As the rest of the world has rushed to embrace all things digital, the Girl Scouts has remained resolutely old school. For years, the organization was actively anti-Internet, ensuring that all cookie orders were placed offline. That is no longer the case.
The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., the group's parent organization, just announced that it will allow online cookie sales starting next season (although individual scout councils must first vote to approve the measure).Welcome to the digital age, ye Girl Scouts of America.
So why -- after years of resistance -- are the Girl Scouts finally deciding to dive headfirst into online sales?
"The cookie program is so much more than you and I enjoying our Thin Mints. The girls learn how to run their own businesses," says Kelly Parisi, Chief Communications Executive of GSUSA. Up until now, however, there was no way for the scouts to learn real-world, applicable online business skills through the program. By adding a digital layer, the girls "learn about online financial safety, communicating with customers via email, managing virtual money and creating dashboards on which they can track their inventory and sales."
The digital initiative also familiarizes the girls with computers, a big plus in an age where high-paying fields such as computer science and engineering remain stubbornly male-dominated. Participating scouts will be able to set up and customize either a mobile app or website on the organization's "Digital Cookie" platform, uploading information such as how much money they hope to raise, how close they are to meeting their goal (a la Kickstarter) and how the money will eventually be spent.
While the Girl Scouts' mission has always focused on business strategy, this foray into digital sales changes the nature of the game, providing scouts with more information on customer data and overarching buying trends. "They can see that Aunt Susie bought 20 boxes of Thin Mints last year," says Parisi and thus develop a sales strategy that capitalizes on that information: Perhaps Aunt Susie would like to renew her order or possibly up it by five boxes? "It allows them to start understanding and tracking their customers." As any small business can tell you, that's an important skill.
Although Parisi is quick to emphasis that digital sales will compliment offline sales, not replace them, a scout's ability to target customers online will likely alter the cookie-selling success equation, elevating the importance of an effective digital-sales strategy over the sheer number of hours spent pounding the pavement.
That said, the Girl Scout's top sellers already understand the value of developing a business strategy, including the importance of scouting out good locations, identifying peak selling hours and developing a trademark look that sets them apart from the competition.
Now, they'll have the opportunity to adapt these offline sales strategies to master the digital-cookie sales market.