Cookies Sales for Girl Scouts Go High-Tech

Girl Scouts in northeast Ohio who are adapting to modern times in how they do business. The beret and vest-clad girls are completing an increased number of cookie sales by being able to accept credit cards using a device called GoPayment, a free credit card reader that clips onto smartphones.

Troop leaders believe paying with plastic will increase sales in a society where carrying cash is declining rapidly. As the Girl Scouts prepare to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, keeping pace with technology is a priority.

Marianne Love, director of business services for the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio, told Associated Press (AP) reporter Meghan Barr, “Normally I think a lot of customers would love to buy cookies, but they have to walk by the booth because they’re not carrying cash. I know I never carry cash when I’m out shopping.”

Pending any unforeseen issues, Love plans to allow all 2,700 troops in northeast Ohio to accept transactions via GoPayment, a division of Intuit. Ten troops in San Diego, Calif., are also testing out the device this month. “I know there’s a lot of interest across the country with other Girl Scout councils,” Love said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if you see it everywhere this time next year.”

GoPayment is just one of several mobile payment applications that sprang into public view 2010, with hundreds of thousands of people signing up to use them, said Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group of Centennial, Colo., a consulting company focused on the mobile payment industry.

“Everyone from delivery drivers to Girl Scouts to baby sitters are swiping cards on their phones to take a payment. I mean, this barely existed before 2010. The numbers are staggering,” Ablowitz told Barr.

“The technology has actually existed for years, but it wasn’t until San Francisco-based Square, Inc. began offering its card readers for free that the industry really gained momentum,” Ablowitz said according to Barr.

GoPayment and other similar applications are very easy to set up. They typically charge a small fee per transaction and offer various pricing plans to customers based on sale volume. GoPayment has been on the market for about two years and charges the Girl Scouts its lowest rate, at 1.7 percent plus 15 cents per transaction. Most customers pay 2.7 percent per transaction.

Chris Hylen, vice-president of Intuit’s payments business, explained: “We saw people that wanted to take electronic payments and just didn’t have a way to do it. It’s been the fastest-growing part of our business.”

The sale of cookies from the Girl Scouts started in 1917 in Muskogee, Okla., when Girl Scouts began baking cookies at home with their mothers, said Michelle Tompkins, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA. Commercial sales began in 1935 and this year will net nearly $714 million to cookie sales this year.

Commercial kitchens do all the baking these days of course and receive a small portion of the profit. The remainder goes to local troops who are free to use the money for whatever they like. Some troops decide to pool their funds to travel abroad, while others donate money to charity.

Mobile payments are a natural for most of the girls, said Gwen Kolenich, a troop leader in Parma, a Cleveland suburb. “This is something that makes it easy because we’re now in a touch generation. So being about to offer this kind of payment method and technology to girls is right up their alley.”

Linda Bellomy, bought 10 boxes and donated them to the troops, and used her credit card because she never carries cash anymore. “I gave her my card, they zipped it through, and they actually were able to key in an email address that my receipt goes to,” she said.

About 30 miles away in Parma, the Girl Scouts pulling their wagon from door to door encountered a problem that can’t be fixed by technology. Most people weren’t home to answer the door.

An iPhone application called “USA Cookie Finder,” is another digital convenience that was recently introduced. It uses GPS technology to pinpoint the user’s location and map out the nearest cookie sales. Users can even post cookie sale locations on Twitter and Facebook.

“When it comes to technology, I think the best way to sum up Girl Scouts is: We are where the girls are,” Tompkins said. “We listen to what they say. And when they tell us that they are on Facebook, then we go on Facebook.”

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