Billion Dollar Markets

WFDSA dissects global sales data for a clearer picture.

2019 was a year like no other in the direct selling industry. The trajectory seemed set for China to ultimately out-sell the United States and come into its own at the number one spot on the DSN Billion Dollar Markets list. But newly released data from the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations illustrates how the complexities within an enormous market can negatively impact global sales, while the broader industry realizes year-over-year growth.

Unsubstantiated cure claims by a Chinese wellness company early in 2019 called into question the entire wellness segment in the world’s second-largest market, China. The subsequent 100-day halt to sales of dozens of products and investigations by the Chinese government served a blow to global sales. Rebuilding momentum within the wellness sector and, to some extent, the reputation of the direct selling industry in China was arduous and continues.

Just as the industry cleared that hurdle, COVID-19 emerged. The effects of the global pandemic on sales are not reflected in WFDSA 2019 data; however, it is important to remember that behind each data point on the survey are vulnerable people—members of the direct selling industry who sell products in the field, manage spreadsheets and calculate sales at company headquarters, and report figures from direct selling associations around the world.

It was during the global pandemic’s early days that WFDSA queried for information and waited, concerned for the broader direct selling industry family and unsure if they were healthy, sick or able to respond at all.

Formally collecting data since 2009, WFDSA’s 2019 data collection was unprecedented. Josephine Mills, co-chair, WFDSA Global Research Sub Committee, says the situation surrounding COVID-19 reinforced our understanding of just how serious and how committed everyone is to the data collection process.

Through the illnesses, people endured business disruptions and lack of office continuity, WFDSA member DSAs around the globe continued to collect, consolidate and report statistical data to WFDSA’s independent third party. What emerged from that raw data is a dual-focused picture of 2019, one that dissects global sales—including and excluding China.

WFDSA reports global estimated retail sales of $180.5 billion (Constant U.S. Dollars) for 2019. Excluding China, worldwide retail sales showed a year-over-year increase of 1.4 percent with all regions around the globe up from 2018. Global sales results, including China, resulted in a decrease of 4.3 percent.

However, the industry’s 5-year Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) maintained a healthy expansion pace of 2.3 percent (excluding China) and 1.6 percent (including China). Global direct selling performance since 2016 added $6.9 billion to the industry overall (excluding China); but shrank $1.6 billion with China added to the mix.

Retraction of the global (including China) market was driven by the significant decrease of 10.3 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, of which China is a part. However, excluding data from China, all four global regions made gains: Asia-Pacific, up 2.2 percent; the Americas, up 0.7 percent; Europe, up 0.8 percent and Africa-Middle East showed the largest gains of 11.6 percent.

Last year’s list of 24 billion dollar markets remained the same in 2019 with some minor shifting in rank. The top ten countries on the list—led by the U.S.—generated 78 percent of global estimated retail sales.

The industry’s global sales force dropped 1.7 percent from 2018’s 122 million to 119.9 million in 2019, but showed a solid 1.8 percent 3-year CAGR. Segmentation data recorded 15.2 million full-time (30+ hours weekly) independent representatives and 44.2 million part-time (up to 30 hours weekly). 60.5 million garnered product discounts. All told, 74 percent were female; 26 percent male.

Sales from emerging markets, which included China, were expected to overtake advanced economies in the coming years, but for now, that trajectory toward balance has halted. WFDSA reports advanced markets held 60.5 percent share of global direct selling sales in 2019, compared to 57.6 percent in 2018. Emerging markets captured 39.5 percent in 2019, down from 42.4 percent the previous year.

Make no mistake, growth opportunities still exist in emerging markets. By omitting China, emerging markets grew 3.7 percent over 2018 with a 3-year CAGR of 4.5 percent, which outpaced overall industry growth.

 The Americas

The Americas—North and South/Central—comprised 34 percent of direct selling’s global estimated retail sales in 2019. Combined, they reported $61.8 billion for 2019, posting growth of 0.7 percent with CAGR rising slightly to 0.5 percent.

Eight billion dollar markets exist in this region, where Cosmetics and Personal Care products hold 33 percent of sales; Wellness increased to 28 percent; and Household Goods and Durables a distant third at 11 percent. The number of independent representatives remained steady at 30.9 million after losses in 2017 and 2018.

Regional data for the Americas is reported together; however, the Americas are split here to better understand each of the distinct markets.

North America

North American direct sales slowed in 2019, reporting $37.7 billion in sales, down 0.8 percent.

