Girl Scouts Teaching The Wrong Lesson By Banning Online Sales

from the unfair-competition? dept

Way back in 2002 and 2003 we discussed how the Girl Scouts of America prohibit selling their infamous cookies online. It seemed strange back then, as the entire purpose of the program is (supposedly) to teach the girls entrepreneurship skills, including “personal responsibility and how to manage money.” I hadn’t heard much about it since then, but here we are in 2009, and once again, business-savvy Girl Scouts are running into trouble selling cookies online.

Some have argued that since it’s supposed to be about doing something in your community, selling online goes beyond that — though, I’d argue that an online community can be just as much of a community as a local one. Anyway, in the case described in this article, the sales were limited to local residents anyway — but the Girl Scouts are still upset about it. Mainly, the argument seems to be that it’s somehow “not fair” for the other girls, but if the goal is to teach kids entrepreneurship skills, telling them that some big organization is going to make sure to keep others out of your market isn’t exactly sending the right message.

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Comments on “Girl Scouts Teaching The Wrong Lesson By Banning Online Sales”

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Michael says:

Having had a sister and mother in the Girl Scouts for years I can say that the choice to ban online sells is not one of the actual Girl Scouts. United Way, which gives money to the Girl Scouts sets forth a number of ridiculous rules the organization has to follow in order to recieve the money, many of them concerning fundraising and especially cookie sales; the how and when of cookie sales are regulated by those rules. I know for years my sister’s troop has wished for a longer selling period and the ability to sell by other means, but if they do they lose their charter.

KGH says:

Re: Re: Re:

You know…this is a great comment. I had a daughter in Girl Scouts for 2 or 3 years. When I first read this, my thought was…No internet. Selling the cookies should be about REAL selling skills…

Then you posted your comment….and it all came back to me. Yes…my daughter did pound the pavement in our neighborhood….but honestly, most of the cookies sold came from me bringing the sheet to work.

That said…I still think the internet should be offlimits…and here’s why. One great domain, and one great site…and in theory, one troop could dominate online sales for the whole USA. By keeping it offline, it’s a more distributed sales, spread more evenly over all the troops. And yeah..if that requires your daughter to come begging to Dad to bring the card to work…I think that’s just fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or you could have just one site for all the girl scouts and when purchse requests are made they are sent to the troop closest to the customer. The troop then randomly gives them to the girls in the troop to oversee the sale from there out.

If the girl scouts want to reinforce personal communication, then require at least a phone call confirming the order be placed to the customer. Require personal delivery of the cookies (accompanied by mommy or daddy of course cause what pedophile wouldn’t want little girls knocking on his door)

KGH says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not a bad solution. I like the phone call idea to confirm order, address, etc. Not really because it needs to be done, but it would set them apart from a customer service standpoint.

I think delivery should be left up to UPS due to the pedophile thing. When you or parents go door to door…it’s very controlled. You send your kid into known neighborhoods. Online, and you never know where the kid has to deliver…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Sure, they could sell more cookies going online, but that really isn’t (or shouldn’t be) the point in selling girl scout cookies.

All age ranges sell the cookies. How many 7 year old’s could set up a site and sell cookies? How many 15 year old’s could? What happens in the real world is that the parents set these things up, and that is exactly what girl scouts don’t want.

They want the girls doing the work, not the parents. It is the same with those folks who bring in the order forms to work. What does the child learn if they don’t put any effort into it and dad brings in the form to work and sells 200 boxes? What does the kid learn? That daddy will take care of everything?

Hans says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Shouldn’t be about what your kids want to do and not Dad’s unfullfilled dreams?

So if I flunked out of high school, I shouldn’t pressure my kids to stay in school and get an education? Because, after all, it should be about what they want to do, not about my unfulfilled dreams. I’m guessing you’ve never raised children.

Pjerky (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Lol, its not about Dad’s unfulfilled dreams. Its about giving my kids a head start, like teaching them to read before they reach the first grade or teaching them algebra before the fifth grade.

