Cookies With a Click: Girl Scouts Making Sales Online

She knocks. Eagerly waiting, she straightens her sash that's decorated with business-planning badges. Her neighbor opens the door with a smile and an open wallet, ready to buy two boxes of Tagalongs, two of Thin Mints and two of Samoas, in that order.

About 1,000 miles away, the girl's uncle receives an email inviting him to make the same purchases. No need to wait until he sees his niece; they'll be shipped right to him. A virtual knock on the door with an electronic smile.

As of Friday, the Girl Scout Cookie Program has commenced the same way it's done for the past several decades, but 2015 brings a tech twist: They are now available to order online.

"The girls are excited because it is an additional tool for them," said Lisa Shade, public relations manager for Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania. "Many Girl Scouts are comfortable with technology, so they're eager to use it to reach their goals."

Each girl will have her own Web platform, a personal page that she can customize, complete with a video greeting, a list of her goals and a countdown with how many boxes she's sold versus how many she still wants to sell. However, a consumer can't just jump on the website and order cookies from a randomly picked Girl Scout.

"Because it's an additional tool, you still need to know a Girl Scout," Shade explained. "You can't just type in your ZIP (code) and find cookies."

Call it a cookie safety shield.

Christina Brussalis, leader for Troop 50099 in the Chartiers Valley School District in Allegheny County and a service unit cookie manager, said online precautions were set for the safety of their Scouts. A link to a Girl Scout's cookie page cannot be posted on any of her social media accounts; it must be through a parent's page.

"It would be a disservice to Girl Scouts if we didn't allow them to start selling online," Brussalis said. "It's safe, and the sites are set up in a way that you're sending this information to people you know."

The digital cookie program has rallied the girls to reach out to friends and family who they wouldn't have the chance to. It also has inspired their business acumen, knowing that the more they sell, the more money they generate for their troop. And that results in more fun things to do.

Last year, Brussalis' troop achieved "Super Troop" status by selling 2,088 boxes, an average of 174 boxes per girl. It was an impressive show but short of the troop's 232 boxes-per-girl initiative.

"I truly believe it was because we set a goal," Brussalis said, adding that a June trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg, Tenn., was the objective. "We talked very clearly about what we had to do to achieve that goal, and their sales increased dramatically."

However, Troop 50099 isn't the only one with goals.

Heather Dilisio leads Troop 10102, based in Hopewell Township. She said her girls are well on their way to a goal trip to Savannah, Ga., home of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.

"(The goals) are set a little higher. . We have multiple plans, hoping to boost sales online and still doing the booth sales," Dilisio said.

Brussalis' troop is at Cadet level, comprised of all eighth-graders. She said that when the girls were younger, she didn't get into the details of the troop's finances, but now, she expects them to make decisions. How many cookies would they need to sell to fund the trip? What activities had to be eliminated in 2014 to make the savings possible?

Katherine Stancil, 13, of Troop 50099, said that all the business-related planning is preparing her adult life.

"Since we have a pretty large troop, we saw that just for food (for the trip), it was like $2,000 and it was really expensive," she said. "It helped me see that money just doesn't come from trees, and you have to actually work."

Participating in the cookie sales program is voluntary and is not required of a Girl Scout.

"As for setting a goal specifically for Digital Cookie, it's only an option," Shade said. "Some Girl Scouts might not use it as heavily. Obviously, we'll learn a lot this year about its utilization and how useful it is. It's unknown."

For those who are concerned that the tradition of the Scouts interacting with their customers will go away, Brussalis assures that won't happen.

"I think the traditional ways aren't going anywhere anytime soon," Brussalis said. "I think the face-to-face sales are important. They need to be able to sell. Those help girls learn a very important skill. I just think what Digital Cookie does is help reach people who would normally be more trouble to sell to than it's worth."

Brussalis said Digital Cookie is just mirroring what's happening in the real world, where the online market is expanding. It would only be natural to have the Girl Scouts learn the skills to thrive in the digital business world.

Regardless of the medium, the point is the same.

"They still have to come up with that pitch and build the confidence to ask someone to buy a box of cookies," Shade said. "That is a core value that remains unchanged even though the world has changed. In many ways, those values are not that different."

Stancil sees benefits for both sides of the transaction. She understands that people love convenience, but they also are more easily persuaded if a Girl Scout is in front of them, talking to them.

"I think people will be excited to have an easier way to choose what they want, and it's not really on the spot. So, if a family doesn't have the money right at the moment, they can come back to it," Stancil said. "I think I'm still going to want to go out and have our booth sales because people are going to want to see your face and see what Girl Scouts is all about." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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