‘They can keep you talking’: Shopper warns MLMs are recruiting you in-store. Here’s what to watch out for

'I was in Nordstrom rack and some lady did this!'

Daily Dot/January 22, 2024

By Jack Alban

TikToker Kate Kowalczik (@lcswkate) recently uploaded a viral clip that’s accrued over 781,000 views in which she delineates how, on several occasions, she’s been approached by multi-level marketing employees while shopping in “discount stores.”

Kowalczik highlights how these individuals will often initiate a conversation, and the familiar trajectory their conversations take until they finally introduce the MLM element of how they make a living, and how they’ve been working with a great mentor who has helped them reach the promised land of independent living, free from the confines of typical workplace responsibilities.

If you’ve never had the misfortune of interacting with a multi-level marketing salesperson you should count yourself lucky. These “pyramid schemes” are effectively sales positions that often encourage employees to engage in predatory and pushy tactics. MLMs will often have workers attempt to enlist family members and other people under their wing. While how they operate is rather simple, the complex bit comes when you’re seated in a meeting space somewhere where a person dressed in business attire begins a spiel about the life you should have: A lifestyle that isn’t bogged down by work or a set schedule with the promise of passive income.

In the case of the popular MLM scheme sold by Amway, the company explains how folks can earn money with its business model: “Amway is a direct selling company that compensates its Independent Business Owners (“IBOs”) for their own sales and for sales generated by IBOs who are members of a sales team that they support in the business, using a multi-level marketing (MLM) plan structure.”

The techniques in which multi-level marketers have employed in an attempt to try and put more people under their proverbial “stone” in the pyramid have oft-been lambasted by numerous folks online — like this one Redditor who highlighted the “old friend” strategy. A person you probably friended on social media in your teens, all of a sudden reaches out to you after years of not seeing each other. You think you’re going to a house party when WHAM, you walk into a cleared-out part of their home where a bunch of folding chairs and table wait for you.

But the approach Kowalczik explains in her video is a bit different, it’s like a real-life cold call that begins as a pantomime of engaging in a genuine human interaction. She says at the top of her clip that once you know the intention of the multi-level marketing employee, you immediately know where they’re attempting to drag the conversation towards: “Are other people also getting approached to join an MLM or maybe it’s a cult in discount stores? Because this has happened to me like four or five times. It follows the same exact set up every time, and once you get all the way through to the sales pitch like it’s impossible to unsee the set up.”

The TikToker then detailed how every one of her conversations, more or less, begins, and ends, with multi-level marketers who try and enlist her as a pyramid soldier out of the blue. “I’ll explain. So it starts, minding your own business in the store you’re doing you’re shopping and someone will like walk past and compliment something that you are wearing. From there they’ll engage you in a little back and forth chit chat in a very like socially normal way, the way that strangers sometimes will in a store. And then they’ll extend beyond what’s socially normal. I know this is happening because there’s always a point when I’m thinking why is this person still talking to me?” she explained.

Kowalczik said there’s usually another telltale sign that someone who complimented your six-year-old scuffed beyond belief sneakers is an MLM worker trying to ensnare you. They’re not shopping for anything—just ambling around the store looking for their next mark. Kowalczik says, also, that over time the MLM sales people who approach her at the store have managed to evolve their speech pitches.

“Of note: The person doing the approaching will be in the store but they won’t actually be shopping,” she added. “Like they won’t have a cart or a basket with items in it. If they can keep you talking about the initial point of discussion. They will then introduce a second point of discussion that’s adjacent. Either like…tonight, this lady complimented my shoes and then just like kept going about the shoes and brought up a different shoe. In the past, it will be like something that you’re looking at in the aisle or like the store. A very gentle expansion of the conversation. If they can keep you talking through a couple different small talks they will eventually start asking you seemingly innocuous questions about yourself until they can eventually ask you like if you work in the area or what you do for work.”

She continued, “The first two times this happened to me: I let this go on for probably 10 to 15 minutes and I say like cause I was like something, something is happening. This is very strange, this I have just unlocked a side quest. So eventually the reveal will come that this person has a friend, an investing mentor and they’re gonna retire early. I always decline receiving more information about that because it sounds very pyramid shaped.”

She ended her video by stating that she’s been on the receiving end of this same approach on multiple occasions in two separate states. So it seems to be part of a larger-national pitching strategy, and one that she hopes fellow TikTok users can assist her in understanding. “But I am so curious, like what is this,” she said. “Oh no, this has happened to me over the span of eight years in two different states: Utah and California which we got the Mormon pipeline thing happening. I tried Googling this and I found a Reddit thread where people were speculating it might Amway. But like I haven’t ever found anything from someone who actually like can confirm has been involved.”

Viewers who responded to Kowalczik’s video appear to have been placed in similar situations. One viewer shared how she was heartbroken upon learning that someone’s genuine interest and cheerful interactions with her were actually part of a sales pitch: “I genuinely thought I made a new friend until I put the pieces together”

Another person shared this sentiment, writing, “This happened to me in Target lol I thought I made a friend.”

There was another TikToker who shared how they handle being approached by a Multi Level Marketer. “Has happened several times. Now I just start yelling ‘security’ like a lunatic,” they wrote.

And of course there was another viewer who seems to have received their own “old friend” reunion message. “It’s worse when it’s someone you know and you think they’re just catching up with you’d then ask if you’re ready to be financially free,” they wrote.

The Daily Dot reached out to Kowalczik via TikTok comment for further information.

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