Amazon Shatters Sales Records. Again.; Apple Plays Nice With China’s New Laws; U.S. Gov’t Says Nyet to Cybersecurity Company

Primed for purchase…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you haven’t heard by now, yesterday was Prime Day, which is basically Amazon’s answer to Black Friday deals in the middle of summer. Laugh and poke fun all you want. But if you do, the joke’s on you. Because according to preliminary figures from Amazon, not only were sales up 60% over last year’s Prime Day, but “Prime” sales for July 11 even blew past 2016’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact, Amazon called it it’s “biggest day ever.” To be fair, this year’s Prime Day was 30 hours long, compared with last year’s 24 hours. But it wasn’t just about the deals that has Amazon all giddy today. Prime Day also brought in a significant amount of brand-spanking new Prime members.  Because as everyone on Amazon already knows, if you want those super deals, you need to be a Prime member, and yesterday saw more Prime membership sign-ups than any other time in Amazon’s history. As for the most popular Prime purchase, that would be the Echo Dot for the ultra-bargain price of $34.99, which usually sells for around $50. The most popular non-Amazon item sold in the U.S. on Prime Day was an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. I could not make that up if I tried.

Apple of China’s eye….

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Image courtesy of ponsuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Leave it to Apple to not let some vague, burdensome, newly enacted cyber-security legislation get in the way of setting up a data center in China. China’s new cyber-security laws require that any data collected on its citizens needs to be stored on servers in China. If companies want to transfer any of that information, they need to go through regulatory review and approval…in China. For Apple, complying with Chinese law means an opportunity to improve the speed and reliability of the company’s products and offerings. While other foreign firms are still busy complaining about these new regulations, calling them a burden and a threat to proprietary data, Apple gets to become the very first of those foreign companies to make the necessary changes and set up shop. The province of Guizhou will play host to the tech giant, and Apple is making down a $1 billion investment to hunker down in that region of China. However, in order for any company to do legit business in China, it needs to team up with a local entity.  So Apple will be partnering up with the Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry firm, where all kinds of personal information, belonging to people who own Apple devices, will be stored.

Nyet so fast…

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Image courtesy of freedooom/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems like just yesterday when you would walk into your local big box electronics retailer and have salespeople urging you to get Kaspersky Labs security for your computer. The company already has some 400 million users worldwide and generated $374 million in sales in 2016 just from the U.S. and Western Europe. But it looks like those days are about to go buh-bye now that the U.S. government is moving to block federal agencies from buying the cyber-security software from the Russian-based company. It seems that Kaspersky may have enjoyed a much much cozier relationship with Russia’s intelligence agencies than it was letting on, and apparently even helped develop security technology for Russia’s spy agency, FSB. However, Kaspersky Labs is calling foul and said it is being unjustly accused. The company also voiced its complaint that there’s an inherent assumption that because it’s a Russian company, that it must be tied to the Russian government. Besides calling the claims “unfounded conspiracy theories” and “total BS,”  CEO Eugene Kaspersky also said “…as a global company, does anyone seriously think we could survive this long if we were a pawn of ANY government?”  But it seems that the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agent seriously do think that and said as much at an open Senate hearing.

 

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How Trump Is Dulling Tiffany & Co.’s Sparkle; Just Another Multi-billion Dollar Monday; Oil Vey! OPEC Squabbles Over Oil Cuts

Occupying 5th Ave…

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Image courtesy of Boykung/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Despite occupying some of the the best real estate in the world, Tiffany & Co.’s New York flagship store is having some sales troubles no thanks to president-elect Donald Trump,  whose nearby police barricades, protests and secret service detail have taken a big chunk out of the store’s traffic. And that’s a huge problem, especially because the U.S. is Tiffany & Co.’s biggest market, and its Manhattan store accounts for 8% of the company’s sales. At least there’s China and Japan, whose currency fluctuations allowed consumers in those regions to take advantage of a strong yen that had them picking up all kinds of nifty goods from the iconic jeweler. Mainly because of that, the company posted a surprise 1.2% sales increase – the first sales rise in eight quarters. Same store sales didn’t fare as badly either, even though experts thought they would. Instead of declining an expected 2.8%, they fell just 2%. In the United States, presumably in locations where Trump does not reside, Tiffany & Co. experienced a smaller than expected drop, falling just 2% compared to last year at this time. The luxury jeweler scored a $95 million profit, pulling down 76 cents per share on sales of $949.3 million. Analysts only expected 67 cents to be added to shares with sales totaling $923.7 million.

