. In the US this sometimes ran into thousands of dollars if you needed to fly across the country. (One rep estimated they spent $4-5,000 each for long distance events.)

MLM losses are reframed as ‘investments’

One former rep said their upline demanded they personally use 300pv of Amway products every month – much of which is still stored away in their cupboards, long after leaving.

She also estimated that she and her husband invested at least $50,000 over the three years they were in Amway, not including the cost of traveling to and expenses from their quarterly business trips.

Their income over three years? Just $10,000. That’s a $40,000 loss.

In order to keep reps in an MLM scheme, their uplines often reframe their financial losses as ‘investing’ in their business – dangling the carrot of future financial freedom. And Amway appears to be no different, as one ex-rep reveals:

“Our upline kept telling us that we were making money, we were just reinvesting in our business, like any other business does… Like, we were making a profit, it just didn’t look like it on paper… We lost all our savings, and everything of value we had (we literally sold our belongings to finance our business). It… seemed worth it for the long term goal of financial freedom.”

(This rep said they eventually quit Amway after acquiring significant debt in the pursuit of their ‘business’.)

Is Amway a cult?

So if Amway is apparently so terrible, why do people stay in the business? One thing we’ve noticed in every MLM we’ve investigated, is a cult-like company culture.

MLM reps are actively discouraged from critical thinking. They’re told any question that deviates from the ‘this company is a-mazing’ mentality is negative and are chastised and even isolated if they dare ask.

MLMs also, very much like abusive partners, encourage you to cut from your life anyone close to you (who genuinely has your best interests at heart) who questions your involvement. And any people who leave an MLM are excommunicated; they’re painted as a failure or a terrible person/influence and reps are warned not to contact them.

Often this rejection from people MLM reps had formerly considered virtually family (having been isolated from their real family) is one of the most devastating losses ex-reps experience. It can be incredibly hard to recover from.

And Amway appears to take a similar approach. Here’s what a former rep said about their experience:

“We were encouraged to cut out negative people from our lives, and negative just meant anyone who didn’t support Amway. Just like a cult, they anticipate the negative feedback you will receive and preemptively dismiss it.”

To further embed them in the business, and distance them from their friends and family (again, a typical tactic of an abusive partner), MLMs often expect reps to prioritise their events and business over your personal life. Here’s what a former Amway rep says:

“We were counselled to never go on dates, never go on vacation, never attend family functions… Basically not do anything other than work our Amway business. I know people in the business who missed weddings to attend meetings… I lost all of my childhood friends over it.”

And like other MLMs, the amazing ‘family’ you build when you’re in disappears suddenly when you leave. Here’s what one Amway rep says of their treatment from their mentor, who was like a brother to them when they were in the business:

“I cried when he left us a message talking about how he didn’t realize we were quitters and he just couldn’t put this time into people who weren’t worth it.”

MLMs like Amway can destroy marriages

It’s not just MLM reps’ relationships with family and friends that often come under strain; they can also find themselves having to choose between their spouse and the business.

Which is ironic, given the family-friendly sales spiel MLMs often use.

MLMs frequently lure recruits in with the promises of a more family-friendly way to make money. They’ll ask: “Don’t you want to spend more time at home with your children?” And reps frequently boast about being fortunate enough to work from home when their children are sick on social media.

But the reality is that MLMs are far more likely to destroy family relationships than bolster them, in our experience. Especially when one partner sees the light and decides that they don’t wish to be part of it.

Here’s what one ex-wife says of her experience of being married to an Ambot (an Amway rep):

“That weekend I decide for my own sanity to quit Amway. My husband refuses. He says success is right around the corner. Is he kidding? We signed up two people during two years and that was just after we started. One quit after a few weeks because the shitheads in our upline insulted him and the other couple were friends of ours who only signed up to get us off their backs. They didn’t buy anything and didn’t renew their membership at the end of the year.”

