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.
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 where 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.
Now, 1st and 2nd Class stamps don’t have a price printed on them. Since it had been so long since I actually bought any stamps I just thought they’d gone up in price. A lot.
But, actually they haven’t. This corner shop was selling 2nd Class stamps for 75p each. The real price, as set by Royal Mail at the time was 56p (remember this was a few years ago – they’re now 65p). That’s a huge 34% markup.
Now, with our £5 credit back on the purchase, we’ve 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 Friday.
The first only sold 1st Class stamps and charged 90p. But this stamp – at the time of the research – should have been 65p (they’re now 76p), 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.
This is one of the worst I spotted, declaring a discount of 39%, when actually the “sale” price works out as 81.5p a stamp – higher than it should have been! I’m sure some shoppers have seen the discount and just assumed it offers the best value. A huge rip-off.
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.
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
In light of my research, it makes sense to always ask how much a stamp is before buying it in any smaller, independent shop. 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.
Obviously 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.
The real cost of stamps
The current price of stamps is as follows:
How much is a First Class stamp?
A 1st Class stamp should be 76p. It goes up by 9p to 85p from January 1st 2021.
Large 1st Class stamps will increase from £1.15 to £1.29.
How much is a book of First Class stamps?
There’s no discount for buying stamps in a book. So a book of 12 1st Class stamps will cost £9.12. Six will cost you £4.56. This will increase to £10.20 and £5.10 from the start of 2021..
How much is a Second Class stamp?
A 2nd Class stamp should be 65p, going up to 66p from 1st January 2021..
Large 2nd Class stamps will increase from 88p to 96p.
How much is a book of Second Class stamps?
A book of 12 2nd Class stamps will cost £7.80, and six will cost £3.90. The new prices from March 2020 will be £7.92 for 12 and £3.96 for six,
When do stamp prices go up?
If stamps are to go up in price it tends to happen in the last week of March each year, however the 2021 increase in January is much earlier.
Increases over the last few years have been by two or three pence, so the 2021 increase is much higher.
This article was first published in Dec 2017