Shattered…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Move over $3.36 billion. Move over $3.39 billion. The original sales estimates for cyber-Monday proved no match for the actual numbers. Adobe Digital Insights whipped out the results for this year’s post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza, which blew estimates out of the water and came in at a whopping $3.45 billion – over a 12% increase from last year’s cyber-Monday purchases. But what’s super weird is that apparently there were less deals on cyber-Monday than on Black Friday. However, Black Friday’s numbers were looking awfully green as well, setting a record with a 22% increase over last year and coming in at just $110 million less than cyber-Monday. Some analysts were a bit concerned that the abundance of web sales on Thanksgiving would put a dent in cyber-Monday’s digits. But wouldn’t you know it? That didn’t happen. Purchases made using Wall-Mart’s app jumped 150% while Amazon is expecting to report its best cyber-Monday. Ever. But you’re just going to have to take their word for it. As for losers, look no further than Macy’s. Perhaps it was karma for opening its doors at 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, but the company experienced outages on its website that kept a lot of shoppers from making a lot of purchases on the company’s site. The amount of money the retailer likely lost was probably not enough to offset the fact that it opened its doors on Thursday. Boohoo.

Why can’t we oil just get along?

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Image courtesy of Rawich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, also known as OPEC, is having a big fancy meeting in Vienna tomorrow. At issue is the problem that there is way too much oil floating around all over the world. This oil glut is making oil prices low which makes for really good prices at the pump. However, the countries that produce all this oil don’t like that one bit and are trying to agree on how to fix it so that prices go up again and they can start making cold hard cash. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are the biggest oil producers and the logical step would be for each country to cut their production. But none of them want to do that. There’s a lot of ego involved. It’s like color war, but with actual valuable commodities at stake, besides national pride. Saudi Arabia is proposing cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day. However, Iran’s not down for making any cuts because it feels it needs to make up for lost time from all those years of Western sanctions it faced – and totally deserved – and still does deserve. Iraq is using ISIS as a very convenient, if somewhat legit excuse since it is, after all, fighting a war against a psychopathic terrorist organization, and the money it gets from selling oil helps fund that lofty endeavor. Rumor has it that Iran and Iraq are coming around but no word on whether Saudi Arabia will play ball. So stay tuned to see if and when more OPEC drama plays out, and how this drama will affect your wallet and your green car aspirations.

 

FAA Wants to Get to Know Your Drone$; Green Monday Momentum; Yahoo Shareholder’s Big Plans for CEO

Just put it on my tab…

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Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was just a matter of time before the FAA started making some cold hard cash off of those drones that have only just begun to captivate your attention. If you happen to own one of those expensive high-flying devices, then you have until February 19 to register your remote-controlled toy. Look for a brand-spanking new website, to be unveiled by the FAA on December 21, telling you all the info you need to register your drone with the agency. Be prepared to shell out a whopping…$5. But if you do it within the first thirty days – by January 20 – you’ll get your whole $5 back. At least that’s what the FAA says.  The fee, however, only applies to drones weighing between .55 lbs and 55 lbs. So don’t worry about shelling out tons of money if you have some junior pilots in your household who have a tendency to decorate your yard by flying their much smaller drones into tall trees. If you do decide to buy yourself a new drone  in time for the holidays, know that your drone wont be taking flight until it’s registered.  It’s the agency’s way of trying to get drone fliers to recognize and educate themselves about the very serious responsibilities and safety issues that come with operating a drone. After all, who wants to see another drone crashing onto the White House grounds? Certainly not the Secret Service.

Going green…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you stayed in on Black Friday and avoided your computer on Cyber-Monday then you’re in luck.  In case you hadn’t heard, today is not just any Monday. Oh no. Today is Green Monday and it’s apparently the third biggest shopping day of the year. Wal-Mart didn’t want you to feel left out if you failed to make the rounds on previous momentous shopping days so it is making sure you still get in on those deals. After all, Christmas is only two weeks away. Looking to score a great deal on the PlayStation 4 Star Wars: Battlefront bundle? Wal-Mart’s got one for just $299. But Wal-Mart’s not the only game in town cashing in on the Green Monday deals. From Target to Gap, to J.C. Penney and Toys R Us, they’ve all got a coupon or discount for you. Of course Amazon has also got your back. It’s just that the e-commerce giant is simply calling it Day 9 of Amazon’s “12 Days of Deals.”

Will heads roll?