We’re now in the process of getting divorced. He has moved out and is staying with one of the shitheads. The house is up for sale. My parents are helping out with the mortgage until its sold and have got a lawyer for me. My husband is using some idiot in Amway to represent him who has no legal training.

The only thing they’re concerned about is that I don’t get my hands on the Amway business. Half of nothing is still nothing shitheads! Besides I don’t need half the debt! I guess I can forget about alimony or child support because he has nothing. I want custody of our son. He can keep custody of the Amway shitheads.

This is not how I thought my life would turn out. I’m 32 and on my own and have a young son to raise. My beautiful house won’t be mine for much longer. I will have nothing when I get out of this marriage.

All I can say to anyone who gets approached by someone in Amway to sign up and sell their products and recruit others to sell Amway products is don’t do it! Nobody wants to buy the products because they’re too high priced. And no one wants to sign up. Its a waste of time and money.”

How can you spot an Amway pitch?

So how can you avoid being prospected by an Amway rep? The Married to an Ambot blog helpfully shares the FORM conversation that they’re trained to use. So if you find a conversation with someone taking this direction, you could be being warmed up for an MLM sales pitch!

Here’s how FORM works:

  • Family – ask about their family and if they have enough time to spend with their family.
  • Occupation – ask what they do for a living and if they are looking for a change.
  • Recreation – ask what their hobbies are and what they do for fun and would they like more time to be able to do these things.
  • Money – ask if they need more money to buy things, get out of debt, or to fund their dreams.

And here’s a copy of the Amway recruitment script.

Is Amway a scam?

So, we return to the question we asked at the outset: is Amway a scam? According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the definition of a ‘scam’ is “A dishonest scheme; a fraud.”

We already know that 66.9% of all Amway reps from the UK and Republic of Ireland earned nothing from Amway in 2016-17, and that only 66 people earned more than $110 a month (before business expenses were deducted).

We also know that the 200 top Amway distributors in Wisconsin in circa 1980 made an average annual loss of $900.

Now compare this information to the current recruitment marketing messages on Amway’s UK website:

They also claim that: “Whoever you are, whatever your background, you can find your personal path to success with Amway. It’s easy to be successful if you believe in yourself.”

In our opinion, the marketing claims in these statements are disingenuous and irresponsible. Amway know from their own income disclosure statements that there is no genuine “Great earning potential”. Nor is it “easy to be successful if you believe in yourself”.

If there really was ‘great earning potential’, and it was ‘easy to be successful’, then 66.9% of their reps would not earn nothing. And out of 36,940 reps, more than 66 would make over £110 a month on average (again this is before expenses are deducted).

We’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not you believe this means Amway is a scam.

We recommend avoiding ALL MLMS

Based on our research into several MLMs over the past two years, we believe that none of them offer a profitable business opportunity for the vast majority of people who join.

We have yet to research an MLM we’d ever consider buying from, let alone joining. And we would certainly warn any friends or family who were thinking of joining one to steer well clear.

Luckily, there’s an increasing awareness of how MLMs work. Podcasts like The Dream, as mentioned earlier, and documentaries like Betting on Zero are helping to bring the truth mainstream. And there are a growing number of resources and blogs committed to revealing the truth.

Our personal recommendation is that you don’t join any MLM. Nor do we recommend buying from them, even in sympathy for a friend (many MLM reps use emotional blackmail to force friends and family to buy from them: ‘If you’re a true friend you’ll support my small business’). Because every penny you spend only puts more money in the MLM’s pocket and enables the industry to continue existing.

Read more about MLMs like Amway

If you’d like to learn more about MLMs we have a number of articles on our own website:

You can also read more of our income investigations into the following MLMs:

You can also learn more about MLMs on these websites:

As always, our calculations in this article are based on information publicly available online – in this case, Amway’s income disclosure statements. If Amway have further financial information that proves their reps are earning more, we’d be delighted to see it and will happily correct our article.

Photo by Caique Silva