It all began, as do many things, in America and by the 1960s in the UK no self-respecting housewife could stop herself collecting them. Green Shield Stamps were, as far as the 60s were concerned, here to stay.
The idea was simple. The stamps were small, self-adhesive stamps like postage stamps. You were a shopkeeper and you purchased the stamps from a stamp company and then gave them to shoppers in your store. The more the shoppers purchased, the more stamps they got. They then stuck the stamps into books of stamps supplied by the stamp company and finally the shoppers exchanged the stamp books for gifts from the stamp company’s catalogue.
But why on Earth would you, as a shopkeeper, go to all the trouble to pay out money for stamps and then give them away? The answer was loyalty. A customer who got stamps with their purchases would come back time and again to shop in your store and so your turnover would increase.
A smart idea
It’s a smart idea, especially since the stamp producer’s catalogues contained some really nice and luxurious gifts but it had a drawback. If your competitor saw you doing this then they got afraid that they would lose customers. So, of course, they started offering stamps as well and you were back to square one.
Having said that, however, stop keepers tended to get ‘locked in’ to the system of offering Green Shield Stamps and became afraid (probably quite rightly) that if they opted out then customers would go elsewhere.
For the customer it seemed a win-win situation. They purchased what they normally purchased and got some nice little stamps to stick in a book and to ultimately exchange for a luxury item. I remember people in the 60s getting really good gifts with stamps and I can recall getting stuff for the home, too. In those days we never thought that it had to be paid for somewhere along the line.
So was it paid for ultimately by the customer in higher pricer? To that end various surveys were conducted to see if prices had gone up as a result of stamps being used but they were never conclusive. So, did the shopkeeper pay out of his profits? In truth I think it was probably a little of both with a lowering of profit in the expectation of more customers and a little careful price adjustment.
So, was it popular?
However it was done it was popular and soon more or less every retailer from small, local shops, to the new supermarkets were offering stamps with purchases and it became far more the norm than the exception.
But nothing lasts forever and the craze began to die out in the 1970 during a time of recession when shops began to offer lower prices for not giving stamps. History, as we all know, repeats itself and it was such a good idea while it lasted that I can confidently expect it to come round again in one form or another sometime soon!
That trading stamps were popular can not be denied and this is brought home by the following. While reading up on this subject, I saw that someone mentioned the 1962 Pat Boon song, ‘Speedy Gonzales’. At the end of the song there is a section in which the singer says ‘Hey Rosita, come quick, down at the cantina they’re giving green stamps with the tequila!’. You see, it was so universal by then that it appeared in song!