Click Here for Thin Mints: Girl Scouts Now Sell Cookies Onlineby
Buyers in the Girl Scout cookie market are of two types: people who are pressured, on behalf of a co-worker’s daughter, into purchasing three boxes of Thin Mints, and people who desperately want to buy three—OK, six—boxes of Thin Mints but can’t find a girl scout fast enough or persuade her to accept your credit card.
If you’re the first type of cookie buyer, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America can do nothing for you because, frankly, Thin Mints are delicious and you shouldn’t need any additional persuasion to buy them. But if you’re in the second camp—the person who can’t find cookies—the scouts understand your cookie-related pain and want to help. “The No. 1 reason people say they don’t buy our cookies is they couldn’t find a Girl Scout,” says Kelly Parisi, chief communications director of Girl Scouts of America. “We needed a new way to approach the consumer.”
That’s why this year, you’ll be able to buy Girl Scout cookies online.
The “Digital Cookie” program, announced today, will go into effect during the organization’s upcoming cookie season, which usually runs from January to April. In addition to door-to-door sales, girl scouts will now set up online shops to market their cookies and track sales like an actual mini-business. The website also accepts credit cards, making it easier for you to take advantage of the cookie stands that girl scouts set up in your neighborhood or outside your local school. Or, in my case, in the park where I run, causing me to stop midrun and buy cookies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of going running at all.
Each girl scout will get her own Digital Cookie website, which looks sort of like an elementary school-age Kickstarter campaign with a video of the child making a sales pitch. There are more than 2 million young girls in the Girl Scouts, almost all of them under 18 and many with parents who are uneasy about interactions with customers online. Digital Cookie websites won’t display a scout’s full name or where she lives. Only people who are preapproved by the child’s parents will be able to buy cookies from her online.
That may sound limiting at first—it still requires you to know a girl scout or her parent before you can place an order—but Digital Cookie will also sync with Facebook, increasing the likelihood that someone in your social circle will be able to feed your Samoa addiction. And by going online, scouts are now able to ship cookies anywhere in the world.
It took the Girl Scouts a long time to come around to the idea of selling cookies online. The organization has explored other technological opportunities, even creating a merit badge for video-game design in 2013. But just a few years ago, the organization was prohibiting enterprising girls from posting sales pitches on YouTube. Last year they even stopped Alana Thompson, star of the recently cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, from selling cookies on her Facebook page.
But the Girl Scouts needs to modernize. Cookies are the organization’s primary fundraising campaign: More than 200 million boxes are sold every year to help fund summer camps, field trips, and other programs. Cookie sales are also an important means by which the 102-year-old organization stays afloat amid declining membership and a multimillion-dollar pension deficit. In just the past year, the number of girl scouts has declined by nearly 300,000. “It’s definitely a trend we see,” says Parisi, attributing the decline to “increased competition for kids’ time.”
The cookie program is supposed to teach girls about entrepreneurship (assuming their parents aren’t just making all the sales for them, of course). To that end, Digital Cookie may be a more realistic model than forcing a bunch of 10-year-olds to become door-to-door saleswomen. “We want to help them become online entrepreneurs,” says Sarah Angel-Johnson, the Girl Scouts’ chief digital cookie executive.
Still, the door-to-door model does have its benefits, even in a digital world. “I hated selling cookies. It was so terrifying,” says Shaherose Charania, co-founder and chief executive of the tech company Women 2.0 and a former scout. “But that’s what was so important about it. It built my confidence, I learned social cues and how to sell to people.”
“Learning social-media marketing and e-commerce is really great,” Charania adds, “but I think you need that face-to-face terror, too.”