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If you're looking for Thin Mints this year, you may want to check your email inbox. The Girl Scouts of the USA is expanding its online cookie sales program in order to usher young businesswomen into the digital era.
"This is more of an acknowledgement that this is the way the world is going now," said Forrester Research principal retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali. "You might as well embrace it. It's a way for them to stay relevant to young kids."
The Girl Scouts believe that in order to foster future business leaders, young women need to be adept at using today's digital tools. As part of an expansion of last year's online program, the organization announced Digital Cookie 2.0 on Tuesday. The initiative allows Girl Scouts to sell cookies through a customized website or mobile app, which it believes teaches digital marketing and skills in how to run a multiplatform business.
"It's about encouraging the science of play," said Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez at a press event.
The first Digital Cookie program, in 2014, helped sell about 2.5 million more boxes, totaling an additional $10 million in sales. A little less than 160,000 of the 2 million Girl Scouts participated in the digital program last year. Only one of the two baking companies allowed for mobile app sales.
In addition to having both companies supporting mobile sales this year, Digital Cookie 2.0 includes improvements to the e-commerce experience, including an easier-to-use mobile platform and a website with more customization options. There will also be a digital dashboard to track progress, as well as games, quizzes and videos to keep the young women engrossed. Chavez heralded the initiative as one of the ways the Girl Scouts were promoting STEM initiatives amongst its community.
Ninety percent of the Girl Scout councils will participate in the digital cookie sales program this year. The Girl Scouts of the USA hope that all 112 councils will be on the platform by 2017.
Dell and Visa have signed on as co-sponsors of the program. Dell donated money to increase Girl Scout STEM initiatives, including the Digital Cookie program. It also funded the development of the Digital Cookie 2.0 mobile app, and donated tablets to Girl Scout troops in underprivileged areas.
"We love the cookies, but it's really about teaching girls about business and teaching girls about how to be entrepreneurs," said Dell Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Trisa Thompson.
Online payment is facilitated with Visa Checkout, the company's express online payment system. However, Digital Cookie 2.0 will accept all major credit cards, not just Visa. Visa senior vice president and the head of North American marketing, Lara Hood Balazs, said it was important for them to join in order to encourage more young women to embrace technology fields and to teach them about financial literacy.
"We've been mentoring Girl Scouts who come to our San Francisco office and teaching them about social marketing and how to build a personal brand," Balazs said. "It's about teaching these girls about those skills."
While Forrester's Mulpuru-Kodali applauded the fact that Digital Cookie 2.0 was teaching young women important skills that included marketing communication, she worried that the digital program would take away from face-to-face interactions.
She also was skeptical that the Girl Scouts' claims of teaching e-commerce through cookie sales lead to any meaningful STEM lessons. Real e-commerce involves developers, designers, customer service and fulfillment operations, she pointed out. While this exposes young women to those fields, she questioned whether the program was in-depth enough.
"Keeping track of your boxes sold is very different from running a business online," she said. "It's way more complicated. It would be like bagging in a grocery store and saying you're learning how to run a store."
Update: The story originally said that only one of the two baking companies participated in online sales. In actuality, both participated in online sales, but only one of the companies allowed for mobile app purchasing.