By Grace Wong Chicago Tribune.
Last year Katelyn Karner sat down with her mother in their suburban Chicago home and created a virtual Girl Scout cookie booth through a digital platform on her mother's laptop.
This year Katelyn, 13, is taking the reins and using an expanded version called Digital Cookie 2.0 to do the same by herself, tracking her sales and learning about how to manage a small business.
"Some people like to do it face to face, but if there's somebody that can't make it out, they can contact you and still get them from you," Katelyn said. "It was exciting knowing you could sell to more people no matter what their distance was."
Dell and Visa helped Girl Scouts of the USA upgrade to Digital Cookie 2.0, which includes games and videos that will help Scouts earn their cookie badges, as well as learn entrepreneurial and Web skills.
Dell recently committed $2.5 million through 2018 to provide hundreds of thousands of girls access to the Digital Cookie program, according to a Dell spokesperson. Many of Dell's leading female executives were Girl Scouts, and Dell has also partnered with Girl Scouts through their youth learning program and "Be the Video Game Developer" program.
"By supporting Girl Scouts' Digital Cookie program, we're helping girls expand their existing cookie businesses and preparing them to be future female business leaders," Trisa Thompson, vice president of corporate responsibility for Dell, said in an email. "We need strong, smart, tech-savvy women in laboratories, startups, elected offices and boardrooms, and this is a great start for girls to learn exactly what they're capable of."
Customers use Visa Checkout to buy Girl Scout Cookies, and Dell funded the creation of a mobile app for the platform.
Visa Checkout allows the girls to carry out easy and secure cookie purchases, said Lara Balazs, senior vice president of North America marketing for Visa. Cookie buyers will also be able to store their shipping and payment information for future purchases. According to a spokeswoman, Visa has contributed a seven-figure commitment.
Girl Scouts rolled out the original Digital Cookie 1.0 with its first sales in January 2015, allowing girls to sell and ship cookies online through their own cookie website, accessible to people who had the link or got an emailed invitation.
Digital Cookie 2.0 lets Scouts take quizzes, watch videos, play games and further personalize their pages during setup and access improved cookie sales data, with charts showing sales by cookie type and delivery method, as well as week-by-week trends. It also includes the mobile app.
"The online Girl Scout cookie experience is beneficial to girls in learning how to do online marketing and representing themselves online and business ethics," said Ann-Marie Soderstrom, communications manager for Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois.
Last year Girl Scouts sold 194 million boxes of cookies. Stewart Goodbody, director of communications at Girl Scouts of the USA, said 2.5 million boxes were sold through the digital platform, resulting in about $10 million in revenue.
Girl Scouts is actively looking for funding from other corporations, Goodbody said.
"My understanding is the sponsorships help with the technology development, so if it means that it creates more opportunities for the girls, I think it's great," said Debbie Karner, Katelyn's mother.
Proceeds of the cookie sales go toward Scout activities like camps and outings. This year customers won't have to pay a service fee unless their order is shipped.
Girls under 13 are required to have parental supervision when making their websites, but once they turn 13, they have more autonomy over creating their virtual cookie booth. Even though Katelyn still made more sales the traditional way, Karner said Digital Cookie was a great learning opportunity.
"It's just something different to try," Karner said. "In general, I think it's a great opportunity, and there's so many more features to the program this year for girls to learn and have fun with in addition to another sales method."
Katelyn said the online platform made tracking her progress easier and selling cookies more streamlined.
"It kind of automatically puts things in there for you," she said. "For outside sales, you have to manually put them in there and obviously, as fun as they are, you're standing out in the cold for a while."