Featured Opinion

Amway has hallmarks of pyramid scheme; selling “sales tools” are secret of upline profit model

By Scott Johnson

In multilevel marketing, individuals [distributors] sell products to the public. Typically, distributors earn commissions, not only for their sales, but for sales made by people they recruit [Their downline].

Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. If the money you make is based mainly on your sales to the public, it is more likely to a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s not. It’s likely a pyramid scheme.

Since Amway has overpriced products, little to no sales of products are made to the general public; most money is made on recruiting [and sales to recruits] which makes it a pyramid scheme.

Amway has the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme:

  • What is being sold is inappropriately priced.
  • Very small percentage of total revenue from the sale of products or services to people outside the program.

In other words, the Amway products do not stand on their own since very few consumers outside of Amway salespeople [distributors] buy them. Their products are sold to other members, some of whom think their purchases are connected to the future hope of becoming wealthy.

The Amway Tool Scam (ATS) is one of the hidden business models behind Amway. ATS consists of high priced CDs, books, website access, voice mail, etc., commonly referred to as “tools,” or formally as BSM (Business Support Materials) which are the tools a distributor is told will help him make money in Amway. These ‘tools’ are sold at huge profit by the upline distributor [Amway’s Independent Business Owners) to their downline.

So you understand it. The guys at the top are making a lot of money selling ‘tools” on how to sell and recruit for Amway.

The upline sells the costly tools to their downline – who  try to use those tools to create their own downlines. Those who buy the tools think that by buying them they will sell more Amway products – which actually rarely occurs.

The money is in the false promise that you can have your own upline.  But only the top 1-2% of the upper level Amway IBOs make a profit from the ATS. The Amway business, via recruitment, is what can put money in mid-level distributors’ pockets.

For four decades, literally millions of mid level distributors have paid billions of dollars for these expensive ‘tools.’ This is one of the reasons why most Amway distributors operate at a net loss. Meanwhile, upper level IBOs make up to 9 times more from selling ATS than from selling overpriced Amway products.

In 2002, Amway decided that only 2% of high level distributors [IBOs] should make money from ATS, and the remaining 98% IBOs should not be aware there is an opportunity to make money from ATS.

The UK government ruled in 2008 that zero profit is to be made from the tools, and India Amway – since 2005 – imposes price limits on the tools, virtually eliminating profit from ATS.  No similar action has been taken in the U.S.

The benefit for Amway with this exorbitant ‘tool’ sales arrangement is Amway can keep product prices inflated and bonus payout low, both of which increase their profit.

Upline IBOs don’t want to “rock the boat” since they are earning big money with ATS. This results in a win-win-lose scenario, with Amway winning by maximizing their profit, the top 1-2% of IBOs winning by double dipping Amway and ATS profits, and the 99+% losing money because of Amway’s higher prices/lower bonus and the high tool costs.

The high Amway product prices results in little to no sales to non-members. In North America  less than 3.4% of the total volume, according to a 2006 3rd party confidential study, are made to non members. The products do not stand on their own.

Amway of course says the tools are optional; the upline must support their downline whether or not they buy the tools. However, Amway rules require any information shown to prospects members must be approved by Amway. In practice the tools are promoted strongly, with the upline distributors making statements such as, “The tools are optional, but so is success,” which means a downline IBO is led to believe he will not succeed without these high priced tools.

It was my experience that the upline ignores IBOs who don’t buy tools. Most new IBOs don’t have the knowledge, ability, or time to develop their own tools, or the ability to decipher complex Amway rules, so they are almost forced to buy the expensive ATS system.

I know what I’m talking about. I was an IBO from January 1993 until I was ‘voluntarily terminated’ in 2009, and I have studied the ATS since early 2005.  Overall, I lost over $100,000 and more importantly, a dozen years of my life chasing an Amway illusion.

At the time, I was striving to succeed at Amway, I didn’t know Amway was essentially a pyramid scheme, or did I know about the ATS. When I found out, I withdrew from the uplines’ tools. As soon as I was aware of insignificant percentage of retail sales to non members, I recognized this as a pyramid scheme. I began speaking out about that issue.

It is my opinion that in Amway, in order to succeed, you have to rip off others.

Listen to Scott Johnson on Building Fortunes Radio

About the author


News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.


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  • These commenters are trying to pretend the business is legitimate. Ask your big pin Upline (or any big pin speaking on stage) how much money they make from Worldwide or whatever LOS you’re in. Ask. If they tell you they don’t make any money, they are lying. Ask them why there isn’t a lot of training time spent on retailing, but instead motivation and how to sponsor (Many groups just buy their own PV, and report 50 of it as retail).

    This isn’t old information either. My sources: my own experience as an ex WWDB Eagle 2500, and my ex-Emerald (20-30k people in their business) upline.

    If you do what your coaches teach you (4 functions, 200-300pv /mo, WW, KATE, Digital) then you cannot make money until you’re a 2500 pin, which means you have to recruit (because you can’t retail online, and extremely difficult to retail profitably otherwise). People don’t count their ditto/monthly orders as a loss, but they should, because you won’t make money w/ out purchasing your own stuff. Nobody retails, and if somebody does, they are the exception, and if nobody does consistently.

    Amway is not a legitimate business.

  • I respect your thinking. But Amway is a legitimate business. The problem is lack of self discipline. People don’t discipline there self and blame the system. More number of business plans and meeting with more people is the work to do. This business is for the people who wants some thing extra in life. Amway is not for everyone. There is no issue if you didn’t make it. But one thing is sure that you learnt so many good things while you were in Amway. You might be a better person today. Have a Good day.

    Thank You.

  • you are fool and trying to fool people. Amway is good company and always working in favor of distributors. I am associated with amway from past so many years, using all the world class products, I haven’t yet find any problem. it seems that you are failure

  • If you lost 100K in Amway you’re a moron…. I’ve been in way for many years never had that problem. You got linked up with some scumbag up line or something… If you think anyways expensive go try to run the traditional business..

    • I was part of the Gooch downline in the early 90’s for 2 years and spent money on trips to functions, tapes books and yes my up line laid fon the guilt if you didn’t buy a tape that week.. On top of it I remember them telling me I should be giving them away to promote sponsoring people.. Ohh the love and gathering so special… I remember being guilted into staying for Sunday service in the morning.. Now looking back it was most likely money being made on me staying in the hotel another night..it’s all true..cost me thousands…

      • That isn’t actually Amway’s business model. That is the network you were affiliated to. THEY make money by using Amway as their legitimate product but selling you ‘tools’ to how to achieve sales and meet people etc. Amway doesn’t do any of that. Also your experience is clearly from such a long time ago that I’d suggest ANY company could have changed in that period. Before accusing, you should get updated with the actual company.

        Amway does sell their products and at a better price in many instances for equivalent brands. They do also sell to ‘customers’ (depending on the market). There’s a price for customers and a discounted price for Amway Business Owners (once signed up to the MLM model). The ABO can earn commission as ‘bonus points’ from Amway on sales of Amway products sold by their recruited downlines. They are a full vertical stack company which if it were a Pyramid then there wouldn’t actually be any physical cost.

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