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Kids and Money: How the Girl Scouts plan to go digital

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

December 15, 2014


It’s about time. The tradition-rich Girl Scouts have finally embraced e-commerce.

And appropriately the news was delivered on Cyber Monday.

Girl Scouts, who have been selling boxes of cookies for nearly 100 years by knocking on doors, setting up booths in malls and grocery stores, and sending order forms to the workplaces of moms and dads, are going digital for the 2015 cookie-selling season.

Beginning in January, many Scout organizations plan to participate in the national online program called Digital Cookie.

Here’s how it will work: Using an overall design template from the Girl Scouts of the USA organization, members will create customized e-commerce websites that could include a digital thermometer that tracks sales, a story about what the troop intends to do with the proceeds and other cookie content.

Girls will also build an e-mail contact list and reach out to friends, family and other people they know. Only those who have received an email invite can order online. The cookies will be shipped directly to buyers — with shipping fee included — much sooner than the door-to-door approach.

While some troops will take orders for individual boxes online, others, including the Kansas City area Scouts, will sell cookies only by the case, half case or eight-pack sampler.

Don’t worry. There will still be plenty of girls selling those $4 boxes of Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties and Savannah Smiles the old-fashioned way.

Taking cookie sales online is a big step for the national scouting organization, which studied this option for about five years. It’s also about money — no question, going digital should broaden the reach of the sales force, generate more dollars for the troops and make the distribution system more efficient over time.

But Internet sales also have raised concerns from many parents and privacy experts — and rightfully so — about potentially exposing teens and younger children to the dark sides of the Web, such as hacking, cyberbullying, identity theft and sexual predators.

The Girl Scouts say they have addressed those potential threats. Given the regularity of online mayhem today, I hope they’re right.

Only a girl’s first name will be part of her customized site; no other identifying information will be listed. Customer credit card information will also be encrypted. There are also safeguards to prevent someone a Scout may not know from ordering directly online.

In addition, girls participating in online sales must take an Internet safety pledge, and there will be lessons about safety issues online.

Gina Garvin, the brand and marketing vice president for the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri, acknowledges the online safety risks. But in the end, she said, technology is a reality that cannot be ignored.

"You need to strike a balance between being safe and giving girls the opportunity to experience new technologies," said Garvin, whose regional council oversees about 25,000 Scouts in 47 counties.

While the thought of allowing children to sell cookies online makes me a little uncomfortable, overall I think the modernization makes sense. How can you teach entrepreneurship to today’s generation of Scouts without developing their online skills?

Providing the 2.3 million Scouts nationwide with hands-on website experience also fits well with national efforts to steer more females into the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

There’s a role for parents in this venture. Just as they need to monitor neighborhood door-to-door sales, they need to be good digital parents. That means being involved in the content that appears on their Scout’s cookie website and to talk to their daughter about the good and the bad of social media, the Internet and technology.

If you need conversation starters, the Family Online Safety Institute has extensive materials to help parents and children learn about Internet safety and navigate the networked world we live in.

"This is a family program," said Garvin. "We want parents to be 100 percent engaged."