Watch out when you’re buying your stamps – some retailers will be adding a hefty markup.
With most things I buy, I expect prices to vary from shop to shop. Bigger retailers will often try to undercut each other to attract your business. Smaller shops might have to charge more due to bigger overheads.
Now, I don’t have a problem with this. I’ll usually shop around for the cheaper price, but if I have to go to a smaller, convenience store, then I appreciate it’ll cost me more. Except that is for stamps.
Stamps should cost what stamps cost. Right? Well, I’ve found that’s not always the case, and I expect lots of people are unwittingly paying over the odds for postage.
And with two price hikes from Royal Mail in 2023, it’s even more important to make sure you’re not paying too much.
How much do stamps cost?
Most stamps don’t have a price printed on them, making it hard to know how much they cost! The current price of stamps, and how much they’ll be after the April increase, are as follows:
How much is a First Class stamp?
- A 1st Class stamp is £1.25.
- Large 1st Class stamps are £1.95
How much is a Second Class stamp?
- A 2nd Class stamp is 75p
- Large 2nd Class stamps are £1.15
How much is a book of stamps?
There’s no discount for buying a book of stamps, so just multiply the individual price by the number of stamps (usually 6 or 12).
Overcharging for stamps in small shops
A few years ago at Christmas I picked up a book of 2nd Class stamps from a small shop. I’ll call it a corner shop even though it wasn’t on a corner. But that should give you an idea of the kind of shop I mean – an independent off-license/newsagent/random groceries store.
Now we were in a bit of a rush, so just asked for £10ish worth of stamps (we were taking advantage of the Amex Shop Small offer which used to be you spend £10 and get £5 back). A book of 12 was £9, so we asked for two more stamps to take us over the £10 spend we needed.
Since it had been so long since I actually bought any stamps, and without a price printed on them, I just thought they’d gone up in price. A lot.
But, actually they hadn’t. The price, as set by Royal Mail at the time was 56p (remember this was a few years ago). So I should have got 18 stamps for £10.08, rather than 14 for £10.50. It represented a huge 34% markup.
Now, with our £5 credit back on the purchase, we still saved money on those stamps – but most people won’t have.
So was this just a mistake? Or a one-off?
Even bigger markups elsewhere
To get an idea I asked the price of a stamp in three similar “corner shops” around the London Bridge area on the same day.
The first only sold 1st Class stamps and charged 90p. But this stamp – at the time of the research – should have been 65p, so the increase was a massive 38%.
The second charged 70p for 2nd Class, while the third wanted 70p for 1st Class. Though the markups were smaller, the shops still charged more than if you got your stamps at the Post Office.
Watch out for Amazon too
It turns out the same issue occurs online too. Expecting Amazon to be a useful place for people to buy stamps (and top-up orders for free delivery), I was shocked to see overinflated prices there too.
Of course I shouldn’t have been surprised. A huge amount of items sold on Amazon are not sold by Amazon. Instead smaller retailers use the online giant as a middleman. And it’s these shops which are selling stamps above the set price.
Here’s one from March 2023. The listing says you’ll get a 12% discount on four 1st class stamps. But a £5.69, you’re paying £1.43 per stamp. That’s well over the odds, even before the two price increases we’ve seen this year. So be really careful!
Can shops sell stamps at a higher price?
That’s the big question really. If they can, then they aren’t doing anything wrong by doing this. But there’s something about stamps that didn’t ring true. My instinct was this is illegal.
First I checked the Royal Mail website. The terms and conditions for authorised stamp sellers are they cannot sell stamps for more than the set price. So that’s pretty cut and dried.
However, it turns out selling above the set price is allowed. This rule only counts if the retailer has purchased the stamps direct from the Royal Mail. If they’ve picked them up elsewhere – a cash and carry for example – the shop can charge what it wants.
When this first happend in 2017, I also asked Royal Mail for confirmation, and here’s its response:
“Any retailer who buys their stamps direct from us for resale must, under our T&Cs, sell them at face value or lower. This also applies to retailers who buy from us and sell stamps online.
“However, if a retailer has acquired stamps from somewhere else, we cannot bind them to this condition.
“There isn’t a way of knowing whether someone selling stamps has bought them from us or not, and we don’t provide signage to retailers. However, there are approx. 50k outlets across the UK where customers can buy stamps at the correct price.
“If a customer has any concerns about the price of the stamps they have been sold, they should contact our Customer Services team on 0345 774 0740 who can check if the retailer is a customer of ours and get in touch with them to remind them of our T&Cs”.
Where to buy your stamps at a fair price
Ideally the safest place to get them at the right price is at a Post Office. Shops such as WH Smiths also sell at the correct price, as do all the major supermarkets.
If you are buying from a smaller or independent store, it makes sense to always ask how much a stamp is first. If it’s more than expected, I’d challenge them to see if they’ll charge the lower price. Otherwise, walk away and find somewhere else.
Make sure the stamp has a barcode
Since January 2023, standard stamps have a barcode, as shown in this article’s main image. If you’ve any olders ones you can send them off to be exchanged for the new versions.
If you have picture stamps without barcodes, such as Christmas ones, then you can keep using these.
You also don’t need to worry about the stamp having the Queen rather than the King on display. Both will work just fine.
When do stamp prices go up?
If stamps are to go up in price it tends to happen in the last week of March or early April each year, though it can sometimes happen at other times. Fortunately, you can still use a stamp bought in a previous year for the postage marked on the stamp.