Sunday, March 03, 2013

Why Girl Scout Cookies Aren't Sold Online

At Marketing Pilgrim, Cynthia Boris is perplexed,
This isn’t the first time we’ve had this discussion, but it’s even more ridiculous now than it was two years ago. eCommerce is a thriving, legitimate means of selling a product. Yet, the Girl Scouts say it doesn’t foster entrepreneurial skills. Really? I think there are several billionaires that would disagree.

Selling online taps into the same basic business rules as offline selling – customer service, marketing, inventory control, shipping. Meeting the customer face-to-face isn’t a requirement for success, nor is learning to handle paper dollars.
That's the thought I had when somebody told me, way back in the day, about Amway's "Quixtar" online service. You were in effect being asked to sell an interface to online shopping, but you couldn't market the 'product' online. The "why" seems pretty obvious - if you were highly effective at getting people to sign up for the service via your online marketing, you would grab prospects from all over the country (or world). That would undermine the traditional MLM model behind Amway's historic success - building local networks through friends, colleagues, family members, and local networking events.

The Girl Scout cookie sales thing... back when I was young (and in another country) once a year the Girl Scouts would come to your door peddling mediocre sandwich cookies. I recall chocolate, vanilla, and... perhaps a combo back that included both types of cookie. By the time I next paid attention, somebody was showing me the panoply of cookie choices from the U.S. Girl Scouts, with big tables set up outside of stores - a very different product, and I expect much easier to sell. More recently, the manner in which Girl Scout cookies are sold seems to be this: A parent tells you, "Little Jillian is selling Girl Scout cookies again. Would you like to order some?" If you say "Yes," they give you an order form and tell you how you can collect your purchase when it arrives. Other than at supermarket tables, the role of the Girl Scout in this process seems quite small.

What difference does it make if Girl Scouts start selling the cookies online, with nationwide sales? You erode the local aspect of the business, and the funding that the sales produce for the local chapter. I'm not sold on the "it teaches leadership skills and confidence" aspect of sales - door-to-door sales are pretty unusual these days, and they are typically very closely monitored. I suspect it is parents who hand out those forms who have diminished the number of door-to-door sales - in the past you may be planning to buy cookies from your niece, but what's the harm in buying another box from a kid at the door. Now you have an order form from your niece and you'll have six, eight boxes of your favorites coming in, and odds are the kid at the door is only taking orders, so it's "Sorry, I've already ordered cookies." But if you turn this into a website design and marketing contest, you'll end up with a handful of websites raking in the lion's share of cookie sales. "Sorry, Jillian's mom, but I already placed my order."

The national organization is not without sin, here. I've seen "limited edition" candy that uses the Girl Scout brand and cookie flavors on sale in convenience stores. Push hard enough in that direction and you may as well market them like any other seasonal confection found in your local grocery or convenience store.

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