Retail

The Season Of Cookies

A dad shared with PYMNTS his recent experience taking his five-year-old daughter door to door to sell Girl Scout cookies — a first for both of them (given her age, the daughter is actually a “Daisy Scout,” the entry-level rank for the organization).

Before the pair set out with a couple of large containers filled with the assorted offerings, the dad was doubtful about how many units they would move, given the decidedly analog sales method that they would be undertaking in a digital world. He figured they would try their best in the immediate area, but the plan was to commit a good amount of time to cover a wide swath of the neighborhood, in order to maximize their chances.

About half an hour later, they had barely gotten off the block and were completely sold out of product.

At nearly every doorway they visited, says the dad, a similar experience had occurred. The resident (or residents) who came to the door — be it a man or a woman, Baby Boomer or millennial (the latter of whom that the dad and daughter encountered were, each time, in groups) — first expressed genuine surprise that Girl Scout cookies were “still a thing,” then, being reminded of the varieties available, they couldn’t reach for their wallets fast enough to buy as many boxes of their favorites as possible.

Many of the customers, short on available cash — an obvious problem in the modern era that the dad was surprised he had not thought of beforehand — also asked if they could pay with a credit card.

They could not (the Daisy Scout troop in question had opted not to equip its Kindergarten-aged members with card readers). But, luckily for the parties on both sides of the transactions, the Girl Scouts accept payment by check.

Here, in the midst of Girl Scout cookie season (the exact time frame varies by region but, generally, pre-sales begin in January and booth and door-to-door sales run from February to March), the experience that was related to PYMNTS brings to light a number of retail lessons that can be derived from a 99-year-old industry.

 

Absence Makes The Purchaser Grow Fonder

Consider the immediate reaction from consumers who met the dad and his daughter at their doors: “Girl Scout cookies are still a thing?”

Seasonal retail is a cornerstone of just about every merchant’s business plan, but the practice is most commonly associated with holidays: Valentine’s Day, Halloween, the holy grail (no religious pun intended) of Christmas and so on. While consumers do spend more during those times of the year, they plan on doing so beforehand, and merchants, by the same token, usually expend a great amount of resources getting the word out about their holiday-related offerings well in advance.

While sales of Girl Scout cookies are built into an annual season of their own, it’s one that essentially takes people by surprise, year after year. Unless a consumer has a daughter (or a niece, or a friend’s kid) who is a member of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), he or she usually doesn’t know if or when the organization’s product will be available.

That speaks to an arguably ingenious element of the Girl Scouts’ sales strategy: The organization, in its various forms in towns and cities all over the country, spends most of the year engaged in noncommercial activities, usually related to community improvement and leadership-building skills. But each time a new year comes around, suddenly, it’s, “Hey, you wanna buy some cookies?”

And people do want to buy some cookies. The fact that consumers tend to forget about the product for most of the year instills in them a feeling of surprise and delight every time they’re reminded of it … and that happiness has played a large part in Girl Scout cookies being around a $700 million annual industry since 1999.

 

Nostalgia, Monetized

Directly related to the annual “surprise factor” that boosts Girl Scout cookie sales is that the appearance of the product awakens in consumers — primarily adult ones — pleasant memories of enjoying it when they were younger. Nostalgia can be a driving force in retail sales, whether it’s applied to pumpkin spice everything or 40 years (and counting) of Star Wars merchandise, and Girl Scout cookies are no exception.

You remember Samoas? You do now, and you probably would like to eat some.

Or maybe you’re a Thin Mint person (many Girl Scout cookie consumers are, as the variety accounts for 25 percent of total sales, according to a recent breakdown by Statistic Brain).

You forgot about Tagalongs! So good; now you want to buy four boxes. Do-si-dos, you’re suddenly recalling, provide an equally tasty peanut butter delivery system.

If you remember that “the plain ones” (actually, they’re shortbread) are called Trefoils, you’re likely a proudly unconventional cookie eater and eager to share that with the world: Your nostalgia money spends on Trefoils, too.

 

Expand A Classic Product Onto Modern Sales Channels

Not only have the varieties of Girl Scout cookies grown with the times — Toffee-tastics, new this year, are a gluten-free offering — so, too, have the methods of selling the products.

Recognizing the reality that not all consumers can make it to a designated Girl Scout cookie booth or be home when Scouts bring the product door to door, in 2015, GSUSA launched its Digital Cookie platform that facilitates online sales.

Now, in its second version (Digital Cookie 2.0), the eCommerce tool still requires the old-school element of a Girl Scout initiating the transaction (in this case, registering a consumer with the program), but, from that point forward, consumers have the option of purchasing online or in person (i.e., at booths or at their door) through a mobile app that does — the dad we wrote of might want to know for next year — accept credit card payments.

While not every retail merchant has, as the GSUSA does, nearly a century of familiarity backing its product (or the ability to sell Samoas — not without getting sued, anyway — unless it’s Keebler, which owns the Little Brownie Bakery that currently produces Girl Scout cookies; but even that company has to call Samoas “Coconut Dreams” under its own brand), it’s not an essential element for driving sales.

What matters more, as the impressive annual sales of Girl Scout cookies demonstrate, is that a retailer be keenly aware of what about its product (or products) is most appealing to consumers, leveraging that appeal in planning a strategy of how, where and — in particular, when — to market the product and, of course, making that product available through as many channels as possible without sacrificing what makes it unique.

Apply those elements correctly, and a retailer — if it wants to — can literally sell its product door to door.

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