Girl Scout Cookie sales go from door-to-door to digital

Girl Scout Cookie sales go from door-to-door to digital

Eight-year-old Quinn has been selling Girl Scout cookies in her hometown of Telluride since joining her local troop four years ago. Because the cookie and ski seasons overlap, she and her mom, Cathleen Sowinski, like to set up a table in the plaza at Mountain Village and sell the famous sweets to out-of-town visitors as they come off the slopes.

It’s a successful strategy and perhaps a necessary one. Telluride boasts just a few thousand permanent residents to whom local Girl Scouts can sell door-to-door and there aren’t the big grocery stores where scouts in the city often set up their booths.

Another way Quinn boosts sales: selling cookies online.

“There’s no troop in Ridgway and people in Ridgway buy from me (online),” Quinn said, referring to the neighboring mountain town located about 40 miles away. Orders made through Quinn’s official Girl Scouts Digital Cookie storefront have been growing each year and now account for about a third of her total sales, said Cathleen. The scout’s goal this year is to sell 2,500 boxes of Samoas, Tagalongs, Thin Mints and the rest.

First piloted in 2014, the Girls Scouts Digital Cookie platform has become a fixture of the sales program, allowing friends and family to support scouts from a distance and have cookies delivered to their doorsteps. While in-person transactions still make up the majority of sales in Colorado, the online portal is one way Girl Scouts of the USA has modernized the cookie program to meet the purchasing habits of 21st-century customers.

The organization is now even incentivizing digital ordering. This year, the Raspberry Rally cookie, a fruity cousin to the Thin Mint, is available exclusively online. According to local families, the digital platform has its quirks but is ultimately a beneficial tool to help their Girl Scouts develop skills applicable in our technology-driven world.

ARVADA, CO - FEBRUARY 5: A QR code can be used to order and pay for cookies at the Girl Scout cookie pop-up stand at Freedom Social Street on February 5, 2023 in Arvada, Colorado. ItÕs Girl Scout cookie season. Many folks are used to stopping by their local grocery store to buy a box (or 12) of their favorite limited-time only Girl Scout cookies. But new in recent years is that you can now buy cookies online. While itÕs convenient the shipping fee is $15. Leah Watson and her daughter Lilly, 9, are first timers selling the cookies and decided to do a cookie pop up store at Freedom Social Street. They and a couple of LillyÕs friends and their mothers joined together to create the booth. They plan on having their pop up there every Saturday from 4-6 through the month of February. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Unique QR codes enable Girl Scouts’ cookie customers to visit an online store and purchase their favorites using a credit card. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

In Quinn’s case, that means helping her mom maintain a database of past customers who she can email each new cookie season to solicit reorders.

Parker resident Dale Chu and his 8-year-old daughter Kellan, who is selling cookies for the first time, decided to record a short video for her Digital Cookie store that helps advertise the products.

“When you buy Girl Scout cookies from me, you’re supporting my troop in doing fun stuff and activities. We’ll also do stuff to help our community like helping the homeless and caring for them. Plus the cookies are scrumdiddlyumptious!” Kellan says in the video with a smile from ear to ear.

Both girls are too young to run online sales themselves – as a safeguard, Girl Scouts requires using a parent’s email address until the scout is 13 years old – but they do get to help set it up and manage their sales and inventory on the back end, said Rychelle Arnold, chief product program officer for Girl Scouts of Colorado.

“It is hitting all those five life skills that are so integral to all product programs. Having an online digital component hits e-commerce skills,” she said.

That’s perhaps invaluable nowadays when Coloradans are used to purchasing everything from groceries to garments with the click of a button. Online sales were also especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit right in the middle of the 2020 cookie season.

Still, digital orders have yet to catch on widely, Arnold said – only about 8% of Girl Scouts of Colorado’s orders are made online and shipped to the customer, complete with a $15 shipping fee. (Those who order nine boxes or more pay $7.50 in shipping.)

However, since the local council adopted Digital Cookie in 2015, it has evolved to include a point-of-sale system that allows in-person customers to pay with credit cards. Locals can now also place a cookie order online and have it hand-delivered by a Girl Scout, making purchases more convenient and circumventing the shipping fee.

  • Leah Watson, wearing hat, helps her daughter and her friends...

    Leah Watson, wearing hat, helps her daughter and her friends ring up an order for a customers while selling Girl Scout cookies at their Girl Scout cookie pop-up stand at Freedom Social Street on February 5, 2023 in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Girl Scouts from left to right Lilly, 9, Tessa, 8,...

    Girl Scouts from left to right Lilly, 9, Tessa, 8, and Delilah, 9, right, wait to sell coookies from behind their Girl Scout cookie pop-up stand at Freedom Social Street on February 5, 2023 in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • While in-person transactions still make up the majority of sales...

    While in-person transactions still make up the majority of sales in Colorado, the online ordering is one way Girl Scouts of the USA has modernized the cookie program to meet the purchasing habits of 21st-century customers. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Girl Scout Lilly, 9, gets ready to put a personalized...

    Girl Scout Lilly, 9, gets ready to put a personalized Thank You note on to an order to give to each customer after they buy a package of cookies. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Lilly's troop plans to have a pop-up both at Freedom...

    Lilly's troop plans to have a pop-up both at Freedom Street Social in Arvada every Saturday form 4 to 6 p.m. so locals can get their cookie fix. Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable...

    Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable life skills, including decision making and people skills. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable...

    Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable life skills, including money management and goal setting. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable...

    Girl Scouts cookie season aims to teach young women valuable life skills, including money management and goal setting. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

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That also helps first-timers like Leah Watson and her daughter, Lilly, of Arvada, assess how much inventory their brand new troop might need.

“We’re able to get a pulse as far as how many friends and family are interested in purchasing cookies so that we can base our initial order of that. That’s been a huge stressor specifically for our troop with this being the first cookie season,” Watson said. “It can be super stressful because then you are on the hook for the cookies you don’t sell.”

When you consider the many ways customers leverage the online cookie platform, about 50% of transactions in Colorado currently take place digitally, Arnold said.

“Back in 2019-2020, it was only about 25%-30% of our sales,” she added. “Year after year, we’ve seen an increase as more and more girls are feeling comfortable with the presence online.”

These updates have also enabled other digitally savvy integrations to the program that excite Girl Scouts, for instance, the use of QR codes, which will take hungry customers directly to a girl’s online store. Chu’s daughter wears hers on a lanyard decorated with Girl Scouts clip art.

“Now she just walks around and when she wants to sell, she just holds up her QR code that she has on her person,” Chu said. “She loves it. I swear to god, she’s been sleeping with the lanyard on.”

There is one issue complicating online sales this year: Customers can’t order cookies to be shipped, including the Raspberry Rally, until Feb. 27. And because in-person sales started Feb. 5, it could throw off some scouts’ projections.

“The only reason I have a problem with this setup this year is there are people who want to buy cookies and they’ll wait for the shipping, but they want to place their order and you’ve gotta like recapture them halfway through cookie season,” Sowinski said.

When it comes to digital safety, all the parents The Denver Post spoke to felt comfortable with security measures in place – primarily because they’re in charge of almost every aspect.

“I did not realize what I was getting myself into,” Chu said with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve been unknowingly conscripted into the Girl Scouts industrial complex.”

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