I want my kids to succeed (or I will when I start having them) so I will try to give them the knowledge and the tools as early as possible. If that means teaching them web development before most other kids know how to write poetry then that is what I will do. However, I will draw the line at pushing them to the point where they don’t get to enjoy being kids. I would never want to take that from them.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What kids want is infinite recess, toys, sweet stuff, etc. Kids are kids. To refuse to teach and guide your kids because it’s not what they “want” is ridiculous, and will lead to spoiled, lazy, and directionless children with no goals in life. Would you refuse to potty-train a child because they would rather go in their diaper?

Teaching skills like Pjerky mentioned (great idea, by the way!) is not about forcing a child into a particular profession or area of interest. It is about teaching them how to know what they want, how to enjoy work, how to innovate and think for themselves, etc.

And yes, every parent should have the dream of raising healthy, successful children, and raising them should be about fulfilling that dream.

Pjerky (user link) says:

Ironically they are teaching them a lesson about the real world.

As much as I disagree with the Girl Scouts view point I do see one real world lesson they will get from this. That is if you are not careful, bigger and more powerful corporate entities will throw their weight around to stop you from doing something they don’t like. Whether it be competition or innovation or something else, if they don’t like it they will try to stomp on you and they can legally get away with it because the law is almost always on the side of the big entity.

Matt Bennett says:

Yeah, I gotta disagree with you MIke. Girl scout cookies are, not in the traditional sense, about the business transaction. They’re about little girls going door to door selling cookies. They’re overpriced, only sold once a year, and we buy them anyway. Really, the fact their parents do most of the sales in their offices distorts the process, too, but what are you gonna do?

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Look at is this way: The girls are learning valuable business lessons about licensing, sales territories, and marketing.

In pure business terms, each girl is given a license to sell “in person only”, the territory being their own contacts, and the marketing must be word of mouth.

Online sales would be selling outside of their territory. That territory belongs to the central girl scout office.

As for the Boy Scouts, I think you will see that their online activities are handled and operated by the main office, not by one single scout and his parents somewhere.

John D (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As for the Boy Scouts, I think you will see that their online activities are handled and operated by the main office, not by one single scout and his parents somewhere.

Yep, and every scout is given a Identification Number that they can distribute. Entering this number on the sales web page insures that scout gets credit for the sale.

Sales can occur online and are managed centrally.
Individual scouts can still market independently and take advantage of the online sales capability.
I get my popcorn.
Everyone wins!

The Girl Scouts can’t do this why?

Chunky Vomit says:

“but if the goal is to teach kids entrepreneurship skills, telling them that some big organization is going to make sure to keep others out of your market isn’t exactly sending the right message.”

But sadly, this is the way it is. If you get too successful, then you have to worry about the government coming in and ruining your work.

anon says:

Let’s see, if the organization allows it….

400,000 web sites spring up selling cookies. Some offer better shipping than others. Others are more professional. But unless they start the Girl Scout porn, there’s no big differentiator that can exist.

I’ll agree with the organization on this one. And most importantly it doesn’t matter if the organization is right or wrong, the rules are there. One of the goals of the scouts is to teach that rules exist and should be followed. Those that have broken the rules should be punished as any other rule infraction would be punished. They took an unfair advantage by breaking a rule.

And we then come back to the soap box derby of the boy scouts. The entire process is to teach kids some real world experience, maybe gain some technical skills. learn teamwork, and learn how to be winners and loosers.

NOT how to get your parents to pour a lot of money and time into the project.

Money doesn’t buy everything. It’s actually done a good job of buying disillusioned kids though.

Skippy T. Mut says:

I have a couple issues here...

1. So they’d rather send them out door-to-door with all of those pedophiles we’re constantly being warned about out there just waiting for a young girl in a short skirt and knee highs to come to the door needing something and willing to do just about anything to “win the competition?”

2. They say its “not fair to the other girls.” But we all know that its the parents that do most of the selling anyway. If Heather’s daddy works for some big company in a corporate office and Meghan’s daddy is a small business owner with 4 employees who’s gonna sell more cookies?