The United States, which holds 20 percent of global market, saw flat-line sales of $35.2 billion, down 0.4 percent. U.S. CAGR is at -0.3 percent. Canada realized $2.5 billion in sales, a 6.0 percent decrease, with CAGR trending down at -2.4 percent.

According to WFDSA, more than 17.5 million independent representatives reside in North America; 16.4 million in the U.S. and just under 1.2 million in Canada. Segmented data from USDSA showed 900,000 full-time independent representatives and 5.9 million part-timers. They were predominately white/Caucasian (83 percent) and 74 percent were female. 67 percent were between the ages of 25 and 54.

Wellness was the top U.S. product category at 36 percent. Neither product nor segmented representative data for Canada were reported.

USDSA reported 36.9 million direct selling customers in 2019 with 9.6 million designated as discount buyers and 27.3 million as preferred customers. Countless more customers, who have not signed an agreement with a direct selling company, were not represented in that 36.9 million. Some geographic hotbeds for direct selling were Texas, California, New York and Florida.

“U.S. direct selling revenue not only remained stable during the past four years; it also offered many opportunities for growth.
—Ben Gamse, US DSA Senior Marketing Research Manager

Ben Gamse, USDSA’s senior market research manager, points to the 2020 Growth & Outlook Survey, comprised of 2019 industry overview data collected pre-coronavirus, that indicates U.S. direct selling revenue not only remained stable during the past four years; it also offered many opportunities for growth.

Interest in flexible, entrepreneurial/income-earning opportunities was high among Americans—77 percent overall. But it was most appealing to younger generations with 91 percent of Gen Zs and 88 percent of millennials. Direct selling enjoyed a broad, diverse appeal with prospects: 48 percent, female; 35 percent, millennial; and 20 percent African-American.

Overall, direct selling was seen as an attractive option for those interested in entrepreneurial endeavors, with direct sales showing 79 percent favorability just below Gig work at 81 percent. The initial cost/risk assessment of direct selling versus other entrepreneurial opportunities also weighed in the industry’s favor.

U.S. consumers were positive about direct selling with opinions remaining stable at about 80 percent over the past decade. The ability to support small businesses (69 percent) and personalized service provided by direct sellers (67 percent) appealed most to consumers. With 89 percent of American consumers utilizing some form of social media, nearly half (46 percent) said they welcomed online contact from direct sellers regarding business opportunities.

South/Central America

The South/Central America region is made up of six billion dollar markets: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina. With the exception of Ecuador (down 3.4 percent), all other markets grew in 2019. This region reported estimated retail sales of $24.1 billion, an increase of 3.1 percent and a CAGR of 1.9 percent.

Market performance breakdown was as follows: Brazil ($9.8 billion, 5 percent of global market, 0.2 percent CAGR), Mexico ($6 billion, 3 percent of global market, 1.9 percent CAGR), Colombia ($2.3 billion, 0.8 percent CAGR), Peru ($1.9 billion, 5 percent CAGR), Argentina ($1.1 billion, 26.4 percent CAGR), and Ecuador ($1.2 billion, 2 percent CAGR), and Argentina ($1.1 billion, 26.4 percent CAGR). Argentina’s growth is fueled by high inflation.

While Cosmetics and Personal Care products remain the top category at 61 percent, 2019 showed a second year of decline from a high of 66 percent in 2017. Nearly 13.4 million independent representatives were direct sellers.


There are ten billion dollar markets in the Asia-Pacific region, which generated 44 percent of global retail sales. In 2019, Asia-Pacific sales totaled $78.9 billion, a decrease of 10.3 percent. The 3-year CAGR stood at -1.8 percent. 68.4 million independent direct sellers represented products and services here. That was 57 percent of the global total. Wellness products comprised 51 percent of all sales (up nearly 10 percentage points from 2018), with Cosmetics and Personal Care at 23 percent.

The complexities of the China market—the largest within Asia-Pacific—loomed large in 2019, as the government cracked down on the direct selling industry following unsubstantiated cancer cure claims by a Tianjin-based health and wellness products company. The resulting “Hundred Days of Action” prompted investigations, revoked the selling rights for 49 products and took a toll on sales which dropped by 30 percent. U.S. wellness companies like Herbalife Nutrition, Nu Skin and USANA suffered second quarter losses, reset expectations for the remainder of 2019 and slowly gained traction.

