Friday, 30 October 2015

Royal Mail to end Smartstamp facilty?

According to TravelMole, a website devoted to the Travel and Tourism industries, Royal Mail is stopping its Smartstamp system.  [Royal Mail have confirmed the closure from 31 December2015 - but see comments from January 2016.]

UPDATE 11 JANUARY:  New Facebook page for users may convince Royal Mail to provide a better replacement than so far offered


Smartstamp was launched on 15 January 2004, and we wrote about it at the time
For a fee of £4.99 per month or £49.99 per year, subscribers can use a personal
computer to print postage on their own envelopes or labels from the comfort of their own home or office.
The software also provides complete details of postage rates and those for supplementary services, so that the correct values are printed, for any destination and weight selected.
Test prints can be produced at any time but users need to be online to use the system, as prepayment accounts are debited as each impression or batch of impressions is printed. The system prints the value and a service indicator, a code number, and the date by which the item must be posted.
Remember when 1st class postage was 28p and 2nd class only 21p?!  I don't know how much take-up there was for the system, especially when the software was restricted to Internet Explorer, and initially could not be used on Apple's Safari or Mozilla's Firefox browsers.  In September 2006 a new facility was launched which had no subscription, and would run on other operating systems and browsers, but still take-up was quite low.  It's not clear whether the Royal Mail Online Postage system will also be ending.

Aside from the small businesses which used the system, it was used quite extensively for a short
period by people producing 'scarce', 'rare', 'one-day only' thematic/topical postage slogans for sale on eBay.  In fact, they were nothing of the sort: they could print them on demand, but they covered many animal, bird, sporting topics.  On the other hand there were some genuine thematic slogans produced by organisations such as the Society of Olympic Collectors.


TravelMole says that it was widely used by Travel Agents:

"Despite most correspondence being via email, travel agencies are still posting tickets to customers."

According to TravelMole:
Royal Mail is replacing the system with various web applications when it closes Smartstamp on December 31.  It claims the new systems could lead to savings but agents argue that the replacement system prints large labels where the address has to be added which can be very time consuming. 

Royal Mail said the SmartStamp system was now running on outdated technology which was not compatible with Windows 10, Mac OSX and other operating systems in use.
A spokesman said: "We are supporting customer migration to one of our range of web applications such as Online Business Account, Online Postage or Click and Drop, which are more accessible and have better functionality across a range of platforms and devices.

"Customers will see no increase in the cost of postage as a result of the change and may see savings, depending on their usage.

"Over the next three months we will be working with all our customers that currently use SmartStamp to find a new solution which best meets their postage needs."
It sounds to me like a classic case of Hutber's Law. Whilst many organisations will have upgraded to Windows 10 (especially if they tried using Windows 8) the main users of the system are reckoned to be small businesses, many of which tend to upgrade when they get new hardware, rather than just because a new buggy system is available, delaying their upgrade until the bugs have been eliminated.
Of course Royal Mail also have an eBay/PayPal integrated postage-printing option, so this may have to change as well.  There is nothing obvious on their website about the changes.

Do you use Smartstamp or Online Postage ? Have you heard from Royal Mail about the changes?
Let us know!

UPDATE 6 November
Bob M received an email from Royal Mail on 4 November (I suspect my own Smartstamp account expired some years ago, which is why I didn't get one!)

It's long and graphic, but the key points are:


Dear Customer,
We need to let you know that SmartStamp will be closing down permanently on 31 December 2015. SmartStamp has been in existence since 2003 and has become outdated. The application is running on very old systems which cannot easily be upgraded to new platforms.
The good news is that we have a number of alternative options, with improved accessibility, to keep you posting.
It’s important you consider and choose the right option for you before SmartStamp becomes unavailable at the end of December. Please take some time to consider the overviews below and then visit our website for more detailed information.
Click and Drop
Our new one-stop postage and labels solution ..................
Why not visit https://parcel.royalmail.com/ and join the thousands of customers already using this system today?
Online Postage
By switching to Online Postage, you can use your existing prepay account (and any of your credit currently in it). There’s also an address book function. Here’s why we think you should consider this option:
  • Print on 3 different envelope sizes, 2 Avery label sizes or paper
  • You can use it on newer operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS
  • No need to download the application to your computer, or worry about yearly patches – everything you need is online
  • Free access on multiple computers.
Please visit www.royalmail.com/onlinepostage to see our full guide and work through 6 easy steps to post.
Sheets or rolls of stamps from our online shop
Online Business Account (OBA)
If you spend an average of £20 a day, £100 a week, £400 a month or £5,000 a year, you could qualify for - and save money using - an Online Business Account. Find out more, including how to contact us, at www.royalmail.com/onlinebusinessaccount.
Franking machine
Please visit www.royalmail.com/franking to learn more about the benefits of a Franking machine - and contact details if you need more help.
UPDATE 9 December So although Smartstamp is ending, Online Postage - which is "much the same but better" - continues. The Travel Agents ought to find that just as useful!  But they don't, as you can see from the comments appended below.

