The Eternal First-Class Stamp

Neato! The US Postal Service is selling new “Forever Stamps” that cost $.41 each, but will remain valid as first-class postage regardless of any future postage hikes.

That there is some marketing, people! In an era of dwindling mail use by consumers, here’s an alluring way to get folks to buy stamps — whether or not they’ll ever use them.

At first glance it would seem like such a scheme is robbing the USPS of future sales — killing the goose that lays the golden egg, so to speak.  But in this case, the goose is already sick. Per the postal service itself, the “mail volume decline continued for First-Class Mail (0.5 percent decrease from the previous year)” in 2006 (emphasis added).

We’re emailing each other now. We pay our bills online. Some businesses and utilities will happily switch to e-statements, and stop mailing you your paper reminders. Writing actual letters or sending physical invitations is reserved for special occasions, or for getting bonus points in thoughtfulness. (Not sure why a physical envelope shows more thoughtfulness, but whatever — it’s fun for me to show my daughter when she’s received a new letter from grandma. It gets her more excited than video conferencing over the computer.)

Now, the USPS isn’t in any trouble. The US Department of Labor says they expect a decline in mail carrier jobs due to less mail usage, but we’re also sending lots more packages than we ever used to, and those have a higher profit margin.  Any idea how many packages get sent by US mail because of auctions on Ebay? 

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “lots”.

So First Class mailings will decrease, but shipping is still increasing, and is part of the reason why “(CFO) Walker said growth in Standard and Priority Mail helped increase overall mail volume to 213 billion pieces. Walker also reported that the fiscal year ended with a record 7th consecutive year in positive total factor productivity.”

But still — marketing genius, I say! The whole stamp-collecting thing is great and all, and fostering purchases that will never cost you anything is clever, but the Forever Stamp takes it to a whole new level.  I don’t know what kind of numbers they’re hoping for, but I can imagine a whole lot of people “investing” in these stamps, and never getting around to using them.

Go USPS! Now if we could just privatize you and buy stock….