Do You Have to Buy Products You Promote as an Affiliate?

From time to time, people ask me whether or not you need to pay for whatever you’re promoting as an affiliate, in order to earn commissions. And I think this mostly stems from the MLM world, where in many cases you do need to purchase products to “qualify”.

But what about affiliate marketing, do you need to buy the products you promote?

You generally do not need to purchase products and services you want to promote as an affiliate, most reputable companies do not require this. Typically, only MLM companies and “pay to play” schemes require this. However, it can be a good idea to buy products or services you promote so that you can share your first-hand experience with people.

Let’s take a closer look at how most reputable affiliate programs work, versus how MLM and other schemes work, so you know the key differences. And then we’ll discuss some of the reasons why buying what you promote can be worthwhile.

How Most Reputable Affiliate Programs Work

Let me start by explaining what an affiliate program is real quick…

An affiliate program is basically a special program that connects a vendor (who’s selling something) with an affiliate (who wants to earn commissions promoting that product).

Most affiliate programs are free to join.

You simply sign up, apply to the program, and once accepted, start promoting the product. So that when people buy products through your unique affiliate link, you earn commissions.

For example, Amazon has an affiliate program called Amazon Associates. And they pay their affiliates up to 10% commissions when you send customers their way:

Amazon Associates Website
Amazon Associates

This is a 100% free affiliate program that anyone can join, and it’s very easy to get accepted. Once approved, you have access to promote millions of Amazons products throughout their entire website. Including low ticket items like books, to high ticket items like refrigerators.

Related: How to Find Awesome Affiliate Products to Promote

Another example of an affiliate program is Clickbank. This is basically the “digital download” equivalent of Amazon. Where you can sign up and start promoting ebooks and digital video courses and the like, within many different niches.

Clickbank Website
Clickbank Website

And like Amazon, it’s free to sign up. And you don’t need to buy the products you promote. Just join, get your links, and start promoting.

Obviously you’re going to need to learn how to do affiliate marketing if you want to be successful though. It’s not as easy as signing up and plastering your affiliate links all over the internet, hoping to make a sale (lol).

Related: Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing (All You Need to Get Started)

But that’s the gist of how a regular, ethical, reputable affiliate programs work. You simply do not need to buy the products you’re promoting. Which makes sense when you think about it, because you’re sending them paying customers. So they are going to reward you, not bill you.

How MLM and “Pay to Play” Schemes Work

In contrast to what I just explained, MLM and “pay to play” schemes work very differently.

Most network marketing companies expect you to reach a certain sales quota, which often involves buying products for personal consumption. And pay to play schemes take this a step further, by requiring you to buy every product they offer.

And if you ask these companies why it’s required, they’ll probably tell you something like “if you don’t own it yourself, how can you expect others to buy”. As if somehow it’s an ethical arrangement.

But this is simply not the case. The real reason they require this is far more self serving, and in no way represents a more ethical business model.

Let’s take a closer look at these types of programs to see how they work.


Multilevel marketing (AKA MLM or network marketing) is a system of selling products and services through a network of distributors. And those distributors earn commissions on both product sales and by referring others into the business, who sell products.

MLM companies don’t exactly require you to buy their products to make money promoting them. Because if they did this, they might be accused of running a scam or pyramid scheme.

Instead, they have certain “qualifiers” in place that you need to meet if you want to remain “active” in the company and able to earn commissions within the compensation plan.

For example, you join a company and in order to start earning, you need to accumulate 100 PV (personal volume). And this volume is tied to products. So “product x” might cost $50 and have 50 PV attached to it. Which means you’d have to buy two of these to meet your quota and become a qualified, active consultant.

The good news is, most legitimate MLM companies allow you to meet this quota by actually selling the products. So you can just sell enough products to become qualified.

The bad news is, most people don’t make enough sales, especially when they’re first starting out, so they just buy this stuff for the sole purpose of qualifying.

And this is why you hear all these stories of people in MLM who have a garage full of products they don’t use. There is no shortage of network marketing hopefuls that buy products from the company, in an effort to qualify for that coveted commission check.

In any case, I’m not sure I would call this arrangement a “scam”, because you can just sell enough products to qualify. Which is fine. But these MLM companies are essentially creating a “false demand” for their products in doing so. Because people are buying the products to qualify, instead of buying because they actually want the product.

This is why I’m not a fan of this model.

But it has nothing on the next type of business model I am about to explain. Which essentially takes this concept a step further, into the depths of scammery.

Pay to Play Recruiting Schemes

For the sake of this article, when I talk about “pay to play schemes”, I am talking about “bizopps” where you must buy the products you want to promote. Where the whole thing is about joining, buying products to qualify, and recruiting others into the same scheme to make money.

And it often doesn’t involve buying just one product either.

It involves buying multiple products that each are higher and higher in price. The first product might cost just $47 but the subsequent products can cost into the $10,000’s.