China’s $24 billion in estimated retail sales—13 percent of global market—for 2019 was $10.3 billion off 2018’s mark. The closed nature of China’s market resulted in the use of data estimates from the most reliable sources available. The WFDSA Global Research Sub-committee agreed the governmental halt and 100-day review of the promotion and sales of health products during Q1 of 2019 was the primary cause for China’s sales decline.

With 89 percent of American consumers utilizing some form of social media, nearly half said they welcomed online contact from direct sellers regarding business opportunities.

“While this review was not specifically related to the direct selling, it did have a significant impact on many companies. This also impacted the availability and reliability of some of our data sources. There is no other significant change in the China data beyond this factor. We expect to see the impact of COVID-19 reflected in the 2020 data, but was not a noteworthy impact in 2019,” the Sub-committee reports.

As a result of these in-market, temporary changes, China fell to a number two ranking in the Billion Dollar Markets list and it brought their 3-year CAGR to -9.7 percent. Independent representative numbers also declined sharply from 5.6 million in 2018 to 4.1 million in 2019.

But Asia-Pacific’s story was not limited to China. Nine other countries rank on the 2019 Billion Dollar Markets list. India marked significant growth, generating more than $260 million more dollars in estimated retail sales over 2018 with a total of $2.5 billion and a CAGR of 16.3 percent. Malaysia’s forward momentum was reflected in a growing CAGR of 11.6 percent, sales at $6.1 billion, and 3 percent of global market.

The performance of the remaining Asia-Pacific billion dollar markets were as follows: Australia ($1.2 billion, -3.8 percent CAGR), Indonesia ($1.6 billion, 12.8 percent CAGR), Japan ($15.6 billion, 9 percent of global market, -0.2 percent CAGR), Korea ($17.7 billion, 10 percent of global market, 1.7 percent CAGR), Philippines ($1.5 billion, 8.6 percent CAGR), Taiwan-China ($3.7 billion, 2 percent of global market, -1.3 percent CAGR) and Thailand ($3.0 billion, 0.0 percent CAGR).

European Union

Remaining steady at 21 percent of global share, Europe is the third largest regional direct selling market in the world and continues to grow (1.3 percent CAGR). Overall, European direct selling recovered from a slight downturn in 2018 by posting a 0.8 percent uptick in 2019 and reported $37.9 billion in collective estimated retail sales. $33.8 billion were generated by European Union markets.

Direct sellers numbered over 14 million with 7.0 million residing in the EU. Wellness (32 percent), Cosmetics and Personal Care (25 percent), and Household Goods and Durables (14 percent) rounded out the top three European product sales categories.

The WFDSA Global Research Subcommittee agrees that the governmental halt and 100-day review of the promotion and sales of health products during Q1 of 2019 was the primary cause for China’s sales decline.

Marie Lacroix, executive director, SELDIA-The European Direct Selling Association, says sales in 2019 were driven by strong national markets in Germany and France, but also by smaller markets in the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, as well as Romania. Brexit’s impact has already shown itself through decreases in U.K. sales.

Germany’s $17.5 billion in estimated retails sales ranked fourth overall and was 10 percent of global market. They experienced a 5.0 percent increase in 2019 and a 2.9 percent CAGR. France was the only other billion-dollar European market to show gains in 2019 with sales of $5.2 billion, 3 percent of global market, and a 2.7 percent CAGR. The United Kingdom ($3.2 billion, -4.0 percent CAGR) and Italy ($3 billion, -1.8 percent CAGR) struggled, while Poland ($1.1 billion, 0.2 percent CAGR) remained flat.

“The legislative framework in Europe is the backbone of the region’s continued stability, offering companies and people active in direct selling a clear outlook over the future, as well as maintaining a healthy work environment with an increasing demand for alternative job opportunities such as those in direct selling,” Lacroix says.

Rest of Europe

Just under $4.1 billion in estimated retail sales were generated by “Rest of Europe” in 2019, a drop of 3.9 percent. The market recorded a CAGR of 1.9 percent. Russia’s estimated retail sales of $2.3 billion represented the largest market and generated nearly 56 percent of sales. After 13 percent growth in 2017, Russia’s sales dropped 5 percent in 2018 and 6.2 percent in 2019. This volatility shows in the market’s CAGR, reported at 0.2 percent.

Other developing markets within the Rest of Europe, include Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine. All but Switzerland showed losses in 2019.

Independent representative numbers slid slightly to 7.1 million, while data on product category sales was not available. DSN