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Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is losing some shareholder fans. New York-based investment firm SpringOwl presented its own turnaround plan to the Yahoo board and its first order of action would be to oust Ms. Mayer. But she’s not the only one who would find herself out of a job. The plan also calls for reducing Yahoo’s workforce from 12,000 down to 3,000. The problem for SpringOwl is that Ms. Mayer would get a very generous $25 million severance compensation payout, a check that Yahoo’s board would prefer not to write. Besides, Mayer is on maternity leave and I’m pretty certain there are some major HR issues when you try and fire somebody who just had a baby – or two in this case. SpringOwl also does not agree with most of the other board members who feel that the best course of action is to sell off its main internet biz.  But SpringOwl Managing Director Eric Jackson wants to lose some of those pesky board members anyway, while going back to the old Yahoo logo in the process. As for those 9,000 employees, maybe losing their jobs wouldn’t be the worst thing since Mr. Jackson would also like to get rid of the $450 million in employee perks.

It’s Not Puerto Rico’s De-fault. Yet; VW Sales Stink Worse Than Emissions; Amazon Coasts to Black Friday Sales Highs

In the name of the ‘claw’…

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Image courtesy of Pansa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The good news is that Puerto Rico didn’t default on a scheduled loan payment today. That’s awesome news if only because defaults have a nasty little way of creating lawsuits and freaking out investors. The bad news is that the commonwealth does expect to default on a payment down the road even if it did just manage to eke out a $354 million payment today on principal and interest bonds. Of that $354 million, $267 million of that was guaranteed by Puerto Rico. Phew. All this happened even as the commonwealth continues to talk – and plead, no doubt – with its creditors to get them to eat some of that ugly $70 billion debt looming menacingly above its economy. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla explained that Puerto Rico is running out of money which is a fact that has failed to surprise… no one. The Governor used a “Clawback Provision” for top priority payments that carry constitutional protection. In this case, revenues that were promised to public corporations were instead clawed back (catchy, huh?) and used to keep public services operating. Not sure who wins here. In any case, if Puerto Rico defaults on a payment at some point in the future, it wouldn’t be a first. The commonwealth already defaulted on a $58 million payment back in August when it paid a very very small portion of it to the tune of $628,000. Another zero added to the end of that check might have mitigated the situation even a smidge. Or not.

No good November…

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Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sales at Volkswagen dropped a lot, much to the surprise of…no one. Still unable to shake off its emissions software rigging scandal, the car company saw November sales tank a whopping 25%, selling just under 24,000 cars even when ridiculously deep discounts were being offered on VW automobiles. Especially hit hard were sales of Jettas and Passats. Passats were actually down 60%! Even those adorable Beetles saw sales decreasing 39%. Oddly enough, sales of its crossover vehicle, Tiguan, were up 88%, having sold 3,907 of them. Go figure. I guess the price was right. Really right. Experts, however, feel numbers could pick up, albeit slightly, if VW would just share with the rest of the world its plan -assuming they actually have one – of how it intends to right its wrongs and repair the offending vehicles that continue tooling around our roads, polluting the air we breath. There are some 500,000 cars in the U.S. that need some fixing as they are emitting 40 times the legal limit of pollutants. And did I even mention that the scandal has spread to India where another 323,700 of the company’s automobiles were just recalled? Well, I just did now so…you’re welcome.

Sales away…

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Image courtesy of atibodyphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In more unsurprising news, Amazon had a very good weekend and presumably excellent Cyber-Monday, as well. Especially excellent because consumers weren’t just using the site to buy merchandise, they were using it to buy Amazon merchandise. Shoppers scooped up Amazon Fire Tablets and Fire TV sticks making them Black Friday best-sellers. In fact, the company sold six times more Fire TV streaming devices than it did last year at this time and three times as many Amazaon Tablets than it did last year during this period. Another top seller was Amazon’s Echo, a nifty little device that does just about everything except for laundry, pretty much. But don’t expect Amazon to give you specifics on numbers since they don’t that sort of thing. Ever. If you happened to have been out and about on Black Friday, you might have noticed that the crowds weren’t as large as in years past. That’s because online purchases outnumbered purchases made in real stores as consumers realized they don’t have to brush their teeth and actually get dressed to score those awesome Black Friday deals. Wal-Mart saw twice as much online action than it did last year with half of its purchases coming from mobile devices. Even target.com saw major action, apparently selling an iPad every second. Does that include even the times when the site went down?

