Why are stores so paranoid about postage stamps?

12Oct12

I don’t go through that many postage stamps, but when I run out, it’s usually easier to buy more at the pharmacy across the street than at a post office. However, I’ve always found the way stamps are merchandised — at least in the retail chain near me — to be rather bizarre.

Instead of having the stamps in a regular aisle or by the cash registers, some retailers apparently designate one or two employees per shift who are permitted to carry the stamps — in a pouch around their neck, if you can believe that. The person who typically carries them isn’t a store manager, and not even the pharmacists are allowed to join this elite club. Even stranger, if you ask the designated person for stamps, they won’t let you take the stamps with you while you shop. You have to pay for the stamps immediately while they watch.

Now, I understand that postage stamps are sort of like a form of currency, so the store wants to prevent theft. However, there are far more expensive items in plain sight. For instance, I’ve seen many personal care items on the shelves that are priced at $10-15 and higher, which exceeds the $9 value for a typical book of stamps.

Why does the retailer trust customers to pay for virtually everything else at checkout, yet insists on this paranoid approach for stamps? My guess is that it’s an old policy that was set many years ago, and they don’t sell enough stamps to bother changing it. Along those lines, though, the lack of any visible place where stamps are merchandised, coupled with the draconian purchasing method, makes customers feel like the store doesn’t trust them. And even if stamps are a zero-margin item, this surely isn’t a good way to foster a positive perception of the retailer’s brand.



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