The heritage of direct selling is combating unemployment and enabling entrepreneurs
Direct selling has a rich and unique heritage that not many people know about. In fact, it’s an industry that began to emerge with the development of civilisations. Often called ‘social selling’ because it involves a direct relationship between the distributor and the customer, direct selling is a concept where customers have the opportunity to source a product straight from the supplier, without a third-party retailer getting involved.
With direct sales, any number of business-minded individuals come together to sell reputable products. They each work independently but are affiliated with the company that manufactures and distributes the products that they have chosen to sell. These sellers have the luxury of operating their own businesses on their own terms, forming strong bonds with their customers and being their own bosses. They often grow their start-ups through word-of- mouth and, of course, the advantage of the company’s brand and reputation. Some direct sellers are so successful that they often take on other team members to help them better serve their customers.
The unique direct selling business model continues to grow in popularity around the world. According to the Direct Selling Association of South Africa (DSA), in recent years, around 1,3 million people earned an annual income from the direct selling industry.
The history and evolution of direct selling
Although it might seem like a relatively new concept, direct selling is almost as old as civilisation itself! Hunter-gatherers would barter with buyers directly to sell their wares – there were no third-party retailers involved. Nowadays, the basic premise of direct selling, person-to-person retail, remains the same, but there’s no bartering involved. Sellers develop a relationship with the buyer to sell their product, avoiding third parties and enjoying higher, more impressive margins. The low barrier to entry of direct selling attracts entrepreneurs, promises to create jobs, and has the potential to improve the lives of many.
Commodities were bartered by traders in the 17th century, and salespeople were going door-to-door in the late 18th century. Since then, direct selling has evolved consistently alongside technology, and the internet in particular. Today, direct sellers can leverage the power of websites and social media to encourage customers to buy their products.Most modern-day direct sellers will use social media platforms to develop a following where they encourage existing customers to post reviews and recommendations to boost sales and reach new markets.
Direct selling in South Africa
The concept of direct selling is on the rise globally, and South Africa is no different. According to the Direct Selling Association of South Africa, the value of the direct selling market on the African continent increased to R16.3-billion in 2018. This is likely due to the fact that direct selling offers a ‘soft-landing’ opportunity for those looking to start their own businesses.
More than 90% of all start-ups fail within the first two years of opening their doors. Direct selling businesses, on the other hand, are backed by research, advertising, and promotional programmes, giving entrepreneurs greater support and a stronger foundation.
It’s no wonder then that around 1,3 million people earned an income from the direct selling industry in South Africa in 2017. Despite the business model often being seen as an opportunity predominantly chosen by female entrepreneurs, recent statistics show that more men are taking an interest in direct selling as a career.
The ability to supplement your income with a world-renowned brand has helped people take control of their futures for over 40 years, and will continue to do so for years to come. Through the success of direct selling, more and more people will be able to supplement their incomes or start businesses, in turn creating additional employment opportunities – something that South Africa needs as we continue to fight the unemployment crisis.
Ultimately, direct selling is an exciting industry that is always evolving and, importantly, responsive to the ever-changing needs of the consumer. What the future holds is unpredictable, but there is little doubt that those who can take advantage of, and profit from, consumer trends and the innovation of technology, will reap the rewards.