In: Tax Inversions, Out: Pres Obama’s Opinion on Them; Tyson’s Earnings Nothing to Cluck at; Wal-Mart is Shaking Up the Calendar

Invert this…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pfizer and Allergan are thisclose to becoming the world’s largest pharmaceutical company through a $160 billion merger. Even though Pfizer is substantially bigger, with a $200 billion market cap to Allergan’s $122 billion market cap, Pfizer wants Allergan to “buy” it, in a structured reverse merger all in the name of a tax inversion. It’s a practice that President Obama, unironically, calls unpatriotic and the Treasury Department has even set rules to make it difficult to execute them. Yet, the corporate tax rate in the United States is the highest in the industrialized world so that no matter how difficult the Treasury Department tries to make the practice, big corporations have too much incentive to overcome the obstacles and move their entities overseas, in this case Ireland. Pfizer CEO Ian Read argues that the U.S. corporate tax rate leaves U.S companies competing with overseas companies “to fight with one hand tied behind our back.” Once the merger is finalized, the newly formed company can expect to pay a corporate tax rate of 17% – 18% in the first year. That rate will go up to about 20%. But even at 20%, that rate is nothing compared to the 25% rate it would have to pay in the United States. It’s expected to be a savings of  billions of dollars that would go into research and development of drugs instead of the governments coffers. Of course, shareholders still need to weigh in with their votes but given the billions at stake, it’ll most likely pass.

Who you callin’ chicken?

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s the largest meat processor in the U.S., so why shouldn’t it see its highest intra-day jump in 22 months. And that’s exactly what happened when Tyson Foods Inc. announced its earnings and beefed up its projected forecast for the year. The company now expects to earn $3.50 – $3.65 per share, even more than what analysts had predicted. Those numbers were helped a lot by poultry, chicken especially. Beef? Eh. Not so much, as that division took a $33 million operating loss compared with an operating income this time last year of $153 million. Apparently, there’s a lot more demand for chicken lately. But Tyson’s earnings were also helped by the fact that the food the chickens eat, very uncreatively called feed, has gone down in price. (In case you were wondering, chicken feed is made up of corn and soybean.) Even though, Tyson missed profits by a nickel, coming in at 83 cents per share, it beat sales estimates posting $10.5 billion, a 4% increase over last year and $300 million more than what was projected for the quarter.

Cyber showdown…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forget Cyber Monday. Wal-Mart’s wants you to start your cyber-holiday shopping on Sunday night instead, which is just so…2014. Wal-Mart doesn’t feel its necessary to limit Cyber Monday to just Monday. According to Wal-Mart Chief Executive Fernando Madeira, “now everyone has internet.” As in, the high-speed kind. Consumers now have access to high speed internet and no longer need to wait until the official “Black Monday” to use their employers high-speed connections. So why, Wal-Mart argues, wait until then to take advantage of all those smoldering deals, right? To make your cyber Wal-Mart shopping experience more enticing, the world’s largest retailer will attempt to lure you in with bargains including a Microsoft Surface Pro for $599, and a 48” Samsung 4K TV for $598. But those are just a few of the expected 2,000 deals (last year there were only a paltry 500 deals) that are expected to start rolling out online beginning at 8pm on November 29. Expect to see three times as many Star Wars toys, lots of drones and 3D printers to make a nice showing. Besides, the retailer needs to up its “A” game on e-commerce giant Amazon. Last year, $2 billion was spent just on Cyber Monday. But with 21 million visitors expected, Cyber Monday sales could hit $3 billion. So why not start the experience the sooner the better?

The White House Comes After Wall Street Advisors; January’s Frigid Housing Numbers; Target’s New Shipping Policy Gives Cause to Shop

Hard sell…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The White House is coming after Wall Street, in particular, financial advisors who might be a little too loose with money saved diligently by America’s middle class. President Obama wants the Labor Department to revamp its rules ensuring that retirement advisors put clients’ fiscal needs before their own bank accounts by putting the kibosh on hidden fees and conflicts of interest. Currently, investment advisors have this practice of suggesting expensive products to their clients that could at best be categorized as “suitable”  – but not “ideal.” In fact, these “suitable” investment products could cost a retiree five years worth of savings. Investment advisors would actually now be required to follow, dare I say it – a “fiduciary standard.” Many Republicans and financial firms, not to mention Republicans who work in financial firms, are just not that into this whole new idea of revamping the rules for two reasons that aren’t likely to elicit any sympathy: 1. They’re worried a new system will considerably shrink all the money they make in compensation fees and 2. They think the current system works just fine. However, the current system, according to White House, anyway, says it has cost unsuspecting working middle-class families an estimated $17 billion a year.  So who is this system working for, exactly? Hmmm.

