Postal Service Customers Getting Out of Line--by Using Dial-for-Stamps Experiment

Associated Press

The convenience of shopping by telephone--whether for clothes or sporting goods or pizza--is being extended to the Post Office in an experimental stamps-by-phone program in nine cities across America.

For a $2 service charge, businesses and individual customers can pick up a phone and order stamps. The minimum purchase is $11--50 stamps at 22 cents each.

The program, which started in Sacramento on Sept. 1, has now spread to eight other test cities and generated more than 10,000 orders, Assistant Postmaster General Gordon C. Morison said in a telephone interview.

Yule Stamps Added

And in October the service was expanded, with customers being offered the option of Christmas stamps in addition to "generic" flag stamps.

"This is a new way to provide a convenient service to our customers, but it takes time for people to change patterns and to use new ways to buy stamps. First, they have to find out about it," Morison said.

Full-page newspaper ads have promoted the program in the test cities, with small and medium-size businesses expected to be the biggest customers, saving the time, hassle and cost of sending employees to a post office to buy stamps.

But individuals also are welcome to make purchases and are doing so, Morison said. Indeed, orders from individuals outnumber those from businesses by about 7 to 1, he said, although businesses spend more.

Response High in Miami

New York and Miami have seen the heaviest response to stamps by phone, according to Morison, who speculated that in those large cities the time and inconvenience of going to a post office, parking, standing in line, and so forth, may make the phone program particularly attractive.

Things are "coming along slower" in smaller communities, such as Sacramento, he said, even though that was the first test city.

The test will continue for six months before a decision will be made on extending the program nationwide, Morison said. However, if people in other cities call in orders, they will be filled, he said.

Currently, two systems are being tested to see which works better, Morison said.

In two cities, orders are being filled locally and callers use telephone numbers in those communities. In Dallas, the number is 939-3733; in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Va., area it is 629-2274.

For the other test cities, orders are being filled from a central site--Kansas City.

Toll-Free Number

Callers in New York, Miami, Sacramento, Boston, Baltimore, San Diego and Minneapolis are using a long-distance toll-free number to reach that office: 1-800-STAMP24, which translates to 1-800-782-6724.

In Dallas and Norfolk, the stamps are mailed locally to the buyers and usually are received within a day, Morison said. The service from Kansas City takes from one to three days in most cases, he said.

Payment is by credit card, with the Postal Service accepting both MasterCard and Visa.

Morison said customers were receptive to the program and that cards soliciting users' reactions often include such remarks as "should have been done years ago."

Complaints About Fee

Complaints generally center on the $2 service charge for the orders and the types of stamp available, Morison said.

Businesses don't seem to mind the charge, because they save employee time, but it can seem high for an individual who is only buying one sheet of stamps, he commented.

He said business orders average $90 each, and those from individuals average $30.

Some customers have complained about being limited to the basic flag design stamps, Morison added.

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