From “Little Dot” to Dot-Coms: the Evolution of Direct Selling at Avon

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About Avon
Everyday, Avon brings beauty to the lives of women all over the world. At Avon, beauty means finding the right lipstick shade for a customer; providing an earnings opportunity so a woman can support her family; and enabling a woman to get her first mammogram. Beauty is about women looking and feeling their best. It’s about championing economic empowerment and improving the lives of women around the world.

Avon is a company steeped in tradition, grounded by its core values and principles as well as its vision “to be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women — globally.” You can also read the Principles that Guide Avon and My Business.

The world’s largest direct seller and a leading beauty company, Avon has more than $10 billion in annual revenue. Its product line includes beauty, fashion and home products, with such well-recognized brand names as Avon Color, ANEW, Skin-So-Soft, Advance Techniques, Avon Naturals and mark.  More products carry the Avon name than any other brand in the world.

From “Little Dot” to Dot-Coms: the Evolution of Direct Selling at Avon

Ever since Avon unveiled its first product 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.

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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.

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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.

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Harnessing Technology

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.

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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,” says Angie Rossi, Group Vice President, North America Sales. “There will always be a space for relationship-based service to the consumer.”

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