Girl Scouts are adding digital marketing to their formidable arsenal of charm, cuteness and perseverance to sell millions of boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and other longtime cookie favorites.
After years of prohibiting Internet sales, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., the group’s national organization, has approved “Digital Cookie,” a platform for scouts to sell and ship the colorfully boxed cookies to friends and relatives around the country.
The expansion beyond traditional selling strategies like operating booths outside supermarkets, sending order forms into their parents’ workplaces and door-to-door canvassing is expected to increase the nearly $800 million raised in annual cookie sales. More than 80 percent of the 2 million girl scouts sell cookies every year, for about $4 a box, the national organization said.
“Girls across the country now can use modern tools to expand the size and scope of their cookie business,” said Sarah Angel-Johnson, who directs the digital cookie effort, “and learn vital entrepreneurial lessons in online marketing, application use and e-commerce.”
Under the program, each scout may have her own cookie website, which customers can gain access to only if the scout sends them an emailed invitation. No identifying information about the scout may be posted so that it is visible publicly. Another option is a mobile app that includes credit card processing and direct shipping.
The digital program begins this month in a limited number of areas where scouts have started cookie sales, and will start nationally in January when most of the 112 Girl Scout councils begin the cookie sales season.
Despite the new digital tools, scouts like Bria Vainqueur, 13, of Somerset, New Jersey, say they do not plan to abandon tried-and-true selling methods.
“I love going around my neighborhood, my parents’ jobs and my grandfather’s job,” Vainqueur said. “I’ve been selling cookies since I joined scouting when I was 6, including setting up a booth at our local Stop & Shop.
“But the digital option is going to make it easier to reach a lot more people and to take and keep track of their orders,” she said
She sold 1,351 boxes last season and said she hopes to sell 2,000 this season. Her troop, part of the Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey, plans to use the revenue to finance community-service projects, including providing food and babysitting services for needy children, and a trip next year to Savannah, Georgia, the birthplace of the Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon Low.
For the last several years, the national organization, which makes policy but does not receive revenue from cookie sales, has been asked to modernize sales, which began in 1917 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
When Wild Freeborn, an 8-year-old Asheville, North Carolina, girl scout, posted an online order form in 2009, with help from her father, a website developer, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. shut down the effort, declaring it unfair to other local girl scouts, who compete to sell the greatest number of boxes and, in return, receive prizes.
When the reality television star Honey Boo Boo, asked her Facebook fans to buy Girl Scout cookies through a local Georgia troop, the national organization also objected.
It argued that online sales did not teach girls how to sell to others directly or learn how to handle money and deliver cookies - some of the entrepreneurial skills the sales program is designed to instill.
Three years of development and testing have helped the Girl Scouts incorporate ways to learn those skills while selling online, including digital order tracking and the ability to hand-deliver boxes of cookies ordered through the Internet. Each participating scout’s parent or guardian must approve everything on a girl’s Web page, including the videos posted. Also, girls under 13 must use an anonymous designation so their names and contact information are not public.
Zachary Bennett, a video producer who is a troop leader in New York City, says the digital option is a “great tool” for dedicated cookie sellers like his daughter, Natalie, 9. She sold more than 1,000 boxes last season, mostly from a table outside their Chelsea apartment building, where “after starting out quite shy, she learned how to look people in the eye and get them interested” in Girl Scout cookies, he said.
“Now she can set up her own online store,” Bennett said, “and make and upload her own video to reach out to friends and family all over the country.”
Bennett said his daughter hoped to sell 2,000 boxes.