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Girl Scouts are earning their mobile payments merit badges

By Jen Quinlan / May 14, 2014


Girl Scouts are earning their mobile payments merit badges

It’s Sunday morning: coffee in-hand, dogs snuggling up on the couch, browsing tech blogs. Life is good. This routine is typically followed by an urge to do something non-digital, like gardening. It’s a relentless cycle where I fool myself into thinking I have a green thumb, I go to the store and buy some new plants and then I slowly kill them over the course of a month through overwatering and neglect. But as sure as my flower bed is dead, I find myself back at the plant store, ready to try it again.

As I searched for the most durable plants known to man, I noticed a cute, freckle-faced girl selling Girl Scout cookies with her mom. She caught eyes with me and stared me down until I was within striking distance. Sweet relief. I realized I didn’t have any cash, and could therefore say, with a clean conscience, “I’m sorry little girl. I only have a credit card.”

Moments later, she intercepted me. “Do you want to buy any Girl Scout cookies?” she asked with exaggerated enthusiasm. I gave her my rehearsed response, showing her my empty wallet to drive the point home. She grinned and lifted the credit card reader that was hanging from a lanyard around her neck. “I take Visa and Mastercard.”

Scouts go mobile, sales spike

Just when did these little Brownies become so tech savvy? In 2011, the Girl Scouts of America introduced mobile payments to 38 Girl Scout Councils in 26 states. It only took one year of the pilot program for the Girl Scouts to realize mPayments would be as popular as Thin Mints (aka their most popular cookie of all time).

Sales soared across the markets that participated in the test. According to Barrons.com, Girl Scouts in North Carolina posted a 13% increase through mobile payments. In Central California, the average transaction size grew 4 times to $80 per customer. How did mPayments affect cookie sales the following year? When a mobile payment system was available, each scout sold an additional 18 boxes of cookies in 2012. When a mobile payment system was not available, the average girl scout only sold two additional boxes.

Sage Systems

The technology behind the test pilot was primarily powered by Sage Payment Solutions. With Sage’s help, Girl Scouts could get credit card authorization in moments, view the customer receipt for verification, email receipts and ensure security, as no personal data is actually stored on the smartphone. All a scout—or their parents—needed to use the Sage mobile payments program was a compatible device, a Sage Mobile account, a data plan and a card-reading device provided by Sage Mobile or the Girl Scouts.

Sage

The pilot was such a success, Sage has continued the program indefinitely. Troops interested in mobilizing their scouts can register for the Girl Scout-specific card reader by January 31st of each year. The readers support iOS, Android and Blackberry devices (but the Blackberry setup seems much more tedious).

Intuit GoPayment

Other regional groups, like the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio (GSNEO), leveraged GoPayment, an Intuit solution. In honor of the Girl Scouts’ 99th Anniversary (back in 2011), Intuit equipped the troop with its GoPayment mobile payment app, free Intuit credit card readers and reduced pricing on transaction fees.

“We’re glad to put the latest mobile technology in the hands of America’s future business leaders to help them increase cookie sales,” said Chris Hylen, vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Payment Solutions division. “For this generation of girls in particular, running a business and being able to take payments anywhere with mobile apps like GoPayment will become second nature. We’re eager to see how sales will increase now that they take credit cards with GoPayment.”

Intuit has always been a champion of small businesses. Over the last 10 years, they have helped approximately 300,000 independently-owned establishments process more than $17 billion in transactions. And now, with GoPayment being available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices, it’s destined to assist even more entrepreneurs—especially Girl Scouts.

It’s hip to use Square

Not to be outdone, mobile payment originator Square has facilitated their share of cookie sales as well. Take 9-year-old San Jose resident Molly Robison, for example. After picking up a Square reader from Starbucks while accompanying her mother on a coffee run, this pint-sized Brownie Scout borrowed her mom’s phone, downloaded the app and took her inventory to the offices of her uncle and a family friend. With the help of her Square card reader, Molly sold nearly 150 boxes of charitable confections in just two stops.

Girl Scouts

Molly’s bootstrapping Square implementation is impressive, but it isn’t quite as heartwarming as Square’s support of Girl Scout Troops in Eastern Missouri. With the help of AT&T, Square provided a group of Missouri Girl Scouts with 60 Android phones and card readers they could rent for their sales tables. Chief Operating Officer of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, Bonnie Barczykowski, was pleased with their sales numbers and the life lesson her scouts received:

“The girls are used to using their smartphones. They use it to play games and talk to their friends, and they think of it for the fun side of things. It was neat for the girls to see a practical use for the phone from a business setting.”

Keep it personal

Although mobile payments are a proven success, not all means of digital commerce are welcome by the Girl Scouts of America. One eleven-year-old entrepreneur named Emma was all it took to show how antiquated the organization truly is.

In support of the “I Care” program, which accepts donations to send cookies overseas, Emma set up a PayPal account and took to Twitter to solicit funds for the brave men and women in uniform. In return, she received a huge amount of support from the public and a very mixed message from the GSoA.

Initially, the GSoA tweeted back to Emma, telling her she’s doing exactly what “Girl Scouts is all about!” Then, less than 24 hours later, GSoA started tweeting a different tune:

Twitter

Because Emma was missing out on those “oh-so-important” people skills, a whole bunch of soldiers missed out on their Tagalongs and Trefoils. Although it’s a shame Emma had to take down her PayPal account, it’s nice to know she won’t be penalized for using a card reader.

Future Looks Mobile

Annual cookie sale revenue is a whopping $700M for the Girl Scouts (175M cookies sold at $4 a box). 70% of cookie sale revenue directly benefits Girl Scout programming like community service projects, troop activities and to pay for girls who otherwise couldn’t afford to join a troop. If we look to initial mPayment pilot programs as any indication of how much this will influence sales, it appears mPayments can boost revenue by 13%—thus driving an additional $91M in annual revenue and adding about $63M to Girl Scout programming each year. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

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