Why Isn’t Online Marketing Good Enough for Girl Scouts?

There have been a few stories in the news this year about girl scouts trying to sell the famous Girl Scout Cookies through Social Media avenues. Time and again, the Girl Scouts of America come out with some reason why this does not qualify as an appropriate sales technique. I’ve had this discussion a few times with different people and chose to keep my ranting to myself (at least internet wise). But today I read a story about Honey Boo Boo and her attempts to sell cookies for her friend. So I decided to put my words to paper (or blog at least) and let the world know how I really feel about this story.

Before you form an opinion or think I’m agreeing with Honey Boo Boo, don’t jump so fast. I’m not particularly agreeing with this sales method – whether her online attempts or her later in-person sales at a local mall. But I’ll get to that argument later.

First, I want to look at the way in which the Girl Scouts sell their cookies. It’s ingenious as a marketing ploy. They only sell them for a few weeks once a year. This creates an insatiable demand for these highly desired cookies. Girls of all ages are required to go out and sell as many boxes as possible – with the goal being to teach these girls 5 key skills: money management, decision-making, business ethics, people skills, and goal setting. You can read these goals directly from the Girl Scouts website. The girls are supposed to conduct their sales person-to-person. According to the website, “It’s about the skills and learning a girl gains from interacting directly with you. It’s about the experience of running her own cookie business and working with others. It’s the reason we don’t sell cookies online.”

Ok, if you know anything about my avid passion for online marketing, you might be starting to see where I’m going with this. “We don’t sell cookies online.” Ok, but the Girl Scouts have a website, Twitter page, Facebook page, and a mobile app to promote the sale of the cookies! So you can market them online but you can’t buy them online? I’m pretty sure my calendar says it’s 2013… what can’t you buy online these days? Oh, Girl Scout cookies.

Yes, I understand the value of hard work, discipline, and interpersonal skills that you can only get from direct personal engagement. In fact if you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll notice that I’m actively involved in multiple discussions right now about the value of interpersonal skills and how younger generations are losing these skills through the advent of technology. And before you think I’m contradicting myself, let me get off my tangent and back to the point…

I absolutely agree 100% that the girls should be out there learning these valuable life lessons from selling products to people directly. But as long as they are demonstrating these skills and learning these techniques, and adhering to the Girl Scouts guidelines for selling, why can’t they supplement their sales with additional online sales?

Not to mention, let’s look at how these girls are encouraged to sell to people on a personal level. They are supposed to go door-to-door or stand outside grocery stores and big box stores peddling their wares like it’s a mid-century flea market. Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh but realistically, what lessons are they learning by harassing shoppers running weekend errands? We’re talking about girls under the age of 15. Have you ever seen the attention span of a 10 year old girl? These girls outside my local stores don’t exactly exude professionalism.

Now let’s talk about the moms… I remember selling Girl Scout cookies when I was a kid too. Do you know who sold the majority of my cookies? You got it, my mom. She took the order form into work and asked all her co-workers to place their orders. What did that teach me? The art of delegation? While I sat at home watching cartoons… I wish my real-life career commitments were that easy! Now, to be fair, the Girl Scout website says “we encourage you to buy your cookies from a Girl Scout—the Cookie Professional!—and not her parents.” Sure, they “encourage” that – but really, who adheres to that policy?

This brings me back to Honey Boo Boo. She’s not a Girl Scout and she is selling cookies to help her friend who is. So is this right? You could argue it isn’t, but, for fear of contradicting myself, it’s kind of genius. I mean think about it, how many companies use celebrity endorsements to sell their products? Is this not the same thing? As long as the friend is still actively involved in the process and is out selling her own cookies, is it wrong for her to find an innovative way to sell more cookies?

If we want to teach these girls innovation and real business skills, why can’t these girls go online as eager entrepreneurs and Operation Cookiesell their cookies themselves? To be clear – this is very strongly discouraged by the Girl Scouts. I’d like to use the example of Emma Vermaak. This devoted girl sold cookies the “proper” way but didn’t feel they had earned enough for the “I CARE” program that sends cookies to our troops. So she joined in a Twitter Chat and asked for people to make donations to this charity. Originally, the Girl Scouts even retweeted her message and encouraged her. But then things took a turn for the worse and she was vehemently denied the opportunity to make these online sales (you can read more about this story on Steam Feed and I highly recommend you do).