I've now received a c6 (board-backed) envelope with a new OnlinePostage label.  Because this incorporates the address, weight and payment details, and Royal Mail's required new 2D barcode, it is of course much larger than the old Smartstamp.  It also covers the pre-printed 'Please do not bend' so requiring another endorsement.



Collectable?  As postal history I suppose it must be, but postal history collecting is taking more and more space!

4 January 2016 UPDATE
Activity on twitter from disgruntled users and the consumer watchdog 'Citizens Advice' is asking for comments.  That may be why - according to reports - Smartstamp is still working today.




I've never been known as an apologist for Royal Mail, but OnlinePostage has always been the non-subscription alternative to Smartstamp and produced an impression very similar.  The service does not require you to print onto labels as the FAQ shows (unless the website is wrong):

What can I print my postage onto?
You can print your postage on to standard label sheets, DL, C6, C5, envelopes or A4 paper. To see all label sizes click on the ‘Easy Start ‘section on the homepage or ‘Edit print options’ on the create postage page.


The Plug was finally pulled on 31 January 2016.

43 comments:

  1. Online Postage is not a direct replacement as you *have* to print an address and stamp combined and only one at a time.

    I send 20-30 250g or 500g LL and Smartstamp will print a sheet of 14 appropriate stamps in one go. Cunningly combinations of 1st and 2nd normal stamps just overpay the amount needed for these. So you then get into putting three or more stamps on each one.

    I'm not sure about not running under Windows 10. It's worked fine for me.

    What's not helped is not allowing new sign ups for nearly three years and the direct debit top up feature been unavailable over the same period

    The only plus side has been they haven't charged subscriptions for three years either.

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    1. Bob,

      I totally agree with you. I run a small business in a small village that is 5 miles from the nearest Post Office. SmartStamp has allowed us to print exactly the postage needed and to add our logo which looks quite professional. The alternatives offered by Royal Mail are more suitable to small parcels and do not offer the same facilities or flexibility of Smartstamp . I will now either have to buy lots of various value stamps or use one of the inadequate alternatives.

      Malcolm

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    2. I am in much the same position as Malcolm & Bob - I ship 5 - 50 LL and small packet items per day anywhere from 50 to 2000g, UK & worldwide. SmartStamp is ideal for our needs and none of the alternatives appear to approach the flexibilty and convenience it provides. I smelt a rat during the summer when I received a bouncy email from Pitney Bowes promoting a Royal Mail Discount Scheme (low volume) franking machine which incurs a monthly contract charge of between £14 and £21 per month.

      To cap it all I have just bought 4 rolls of thermal labels at about £60 for which I will no longer have any use.

      Delete
  2. There is a much better solution to Smartstamp that not only offers you the convenience, but also a massive discount on your stamp prices.

    I'm happy to help anyone out that needs it free of charge.
    Please call me (Steve) on 01493 764427 or email: steve@norfolkpostageteam.co.uk

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    Replies
    1. I've spoken to Steve in order to accept this advertisement, and in order to allow people affected by this change to consider the service that he refers to.

      Other than the fact that we are in the same county, I have no connection with him or the organisation he works for, and this comes with no recommendation at all.

      Delete
    2. Would be great if Steve could adhere to the TPS and not cold call companies to tout for business, especially those listed with the TPS. If you have to resort to this kind of business method to get business then I certainly wouldn't deal with you. And I've reported you to the TPS for cold calling me.

