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Tough Cookie: Should Girl Scouts Sales Stay Offline?

Photograph by Getty Images

If the mission of the Girl Scouts is to build “girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place,” they might have a harder time with at least three out of the four now that their most high-profile project is going decidedly more low-key.

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For the first time in nearly a century, Girl Scouts will no longer have to pound the pavement to peddle their Peanut Butter Patties. Despite touting that “through interaction with each customer and other Girl Scouts, a girl learns the importance of keeping her word, doing the right thing, and being fair,” girls can now sell their cookies using a mobile app or personalized website instead of door-to-door or, say, at their parents’ workplaces or outside a grocery story or other central location.

Surely it’s a good thing that scouts—and girls especially—are being encouraged to be business savvy and entrepreneurial, but it’s puzzling why that would come at the expense of face-to-face communication. Instead of learning how to shake hands, make eye contact, keep track of money and use the power of verbal persuasion, skills that most would acknowledge are going by the wayside in favor of texting and tweeting, now all a Girl Scout has to do is email around a website link. They don’t even have to deliver the cookies once they arrive, as they can now be shipped right to a customer’s front door.

Interpersonal skills are falling behind with every click of a mouse or touchscreen.

This may be the buzzier direction, but it would seem that one of the main selling points of scouting is holding onto some valuable, albeit old-fashioned tools that nonetheless aren’t going out of style any time soon. While digital marketing is arguably a remarkably useful tool, it’s not one that most kids won’t have an opportunity to learn in the coming years through even the most basic of school classes. On the other hand, interpersonal skills are falling behind with every click of a mouse or touchscreen.

While the Girl Scouts are famous for their cookies, perhaps this would have been an optimum time to develop an additional signature activity, and one that was digital-only, thereby preserving what put them on the map not only for the destination but also the journey — after all, wasn’t that the goal of the cookies in the first place? Couldn’t the Girl Scouts have asked their troupes to spend some time conceiving of another service or product that would help them learn about online commerce, marketing, design, coding and billing while not making the human aspect all-but vanish in the process?

The scouts themselves have turned their nose down at online sales in the past, arguing they “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,” according to The New York Times.

That changed, though, apparently after a few years of “development and testing” that helped them “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.”

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It’s hard to see how digital order tracking will replace human contact, although it is expected to boost revenue. A report from the Associated Press said more than 1 million scouts from Kindergarteners through teens are expected to start selling cookies online, and their revenue is expected to exceed $800 million. Surely business acumen will soar among the Girl Scouts, although it’s unclear how they’ll be making the world a better place with their heads buried behind computer screens.

There’s no question they will sell more cookies this way, but was that ever really the main point of the exercise?

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