So what happens is, the person joins at a low price point thinking this will be a good money making system. Then they find out that they really need to “upgrade” to make the real money. And there are often “coaches” who pressure them into upgrading, saying that by doing so, they will be in a position to make higher commissions.

Related: Should You Join a High Ticket Affiliate Marketing System?

Which is true. Because each higher priced product represents a higher “level”, and each higher level represents a higher level of earning potential.

That’s how these systems work.

These programs can either be regular affiliate pay plans or structured like an MLM, where you earn on multiple levels. The key difference is that you must buy the “product level” you want to earn commissions on when you recruit people. And if you don’t, and someone you recruit joins at a higher level than you, you miss out on that commission.

The whole thing basically works like a product-based pyramid scheme.

Reasons You Should Consider Buying The Product or Service Anyway

At this point, I’ve shown you how a reputable, ethical affiliate program works, and how other types of programs work that essentially try to “force” you to purchase their products, in the hope of earning money as an affiliate.

But there’s actually some very good reasons to purchase a product you want to promote, even when the affiliate program is legit. For example, you might want to:

  • See if the product is of a high quality, before promoting it.
  • Buy for the purpose of doing a more thorough review.
  • Buy a bunch of products, so that you can compare these and publish a “top 10” review list as an affiliate for example.

Any of these are good reasons to make the purchase, before promoting it.

And that’s what I do myself before I promote anything on this site for example. I promote tools and resources I use myself because I think people respect that more than if I was to just promote whatever made me the most money at the time.

I’ve also spent thousands of dollars buying programs that I wanted to try out, and then share my review to help others make a more informed decision. Like a program I recently reviewed called Inbox Blueprint for example (which I’m not even promoting).

Or for example, programs like Clickbank University, Wealthy Affiliate and Amazing Selling Machine (which I am yet to review) which are all great programs.

My point is, it’s not that you have to buy every single thing you review or promote. But in some cases it can really give your audience more value. And when it comes to affiliate marketing, your mission should be to give people as much value as possible.

Because this leads to trust, credibility and ultimately, more commissions. And it feels good to know you’re running an ethical, legitimate business that helps people solve a problem.

Bottom Line

In this article, we’ve answered the question of whether or not you need to buy the affiliate products and services you want to promote.

And the answer is that no, you do not need to do this when it comes to reputable affiliate programs. But some business models like MLM have a sales quota system in place. And there are some pay to play schemes outright require you to buy, which is not legitimate.

Either way, there can be some good reasons to purchase regardless of the business model, individual product, or affiliate program. Such as wanting to help your audience make more informed buying decisions and provide the most value possible in your niche.

I hope you found this article helpful, and thanks for dropping by. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Do You Have to Buy Products You Promote as an Affiliate?”

  1. Hi Tim. I’ve been looking at affiliate marketing for awhile now but there are some things that I can’t really wrap my head around.

    So there are these two questions that I always have: do I want to make money with affiliate marketing? Yes. Overall, that is the goal of this business, but then the other question I have is whether I want to be authentic, yes.

    But then that takes me to the idea of buying products to review them, and I know that it’s generally going to take me at least 3 years to be profitable with affiliate marketing if I am extremely lucky.

    How can I make money with a low-traffic site if I am spending my own money to review the products? If anything I am paying a hefty fine to be authentic, aren’t I? I suppose I could just return them after buying them all the time but that’s quite the hassle.

    Or, should I just base all of my reviews on reading other reviews at first if I can’t exactly afford to constantly be purchasing products for my reviews?

    • Hey Kevin,

      How long it takes to make money as an affiliate differs for everyone, but it doesn’t have to take you 3 years to be profitable. From memory, I was well and truly profitable in about 18 months, maybe less. So I don’t know why you think it’s going to take you that long.

      As for the cost involved in buying products you review, two things…

      First, there is a LOT of content you can create that doesn’t involve doing product reviews. As you learn how to do niche and keyword research, you will learn that (in many niches) there are lots of topics you can write about that aren’t related to someone buying something. And these topics are well worth writing about, as it’s targeted, free traffic to your site. And you can monetise that traffic with ads. You can also start your site this way, and ‘funnel’ that base traffic toward your product roundup (i.e., “top 10 best”) product review pages. So from the moment you publish one of those, you are getting traffic to it and kickstarting your sales. Then, you can create a second roundup page and a third, etc. once you are seeing enough ad revenue and affiliate revenue from your initial roundup page.

      That’s how I would do it if I was budget constrained. And it’s actually preferably anyway, since you’re not adding lots of affiliate links to your site right away.

      Second, how much you would need to spend on the products would depend on your chosen niche and what you’re reviewing. So you have a lot of flexibility in terms of what you decide to review, which can help you stay within your budget.

      Anyways, those are my thoughts. Hope it helps!


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