Stretched Britons begin stampede for stamps

Fri Apr 13, 2012 12:28pm EDT
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By Yeganeh Torbati

LONDON (Reuters) - The latest round of panic buying sweeping British consumers isn't for fuel, as it was earlier this year when threats of a strike by the tanker drivers' union led to long queues of cars snaking their way around filling stations.

Instead, the commodity Britons are desperately snapping up in bulk this month is stamps, after Royal Mail, the British postal service provider, announced it would raise prices after April 30 to make up for falling revenues.

The price rise - which will raise the cost of sending a letter first class by a huge 30 percent to 60 pence ($0.96), and the slower, second class by 39 percent to 50 pence - has sparked alarm across the country where consumers are facing slow wage growth and high inflation.

Royal Mail has limited the number of stamps supplied to retailers in advance of the price rise to "protect Royal Mail's revenues," said a statement from the service.

"We put arrangements in place in February with all our major retailers to ensure that they have adequate stocks of stamps to meet genuine customer demand," Royal Mail said.

Walking out of the Houndsditch post office in the City of London financial district around lunch time with a thick stack of 20 stamp books in hand, Sanjeev said the supply of 240 stamps would last him a good while, even given his preference for writing letters over emails.

"I thought, 'Okay, I know the prices are going to go up'," said the IT worker, who declined to give his last name. "But if...I could afford it, I would buy a lot more."

Britain boasts a proud postal history, including introducing the world's first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, which in 1840 helped to make the country's complex postal system cheaper and easier to use.   Continued...