Post and Go FastStamps Will Rejuvenate UK Philately
In late 2008 the Royal Mail began installing Post & Go machines around the UK, mostly sited in Post Office branches. These machines allow customers to serve themselves with postage labels for items they want to send or purchase special self-adhesive stamps for use anytime using an overprint to specify various inland, european and worldwide postage rates.
Prior to 2008, Royal Mail had carried out many machine trials aiming to find ways to shorten lines and reduce waiting time for customers at Post Office counters. This time it looks as if the technology needed to deliver a slick, user friendly, flexibile, reliable and entirely automated service has been created. Today the Royal Mail has Post & Go machines operating in nearly 150 Post Office locations around the UK and, since 2010, they now issue attractive pictorial FastStamps in addition to the traditional plain design featuring the familiar Arnold Machin designed effigy of the Queen.
The challenge for the Post Office was not easy. Using expensive employees to repeatedly weigh and service low value, small margin stamp sales is obviously inefficient. You have to sell a lot of stamps just to pay a monthly wage which is why this process has long cried out for self-service automation. The new breed of Wincor Nixdorf Post & Go Machines appear to have cracked the problem. Digital scales combined with a simple touch-screen menu guides users to the correct service and label for letters and parcels while automated vending of postage stamps for first class, first class large letter, european and three worldwide air mail weight bands is equally foolproof. Studies of customer sessions show each Post & Go machine is already serving around 90 people a day in a typical location despite little public promotion. It therefore looks likely we will soon see widespread self-service as the norm in Post Offices across the UK.
An interesting bonus for Royal Mail has been the significant collector interest in the new Post & Go stamps (originally dubbed as FastStamps by Royal Mail). Talking to many collectors it seems the reason for the fast growing interest in Post & Go stamps is quite obvious. Each stamp bears a unique code that identifies the Post & Go machine's location, the specific machine used (as some offices have multiple machines), the customer session number etc. This means collectors can not only trace a stamp's usage via postmarks but can now trace a specific stamp's journey back to the machine of issue. Collectors love nothing more than listing and ticking off numbers, types and place names. Once upon a time postmarks were clear and informative enough to satisfy this desire to catalogue things and victorian stamp collectors can lovingly examine stamps to determine the printing plates or sheet positions their stamps trace back to. However, as printing technology improved during the twentieth century, many of the unique features that appeal to collectors vansihed. Now, it seems, all that may have changed with the advent of Post and Go Stamps. I predict it wont be long before the term "GeoPhilately" enters common usage where people build collections centred around geographic locations rather than the pictorial subject on a stamp.
A few of the more informative philatelic websites are regularly featuring Post and Go stamp news. The webmaster of the GB Stamp Website reports that more than 50% of his recent reader email has been talking about Post & Go stamps and he also pointed me toward this Post and Go stamp website which lets collectors type in a code to find out where a Post & Go stamp was issued.
The days where a collector could seriously hope to build a complete stamp collection for every British postage stamp issued since 1840 have long gone but the arrival of Post & Go would seem to offer the current generation of philatelists a new and affordable collecting opportunity.