Buying stamps is painful, or, philately will get you nowhere
February 22, 2015
Buying stamps is… painful.
My local post office is rather poorly reviewed: long lines, broken machines, etc. Sometimes e.g. grocery stores will carry stamps, but there’s no way to know in advance. So how do I get stamps and get on with my life?
Ominously, the “Easy Ways to Buy Stamps” section on usps.gov is… blank.
Well, in today’s era of instant gratification, I’m sure I can buy some stamps online somewhere, right?
Yes! There are a few options. All not great!
Buy stamps on Amazon.com
This is the least terrible option of the three. Here’s the best deal I could find, 20 stamps for $14.10, a 44% markup!
Amazingly, the markup increases if you buy more. 100 stamps will set you back $72.95, which is a 49% markup.
Buy stamps on stamps.com
Oh, awesome, I can just buy stamps and print them at home! This is the promise of stamps.com.
I have to sign up for an account? Well, that’s annoying, but I guess I’d have to do that anyway. These “security questions” are serious business. For stamps. But there are a couple here that are innocuous.
Fortunately, they also opt you in to promotional mailings.
Oh, there’s more. What’s a Postage Account Credit Card Authorization? Ah, a quick Google reveals an application that I need to make to the government.
And… stamps.com costs $16 a month. Hm.
Buy stamps on USPS.gov
USPS has a not-extremely-horrible storefront that you can use to buy stamps. And they’re all priced appropriately.
Great! I’ll just add these Charlton Heston stamps to my cart, and click Checkout.
OK, I need to create an account. That’s fair. The password requirements are insane, though. And they’re coupled with incredibly easy-to-solve security questions.
It does work, in the end. But how many people are making up a one-time-use password to fit with these requirements? And then never coming back? And why isn’t there a much simpler checkout process for getting stamps, especially since the USPS should be able to match the name on the card to your address using its own database?
How this could work
Buying stamps online should be really simple.
A one-page checkout form should be sufficient. Offer a limited selection of stamps, perhaps even just one type, along with quantity options. Allow payment by credit card, but only ship to the billing address on the card, to reduce the potential for fraud. Do this all on the same page, without requiring someone to set up an account.
In fact, shipping should be free on any order from the USPS. The marginal cost for the USPS to do that is almost zero, more stamps means more revenue, and offering the product at cost, with free shipping, means almost everyone should want to buy direct.