Bring it home…

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhoos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhoos.net

The number of existing homes that sold in January was 4.82 million. In case you were ready to celebrate…don’t. Those numbers suck. They suck because it’s a 4.9% drop from December and is at the lowest rate it has been in nine months. Nine months ago, (which by the way,  was May  – in case you didn’t feel like doing the math) saw 4.9 million homes sold. The National Association of Realtors provided us with these disappointing figures but all is not lost because, as it turns out, this 4.82 million figure is still 3.2% higher than it was a year ago. Naturally it wouldn’t be right if much of the blame didn’t go to Mother Nature who, it seems, loves nothing more than setting the bitter wintry stage for gloomy fiscal numbers. But with low interest rates and strong jobs numbers, here’s hoping spring will kick winter’s fiscal butt.

Aw’ ship…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target has graciously decided to offer free shipping for online orders on just a $25 minimum purchase – with no exclusions, allegedly. Be still my beating consumer heart. If you recall – as I certainly do – Target was offering “free shipping” with a minimum $50 order. The retailer was inspired by the success it had when it offered free holiday season shipping through December 20, this past holiday season. It was an effort to compete with the slew of online retailers, but it payed off in more ways than one.  The company set new sales records for Thanksgiving and cyber-Monday and saw 60% of its website traffic come from mobile users. Once upon a time Amazon also offered free shipping with a $25 minimum purchase but alas, its investors got their way and Amazon was forced to up its minimum to $35. In the meantime, Walmart, while raising its minimum wage, has yet to change their free shipping policy, which offers the perk on only certain “eligible orders,” which seems a little too open to interpretation, as far as I’m concerned. Target also has big gigantic plans to open online fulfillment centers and if that doesn’t bode a Target/Amazon smack down then I don’t know what does. Target’s inventive digital app has also been doing particularly well in the popularity contest picking up a couple new million users and shooting past that pesky $1 billion promo sales mark.

 

Cyber-Monday Madness; Move Over George Clooney, There’s a New Robot in Town; Cyber-Cookie Scouting

Monday cyber blues…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cyber-Monday is expected to be a little less cyber and a lot more Monday thanks to promotions that started a lot earlier than Monday and are lasting a whole lot longer past Monday. The National Retail Federation is expecting 127 million shoppers to log on and purchase some of their holiday shopping from their computer. That may seem like a huge number except that last year saw 131 million people doing some of their shopping online. Some of this has to do with the fact that a lot of deals can be had in stores as well as online. This past Thanksgiving weekend saw 5.3% fewer shoppers with 11% less money spent. However, do not despair, as this Cyber Monday alone is expected to rake in some $2.5 billion (though to be fair, it is going to be a “Monday” that lasts several days).

Mr. Roboto…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Continuing the cyber-Monday theme, Amazon.com expects this to be its biggest cyber-Monday yet. Last year the online marketplace shipped off 36.8 million items worldwide, which comes out to 426 items per second. This year the company expects to surpass that. So it’s a good thing it’s employing a fleet of 15,000 robots that it purchased (presumably not from Amazon.com) from Kiva Systems a few years ago for $775 million. The robots will be used to “pick and pack” and are expected to reduce shipping time from hours to mere minutes, according to a company spokesperson. But it’s not just Amazon that has hopped on the robotic train. Just ask George Clooney – who has been unceremoniously replaced by a robot charmingly called Pepper to become the new “face” of Nespresso in Japan. Approximately 1,000 stores across the country are expected to get their very own “Pepper.” I guess that was harder to achieve with George Clooney. It seems the robots’ artificial intelligence have expanded their conversational ability by actually listening to what customers say. Apparently the same could not be said for Mr. Clooney.

The sweetest things…

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Girl Scouts of America just got a whole lot more adorable now that they are getting a bit more tech-savvy as they embark on their Digital Cookie Program. Yeah. That’s right. The cookie fundraiser, meant to teach the girls a bit about entrepaneurship have upped their cookie game. They will be setting up online shops – each girl scout will get her own digital cookie website – to market their cookies and track sales. There are 2 million girl scouts milling about the country. That adds up to a lot of Thin Mints. The girls tend to sell about 200 million boxes of cookies a year which fund not just the organization, but camps and trips as well. Creeps and weirdos need not apply as consumers will need to get pre-approved by the scouts’  parents in order  to purchase the delicacies. So how does that help someone if they don’t know anybody who has a child who is a girl scout? The cookie websites will sync with Facebook pages. Surely via Facebook they’ll be able to gain access to those delightfully delectable boxes. But f that still doesn’t help, and that certain someone has no Facebook friends connecting them to girl scout cookies then perhaps it’s just the universe’s way of telling them to lay off the cookies.