Perhaps its time the GSA moved into the 21st century. By selling online these girls are making more money for the GSA. They’re not making a dime on this (unless of course they’re the really smart ones that are marking up the prices). Additionally, they are keeping themselves safe by not wandering the streets selling cookies, and they are learning 21st century business tactics. If these girls really want to get with the times one of them should try suing the GSA!

hegemon13 says:

Re: I have a couple issues here...

1. No! Everyone knows pedophiles are online, silly. Seriously, though, my parents always came along and stood at the end of the driveway when I went up to the door unless I was staying within our block, where we knew all the neighbors quite well. They were all old people that bought lots of popcorn to support the one grandchild-by-proxy that they had on the block. I think a bit of common-sense parenting is what is needed to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

2. No one ever said the playing field would be perfectly even. The main goal here, though, is to keep the cookie sales local, which is sensible.

Hans says:

It's about public speaking

I’ve been the father of two Boy Scouts, and the leader of umpteen others, and we sell products as a fundraiser in a similar manner to the Girl Scouts. I think that raising money is only one of the reasons for the fundraisers. More importantly, it teaches kids how to talk politely to people they don’t necessarily know. The most difficult thing in the world for most boys (and from what I’ve seen, most Girl Scouts as well) is not figuring out entrepreneurial skills, but rather having to speak in public. This, I think, is one of the most important skills they can learn for an adult life in almost any profession, and conversing with the public is the best way to learn. This is something that would disappear completely if sales were just done through a web site.

John D (profile) says:

Re: Low Tech

Isn’t the point of Boy and Girl Scouts to teach low tech approaches to every day things? Knot tying, fire making, survival in the wilderness? Isn’t the point to teach children how to survive if they don’t have modern day conveniences?

Um… No.

The “point” of both organizations is summed up in their respective mission statements:

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

The knot tying, fire making, wilderness survival, etc, etc, are tools these organizations use to teach their chosen core values and to make learning them fun. They are not “the point”.

Anonymous Coward says:

When my daughter was a Girl Scout in the early 90s they could not park themselves in front of businesses to sell cookies, they had to go door to door, use friends and family or the traditional tried and true have mom and dad do it at work. Now certain members of certain troops (read depends upon who you are and who you know, fairness be dammed) get to camp out in front of highly trafficked businesses like grocery stores,gas stations and wally worlds. Also it has become common practice for the more affluent parents to buy mass quantities of cookies so their child can come out out on top. I suppose this does teach the girls modern business practice:
It is all in who you know and how you can modify the rules in your favor. If you can’t compete mom and dad will buy up your cookie assets and you’ll get a bonus anyway.

hegemon13 says:

It's about fund-raising

All this talk about teaching selling skills, interpersonal skills, business skills, etc is missing the mark. The cookies are about fund-raising, period. They may have other justifications for it, but it starts and ends with raising money for the troops. It also designed to be a local fund-raiser for local troops, not a way for a flashy website in California to suck in cookie orders from Louisiana. The Girl Scouts organization runs the show on this, and it is perfectly reasonable for them to set regulations that keep the fund-raiser to its intended purpose: providing a way for people to support their local troops.

Now, you say this instance only involved local sellers. That may be, but allowing it sets up what we like to call a gray area. It would require individual review of each situation to determine whether they are servicing only local customers. It would also require some sort of occasional check to ensure they haven’t started cheating the system after initial approval. Considering the Girl Scouts just laid a bunch of people off, I don’t think that is where they want to spend their labor. It’s easier and, in the current climate, more fair to just have the blanket policy.

Vince says:


Forgetting fair, skills learned, etc, what about the simple fact that allowing online sales would cause all sales to go through a very small number of individuals/troops/etc? Do you really think that a hundred thousand individual troop or scout sites selling cookies could survive online? Yeah, the national organization would get their money, but what about the individuals and troops?

I would much rather put up a site to sell cookies than take my daughter door to door in the cold, but let’s be rational here.

Jeffry Houser (profile) says:

Smaller Boxes This year..

Has anyone mentioned how much smaller the boxes have gotten this year? I know it’s happened w/ most food stuffs in the US, but I’ve told my fiance to stop buying them altogether. The value just isn’t there.

