Imagine a world where roughly half of Americans had internet access. More specifically, slightly more than a third of those aged 50 and up were on the internet. Even in that group, dial-up internet dominated the market, and “smart phones” were still 10 years away from typical. That’s the world of the internet when our StampStore was born.
In 2000, the APS proposed a radical idea to allow members to send in stamps to be scanned, posted, and sold online. Our staff would answer all the questions and fulfill the orders. Over the years, hundreds of members utilized the service, posting hundreds of thousands of stamps online for sale. As time moves on, so do the demands of the marketplace.
In August, we announced a promotional partnership with HipStamp, an online site for stamp commerce. We will shift stamp sales away from our StampStore platform and sell through HipStamp. At the same time, HipStamp will develop a badge for APS members to identify themselves and allow buyers to filter searches limited only to APS members.
Read the answers to the most common questions about the partnership here.
For sellers, the process will remain the same. APS staff will scan and post items, handle questions, and manage returns. Your online portal will remain the same, and the payment processing will continue. The upgrade is shifting our store to a more modern platform with a larger universe of customers.
For buyers, the experience will change since we are moving to the HipStamp platform. However, APS members will still enjoy the APS member discount, and you will still work with our APS staff on all returns. Buyers will still be able to request certificates from the American Philatelic Expertizing Service and enjoy the same return policy as before.
So why make the change? There are several reasons, and they each deserve an explanation.
- Aging Website: Like the rest of the APS website, our StampStore is built on older technology that is becoming less reliable and costlier. An upgraded or replacement site would cost between $250,000 and $500,000 to begin, without assurance that it would solve our problems. We have competing needs, and the return on investment would take another 20 years to realize.
- Declining Sellers: As technology has become cheaper and more common, more collectors are selling through the sites directly. We believe our service offers several benefits, including the benefit of saving sellers time by managing sales. In less than a decade, the number of sellers has been cut by more than half, from 807 in 2013 to less than 400 today. There is no way to invest that money and get a return that benefits our membership on a larger scale.
- Declining Submissions: Last year, we had our best sales year since 2008. At the same time, we had our lowest number of submissions since 2013. We’re 17,000 submissions lower than last year, and our inventory of stamps is declining.
- Slow Growth in Buyers: Last year, there were approximately 2,300 buyers on the site – 2,000 were APS members, and the remaining buyers were not. That number is only slightly higher than the 2,000 buyers from a decade ago, despite the massive increase in online stamp sales on sites like eBay and HipStamp.
- Declining Sales: Sales have declined with fewer items to sell and fewer new submissions. Lagging sales would eventually force higher costs on the sellers, further accelerating the challenges previously noted.
Doing nothing and hoping for the best would only hurt the APS members who sell on our site and might ultimately end the program. Instead, we looked to push these items to a larger universe to increase the visibility of the stamps for sale, along with StampStore and the APS, without diverting critical resources from other services.
The promotional partnership provides several critical benefits:
- A more significant sales opportunity for APS members who use StampStore, affording buyers the confidence to deal with a trusted organization.
- Expanding the reach of the APS Code of Ethics into online sales. One of the central reasons for founding the APS was to create a trusted marketplace of buyers and sellers. While those transactions occurred in numerous ways, we’ve all witnessed the dramatic shift to online sales. The APS Badge and search functions on the HipStamp site afford buyers a chance to acquire from trusted sources, as many of you have done for years. If bad actors are in the online forum, it will empower you and the APS to hold them accountable.
- Increasing the visibility and relevance of the APS in the online marketplace. Today’s collectors do not participate in stamp clubs or stamp shows in the same way more traditional collectors do. We can ill afford to hope they will one day walk into a show or club and leave the online community behind. Instead, this is a step toward the online philatelic community, adapting to the marketplace as it is today. We should take other measures, and we will be working with some notable online influencers to identify those opportunities.
Over the past few years, several philatelic organizations have trusted that eBay is the way to go. While we take no issue with eBay, it is a larger platform with much more than stamps for sale. History suggests they may not want or need our input or value a partnership similarly. Around the same time, we launched StampStore, the APS partnered with eBay to correct misidentified stamps. While we positively impacted the marketplace, eBay ended the partnership when it changed its business model. HipStamp is dedicated to the philatelic market and is an excellent start to growing our online reach. In time, we may also offer value to many other online sellers, but we must prove that.
We have much more to discuss about how the APS should and can positively influence a marketplace that does not offer the same safety and accountability that our membership affords. Our promotional partnership with HipStamp is the beginning and not the end of that discussion. While I’ve heard from many members, sellers, buyers, and others, I welcome your thoughts. Today’s stamp marketplace is every bit as dangerous as it was at the founding of the APS. I believe we have to reclaim one of the central missions we’ve valued for years. It can’t just be a slogan.
Read more about the partnership here.