If you go to the post office next month, you may not smell a rat, but you might smell a popsicle. No, USPS has not resorted to selling frozen goodies to raise money for its budget; however, it will unveil Frozen Treats Forever Stamps on June 20th, one day before the first day of summer. And these aren’t just any forever stamps. They are scratch and sniff stamps!
What postal customer could resist buying whimsical stamps with images of fruit bars and ice cream pops? Who wouldn’t want to plop down fifty cents to be able to affix a kiwi, watermelon, blueberry or strawberry fruit bar stamp on the envelope containing your mortgage payment? Why, I’ll bet there will be lines out the door to snap up these “cool” stamps. You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream stamps. NOT!
USPS may not have thought of the many issues with scratch and sniff stamps. For example, who gets to do the scratching and sniffing? If it’s the recipient of the letter, then the purchaser has no way of confirming he is getting what he paid for. Sure, the stamp depicts a kiwi fruit bar, but does it SMELL like a kiwi? And must the sender be PC and select an appropriate flavor for the recipient? Should one send Aunt Bertha a birthday card bearing a strawberry fruit bar stamp if she’s allergic to strawberries? What if Grandpa doesn’t like chocolate ice cream? Should he be forced to open a letter with a chocolate ice cream pop stamp blatantly affixed to the envelope?
Even more concerning is how long the smell will last. The stamp is advertised as a FOREVER stamp. This leads the purchaser to believe that the stamp’s smell should last forever. Is this false and misleading advertising? And what remedy is there should the stamp’s smell fade away before the envelope’s addressee receives the stamped correspondence?
The post office would have to provide tester stamps for potential purchasers. I mean who buys body spray or perfume without being offered a sniff sample from a tester? Shouldn’t stamps with a smell receive the same treatment? As a savvy stamp buyer, I’d say yes.
Producing scratch and sniff stamps isn’t the first time that USPS had used technology to tantalize the consumer. In June 2017 Total Solar Eclipse stamps were released which utilized temperature sensitive ink to change the image on the stamp. The stamp started off with an eclipse image, but put your hot little finger on it and the image changed to a full moon. Wow! How many more letters I would have written had I known about these scientific show stamps? In actuality? None.
Why this focus on stamps rather than timely and accurate delivery you might ask? Good question! Basically, USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses; it relies solely on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. Thus, if it can sell more stamps, then it has more income. Every year USPS commissions artists, illustrator and designers to develop twenty-five different stamps. The rationale apparently is that new stamps will equate to more stamp purchases.
For the average John Doe, what is pictured on a stamp likely makes little difference. Now, if it is Jane Doe, she might desire LOVE stamps to place on wedding invitations, but otherwise she probably could not care less about the design on the stamps. Both John and Jane might want Christmas themed stamps for Christmas cards. However, the same number of Christmas cards and wedding invitations will be sent regardless of what stamp design is utilized. It does not seem that a design would significantly increase stamp sales.
The story might be different for a stamp collector. A philatelist, who views stamps as miniature works of art, wants to add to his collection and might snap up newly issued images to fill his stamp albums. (This desire makes the term PHILatelist apropos.) There are an estimated 5 million people in the U.S. who collect stamps with regularity according to Linn’s Stamp News, one of the preeminent stamp authorities. But most of these individuals are not serious collectors, so USPS cannot count on all stamp collectors to purchase each new stamp.
USPS may be trying to cash in on niche markets. The just released Sally Ride forever stamp might capture the attention of postal customers who are aviators or scientists. The Mister Rogers forever stamp released back in March might have a nostalgic appeal to older Americans who might actually still write letters and pay their bills via snail mail.
And speaking of snail mail, perhaps issuing snail stamps might be a humorous touch for stamps USPS could sell. Wonder if Cuba, which has issued more than twenty stamps featuring snails, has made a mint from gastropod stamps. I am fine with snails being pictured on a stamp as long as the speed of delivery is not commensurate with the speed at which a snail moves. Let’s just make sure that any snail stamps issued are not of the scratch and sniff variety.
Scratch and sniff stamps leave me scratching my head. The scratch and sniff feature is a mere bell and whistle which provides little value and not much entertainment to the scratcher/sniffer. In my opinion, USPS needs to scratch below the surface of its financial woes and focus on improving service instead of offering gimmicks. Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night should deter USPS from providing efficient service as opposed to envelope embellishment.
Just WONDER-ing: Thumbs up or thumbs down on scratch and sniff stamps? Would a new stamp design or feature spur you to buy more stamps? What stamp design or feature would you like to see?