Not only was Emma denied the ability to sell, but they gave her the excuse that PayPal is an unreliable source for collecting money from buyers. Seriously? An online payment tool that is more than sufficient for the majority of all websites and online sales in the WORLD, isn’t good enough for the Girl Scouts? But paper order forms and cash is fool-proof, right?

But then I read this article about how the Girl Scouts are now using mobile devices to accept credit card payments for cookie purchases. So I can use a mobile device in front of my grocery store, but I can’t order from the comfort of my living room?

Like I said, I get that they want to teach these girls real-life, valuable skills. And I generally praise the Girl Scouts for all the great work they do. I was a Girl Scout for years and genuinely enjoyed my experiences. But it’s time for the Girl Scouts to realize what year it is and to help these girls learn MODERN skills that they can actually use in their future.

Cookies are a business and they should be sold as a business. The girls should be using real and appropriate measures to sell as many cookies as they want or are able to. I don’t know any successful companies who would tell their employees that they can’t employ modern or innovative sales techniques to boost sales and revenue. We live in an era of innovation and vast technological opportunities – let these girls learn these skills, on top of interpersonal skills so that they can actually succeed in life.



3 thoughts on “Why Isn’t Online Marketing Good Enough for Girl Scouts?

  1. I understand some of your points. Personally, I’m not going to take a stance on this issue one way or the other: I’m happy to leave it up to to the Girl Scouts to do this how they want to do it. But a couple of points regarding online sales:

    1. There’s could be a fulfillment challenge with online sales that is not present in their current model: I can understand them not wanting to get into the business of shipping. But what if individual Girl Scouts want to take that on, why should they be precluded? Well, if the rule is that you turn in 100% of the money you collect then the only way to pay shipping costs would be out of pocket and I can understand the Girl Scouts wanting to prevent that, especially since there’s really no need for it (I mean, come one: realistically there is almost no one in this country for whom it’s a particularly big challenge to scare up some Girl Scout Cookies the traditional way). But I’ll note that if credit cards are now being used for some payments there are fees there and if that’s okay, it’s hard to argue that shipping fees shouldn’t be. And what if the buyers were willing to pay shipping so that the Girl Scouts still made as much money as with in-person distribution? And finally, just because an order is placed online doesn’t mean that it can’t be fulfilled in person. Along those lines, I just placed an “online” order myself: I emailed a friend who is the father of a Girl Scout and ordered cookies from him. So maybe they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying that they don’t want to get into shipping and fees and such that come with online sales where the reality is that there are certain online sales they could do and still make as much money as they do in their current model.

    2. Girl Scout Cookies are not sold at the same price everywhere (the Girl Scout website indicates that each of the 112 local Girl Scout councils has the right to set its own price for the cookies) and there may be a fear that online sales by low-priced councils would undercut in-person sales in the areas of other councils (this obviously assumes shipping which, as I noted above, doesn’t have to be allowable in order for online sales to be permissible). Or, it may be a recognition that, at the very least, the price differential would give an advantage in online sales (again, assuming shipping was permissible) to those who could sell at the lowest price. In other words, it may be a turf war.

    Anyway, those may or may not be good reasons and, more importantly, they may or may not be the Girl Scouts’ reasons but at the end of the day, the Girl Scouts are going to do what they want. However, there’s nothing wrong with putting pressure on them! Either they will bend or they will not; we shall see.

    By the way, what’s too bad is that in so much of the country now, it’s simply not safe to send kids around to sell cookies door-to-door (of course, it can still be done, it just requires a parental escort these days).

    • Thank you for your feedback Joshua. And yes, there are some logistical challenges with online orders when shipping gets involved. In the case of Emma, however, the orders were for charity so there would have been no need for shipping. But I do see the issue with people wanting to order online for their own personal purchases and having to work out shipping costs. I didn’t realize that the prices varied, and aren’t a set standard, so again I do see that issue for online sales. But again this brings up interesting business applications – either you make them a standard price across the board or you leave them open to independent pricing and teach the girls valuable lessons about pricing for their market, as well as competition.
      You’re right though, the Girl Scouts will do whatever they want, whether I voice my opinion or not. But I wish that they would look at the broader scope of the skills they are trying to teach.

  2. Pingback: Why Isn’t Online Marketing Good Enough for Girl Scouts? | Jenn’s Trends | Facebook Page Experts 770-866-2561

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