Instead of a case of Thin Mints lasting a full year (as it did last year), I’ll probably go through them in less than 6 months.

John says:


I see it as a franchise situation. It is quite simple. Just like you can by a franchise of a business and it gives you rights over a certain area. The main corporation handles who can sell and where. In a sense this is exactly what the Girl Scouts are doing. Each troop is running a local franchise of the Girl Scouts and selling online is not part of franchise that they own rights too.
This being said, it would be reasonable for the main office to set up a web-page that allows people to support their local troops. For one reason their are people who work odd hours and never get the opportunity to buy cookies. I for one have not seen a single Girl Scout selling cookies in the last two years, and I would love to purchase some cookies.

Jennifer says:


The most difficult thing in the world for most boys (and from what I’ve seen, most Girl Scouts as well) is not figuring out entrepreneurial skills, but rather having to speak in public.

I wholeheartedly agree. Having worked over 10 cookie booths with our Daisy Girl Scout Troop (ages 5-6), I have personally seen the impact cookie sales can have. One of our girls started out not even speaking in troop meetings and now she can ask adults she does not know (at the booth with parents present) to buy cookies and tell the customer the total amount due.

Now certain members of certain troops (read depends upon who you are and who you know, fairness be dammed) get to camp out in front of highly trafficked businesses like grocery stores,gas stations and wally worlds.

This is not true in all instances. Our local Girl Scout Council has online sign-up for these cookie booths. We have a great “cookie mom” and she signed us up for a lot of cookie booths.

I also point out to my daughter that this is how we are going to pay for the activities we have scheduled. I think it’s a nice lesson to learn that you have to earn money in order to buy or do certain things.

JP says:

Former Seller

As a former Boy Scout that set records for six years straight in my council selling popcorn and having a sister that was the first person in our state to sell over 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, I disagree with not allowing them to sell online.

My parents refused to just take the order forms to work and sell for us. They made me write a note that had my sales pitch on it, and then the would distribute that in the mailboxes at work (this was in the 90’s before e-mail took off). It forced me to make the effort to get the sales. The majority of my sales came from door to door sales. I started to try and find ways to innovate at an early age. If I had the ability to create a website back then, I would have jumped on the opportunity.

It could be beneficial to have a website even for door to door sales in cases where people are not home or they said now the first time around. You could leave the website and pick up some sales.

Just my two cents….

nasch says:


I’m reminded of the Friends episode, where Ross (standing in for an injured Girl Scout or Birdie or whatever they called them because the Girl Scouts would have sued if they had called them Girl Scouts) was outsold when one of the girls had her 19-year-old sister put on her uniform and sell cookies at the docked aircraft carrier. Innovative business model! 🙂 Does prohibiting online selling force other kinds of creativity and rule-bending? Hm…

Scott Dodds (user link) says:

Really a brand issue

I agree with the folks above who talked about it being a franchise issue – the real concern is for protecting the brand. Though I have a girl scout that sells cookies, I have no insider info on this. However, I see that the big reason people by Girls Scout cookies is brand recognition – face it, those thin mints can be had in your local grocery store under another brand/name year round. But people would rather go out of their way and spend more money on a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints. It’s all about the brand associations, which could be negatively impacted by hundreds of thousands of poorly built girl scout cookie sites every year (not saying all of them would be bad, but most would be). Not to mention the whole experience apart from selling that could affect the customer’s perception of the brand (the transaction, the delivery, etc). People feel good buying girl scout cookies from girl scouts, even if it is through their parents. This is an important brand that Girl Scouts needs to protect. If they decide to go online someday, they will need to make sure they can do so without jeopardizing that.

Ron says:


Just let my daughter join brownies. I thought they’d be doing crafts and learning to sew or do outdoorsy stuff and help their community. Instead I had forms shoved at me to sell magazines, address books and nuts. I hate consumerism and I am certainly not going to ask my family and coworkers to buy stuff they don’t need out of some sense of obligation. If the troop gets 10% of everything we sell, why can’t I just donate the 10% directly to them?
Majorly disappointed.

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