Ever since Avon unveiled its first product more than 125 years ago – the Little Dot Perfume Set – the company has found ways to make direct selling relevant to women. Time and again, the company has innovated this ancient form of selling, tweaking its direct-selling model to fit seamlessly into Representatives’ and customers’ lives.
Empowerment and Social Networking … Long Before Facebook
In 1886, direct selling at Avon represented a means for women to earn their own money at a time when not many women worked outside the home. It connected women, who were otherwise isolated and immersed in domestic life, in what the company calls “the original social network.”
Since the early days, Avon Representatives have made the personal relationship the heart of their businesses. It’s impossible to tell just how many women have bonded while selecting the perfect Avon lipstick shade or fragrance. But there’s no doubt that this intimate “scents and sensibility” approach works; by 1920, sales topped $1 million, reaching $1 billion by 1972 and $10 billion by 2008.
Convenience, Access and Advice
With Avon on the scene, many women no longer had to travel miles on foot to the closest department store or drugstore to purchase beauty products. A visit from the Avon Lady meant the store would come to them. A customer could shop, chat with her Representative and receive free beauty advice addressing her specific concerns – somewhat of a novelty at the time.
From Door to Desk
Historically, the whole premise of Avon’s business had been door-to-door selling. So what happens when no one is home to answer that door? It’s a question the company had to address in the 1970s, once more women were working outside the home. One answer was the Advance Call Back brochure, a brochure that could be left on a doorknob and included samples.
A second solution came in 1986: workplace selling. This was a way to move the Avon “store” to a place which the customer could access more easily.
Earnings Opportunity 2.0
Until the early 1990s, there was only one way for an Avon Representative to earn money: by selling to customers. That changed with the launch of Avon’s Sales Leadership program. Representatives could earn money, not just by selling, but also recruiting and training others.This new earnings avenue could exponentially increase the amount of money her Avon business generated. It’s the reason some Representatives today are running multimillion-dollar Avon businesses.
Nothing in recent history has changed the way people interact and shop more than the Internet; the creation of a digital, virtual world has altered fundamental behavior.
Avon’s challenge was to find a way to adapt to this sea change while preserving the core personal-attention component of its direct-selling model. The company needed to marry high tech with high touch. And it did.
Always the innovator, Avon created a collection of digital tools so Representatives could use the technology - which had become so integral to their daily lives - in their businesses. Online ordering; "intelligent ordering" with prompts about special promotions; an “eBrochure;” and customized online communities all help Avon Representatives run their businesses as never before.
The Staying Power of Direct Selling
The Little Dot Perfume Set is long gone, save for a special 2011 anniversary limited edition. Change is at the core of any beauty business – shifting trends and tastes, seasonal color palettes and forever-improving technology.
But a critical constant of Avon’s global beauty business - in addition to the empowerment of women – is something that can never be replaced by the dot-com world. The relevance of direct selling has to do with what the consumer expects from service, and there will always be a place for relationship-based service to the consumer.
An Avon Representative sells door-
to-door in 1918
The door knocker was used as a
symbol for customer service in a
March 1964 campaign (selling cycle)
The 1954 "Ding Dong, Avon Calling"
ad campaign is one of the longest
running and most successful in
Avon.com as it looks today. Avon was
the world's first beauty company
to launch an e-commerce site (1996)