Economics Social Networks

Girl Scout Cookies Sales In An Electronic Age (With Potholes, 1)

Part 1 of 2 : Go to Part Two: Girl Scout Cookies Sales In An Electronic Age (With Potholes, 2)

dosido Girl Scout CookieI have a soft spot for Girl Scout cookies, and it’s not just because I love Do-Si-Dos.

Selling Girl Scout cookies was my introduction to the power of social networks.

One of those networks was geographic: my neighborhood.

I pounded the pavement, so to speak, on my bicycle. This was a long-time ago, before folks placed their cookie orders in advance. Classic cold-call selling, except that it wasn’t exactly a cold call within the neighborhood. However, a bicycle can easily take you beyond the “everyone knows who you are” neighborhood boundaries.

Do I remember if I sold more cookies “close to home” than “further away”? Nope. But I do remember the difference and having to talk myself into pushing further, one more block, one more street.

I also harangued family members into buying cookies. A much more, umm, personal social network. :-)

And my mother used her social network — the people she worked with — to sell cookies for me. As a result, I was routinely in the top sales bracket in my troop.

I learned the end of January that the Girl Scouts have entered the electronic social media space with a Facebook page and Twitter account. (There’s also a Flickr group.)

And they have developed a tool, the Girl Scout Cookie Finder, that supposedly will help you discover local (by zip code) cookie sales. Cookie booths are slated for local grocery store and malls from February 25 to March 20. Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts Cookie Finder as tested at launch, last week and again this week is inadequate and contains UX challenges.

There’s also an iPhone app. It has issues, too.

About Those Potholes: Part One, The Girl Scouts Cookie Finder

Girl Scout Cookie Finder
UX Issues With Girl Scout Cookie Finder

I tested the Girl Scouts Cookie Finder tool by starting with zip code 00101 and working my way through to 99101, with occasional forays into alternative zip codes such as 70301, when the “101” led to zip-code-not-found.

Most of the time, the tool doesn’t even direct you to a local Girl Scout organization: it says it will get back with you. On the rare occasions that it does direct you to a local Council, that organization may or may not have detailed information about cookie sales.

A Different Take On Ask-Not-Tell

Rather than helping you discover where and when you can buy cookies, most often the Girl Scout site asks for your email address, your first name and your phone number, so that you can “place an order.”

First: each field is marked with an (*) which is shorthand for “required field.” Eventually, I noticed that the phone number is noted as “optional” but my eye didn’t see that until the umpteenth dozen time: it focused on the (*) at the end of each field.

Second: “find cookies” is not the same thing as “place an order.” I don’t want to place an order, I want to find out where I can pick up some cookies.

Third: the form requires you to “opt out” to future mailings from the national Girl Scout organization. This is a serious no-no.

Each of these potholes — falsely identifying fields as required, mismatch in tasks, forcing an opt-out — translates to poor user experience. And the overall experience is further diluted by the fact that the tool isn’t always accurate.

Inconsistent Information

Up here in zip code 98036, the Girl Scout Cookie Finder tool (1) said that the cookie sale was underway and (2) directed me to the Western Washington affiliate site, which had created an informative landing page for the national tool. (Smart!)

However, according to the  Western Washington Girl Scout Council, the cookie sale is not underway: it begins February 25, the national launch date. In addition to advising me of the various grocery stores where sales were planned, the local Council landing page also linked to a tool provided by Little Brownie Bakers, one of  two licensed Girl Scout cookie vendors, which would provide specifics on time and place for the entire sales period. (Score!)

Little Brown Bakers FTW!

I decided to see what would happen if I input 30101 into the Little Brownie Bakers tool. That’s the zip code I used when the Girl Scouts tool asked me to sign up to “place an order”  from Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta.  The Little Brownie Bakers tool provided detailed information about sales, beginning on February 19!

Little Brownie Baker - Cookie Sale Results For 30101
Little Brownie Baker - Cookie Sale Results For 30101

In order for the sales information to be accessible by the Little Brownie Bakers tool, I am guessing that volunteer Girl Scout troop leaders have to ensure that someone from the sales teams is inputting that information. Equally important, the affiliate organizations need to share information with the Little Brownie Bakers tool, not demand an email address from an interested customer.

I don’t know what ABC Bakers — the other Girl Scout cookie vendor — is doing to facilitate sales electronically; I can’t find anything on their website except a link to the general GS Cookie tool.

But Little Brownie Bakers is doing a great job (hence “for the win” in the subhead!). Contrast the limited information from the official Girl Scout tool with what LBB provides for Cupertino, CA (95014):

Girl Scout Cookie Sales 95014
Information On Girl Scout Cookie Sales In Silicon Valley (95014)

Look at all that information! A website link, a phone number, an automagic “let me know” signup and a way to request that a booth be set up in your neighborhood.

Contrast the 95014 search with the Girl Scouts online application: the result is a countdown clock (which is confusing given that the national cookie sale is supposed to start on February 25) but results include no link to the Northern California Girl Scout Council web site to make it easy to find out more information. Whose “fault” is that? I don’t know, but a similar non-result for the Portland, OR area (which also starts early, February 18) did provide a link to the Council website but no countdown clock.

Girl Scout Cookie App - Portland OR Results
Girl Scout Cookie App - Portland OR (97299) Results (Feb 9, 2011)
Girl Scout Cookie App
Girl Scout Cookie App - Silicon Valley (95014) Results (Feb 9, 2011)

The Northern California Council reports that sales will begin on February 11 although storefront sales begin February 25, like the rest of the country:

Girl Scouts of Northern California is happy to announce that we are bringing you Cookies on Demand! From Feb. 11 through March 27 local Girl Scouts will have cookies in hand, ready to distribute. No pre-ordering necessary this year: girls will be out in force during our neighborhood Walkabout Weekend Feb. 19 and 20 and troops will be selling in front of stores starting Feb. 25.

This information should be revealed when potential customers use either tool.

The Little Brownie Bakers tool results reveal the challenges of dealing with affiliate organizations, possibly; databases owned by others, probably; and databases updated by others, almost certainly. But still they do a much better job of helping someone “find Girl Scout cookies” than the official application.

From this experience, here are my take-aways:

  • To the Girl Scouts tool developer: always provide a link to the affiliate Council; improve the app by providing a link to the Little Brownie Bakers app and pass along the zip code; ditch the “give me your email address” templated result. Goal for 2012: include start date for those Councils that begin sales before the national kickoff.
  • To Girl Scouts Councils: always develop a landing page on your website that integrates with the Girl Scouts tool and the Little Brownie Bakers tool. Include a link on that page to the Little Brownie Bakers tool, at a minimum, or actual search results if they aren’t too overwhelming.
  • To Little Brownie Bakers: way to go!

Go to Part Two: Girl Scout Cookies Sales In An Electronic Age (With Potholes, 2)

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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