Stamp of approval

Retailing is a tough business. Just ask Ames and Kmart.

To grab an edge, retailers are bringing back some old tactics. One of the more interesting is Shop ‘n Save’s introduction of S&H greenpoints, a dusted-off version of the stamps retailers used to give customers to paste and save until they had enough to redeem them for merchandise. This time, shoppers who register accumulate credits for their purchases when they shop; spend a dollar, get 10 points, more if you buy certain featured items.

When you’ve got enough points, you redeem them online or through a catalog for anything from a cruise to a gas grille to a discount on groceries. This time around, the whole process seems a lot less cumbersome than the “licking and sticking” that used to be part and parcel of saving stamps on S&H’s first go-round.

The attraction of stamps faded by the mid-1960s, mostly because retailers then were looking for an edge, too. One way to get that was to drop stamps and cut prices. The rise of the big retailers like Kmart made it easier to shop in one location to buy the stuff that the stamp catalogs offered and probably did its part to lick the stamps, so to speak.

The folks from Shop ‘n Save and S&H emphasize a built-in advantage of the program, noting that their market research indicates that more than four out of five people in Western Pennsylvania recognize and remember S&H. What would most companies do for that kind of brand recognition?

At a press conference to roll out the greenpoints program, at least three people, myself included, noted they got their first baseball glove — an early rite of passage of sorts for kids in the late 1950s, the heyday of the stamp business — with S&H green stamps.

In these complicated and uncertain times, there may be a yearning to return to a seemingly simpler era that the image of stamps conjures up. If shoppers find accumulating greenpoints less of a hassle than they’re willing to put up with, the idea might catch on.

Oh, yes, and the most critical factor of all: They do have a baseball glove in the catalog. Maybe they won’t drop the ball.