      Delete
  3. I'm an SME and have found Smartstamp invaluable over the years, mostly happily, despite the buggy software. I even bought 4 Dymo label printers, which work extremely well with Smartstamp.

    It's a real shame that it's closing - and the 'alternatives' offered are anything but suitable replacements. On top of that, Post Offices nowadays (especially in cities) have become a nightmare of long queues and slow service..

    Royal Mail must surely realise that Smartstamp constitutes hugely positive customer accessibility to Royal Mail services. I now might as well look to some of their competitors for a quick and easy way of handling post.

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  4. Quite agree with all the comments. What person had the gall to say "The good news is that we have a number of alternative options, with improved accessibility, to keep you posting."

    This is not good news, it is bad news and Royal Mail must know this.

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  5. I too have used smart stamp for years and find the flexibility of being able to print one or more stamps on demand perfect for our business. I looked at the alternatives proposed byb Royal Mail and they are impractical and very time consuminga s you cannot print multiple stamps and need to enter an address one by line. I can't believe I will now have to buy rolls of stamps of varying value to covera our UK and overseas postage. Talk about going backward! Ed.

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    1. Ed, you should note that when blogs have comments 'Moderated' to keep out spam, you won't see the results of your comment until the blog-owner has let it go (so posting it 4 times only wastes your time!)

      Delete
    2. Sorry. Didn't mean to post four times. Not sure what happened.

      Delete
    3. No problem; some people aren't aware of the impact of moderation so I thought I would mention it. Not a problem for me, as I just let one go and delete all the emails.

      Delete
  6. I too am annoyed. The alternatives don't allow me to just print a stamp on my my Dymo printer. To make use of the alternatives they are proposing, I'd be binning all my window envelopes and my Dymo printer, buying labels which are too large and wasteful or messing about putting envelopes into my printer. Plus I'd have to move my outlook address book over to Royal Mail (don't want to do this for data protection reasons within my business) or input address fields as you can't even cut and paste an address! Dreadful.

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  7. Catherine

    I have researched this, spoken to Royal Mail and looked at numerous solutions. Royal Mail say that the replacement for Smart Stamp is their Click and Drop system. It will apparently be updated to allow bulk printing but they have no idea how long it will be before its updated with various upgrades.

    There are quite a few options, but they all have more costs, more inconvenience, minimum term contracts, extra equipment.

    Royal Mail said, "use stamps then". I think they under estimate the impact on lower volume senders.

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    Replies
    1. It seems to me that nothing will be quite as convenient, at least in the near future, as Smartstamps.

      The 'stamps' alternative may actually offer economies that you don't get with Smartstamps or any other method (leaving aside the huge discounts that are available for franking machine use).

      There are a number of outlets selling postage stamps at big discounts from face value. Whilst most of those on eBay are for used-but-not-postmarked stamps (which of course you wouldn't use!) there are other options.

      Cheapest may be to buy 'stamps-for-postage' from stamp dealers, but you probably don't want to mess around with a mix of values which you have to put together to arrive at 54, 63, 74, 95p or whatever.

      But if you use Google to look for 'discount postage', and restrict the search to UK, after the ads for Franking machine companies you will find a couple who offer new stamps at a discount, and the discount varies according to whether you have a mix, or single appropriate stamp. You may see 65p stamps sold at 50p or less, which would be ideal for 1st class at 63p. There are also Special Delivery, and higher value stamps offered. I don't know where they get them from, but they all look good to me.

      Note that many of the pictorial stamps will be gummed rather than self-adhesive: consider whether you or your staff want to lick (or otherwise moisten) all the stamps on your mailings!

      Delete
  8. I'd just like to echo the sentiments expressed by other users here and agree that Royal Mail have let its customers down badly. We are furious at the pulling of this brilliant, efficient service and find the "replacements" to be in no way a fit to our business needs.

    We spend somewhere in the region of £50-£100 and some small packets a month sending letters and smartstamp together with our dymo label writer brought incredible efficiency savings to our business when it comes to postage.

    I thought the writing had been on the wall when they said the were no longer accepting new users and unfortunately the time is finally here.

    I've filed a complaint (dutifully ignored) to Royal Mail and I can only say that it will push us even further away from using any of their "services". We will be doing our level best to make sure they get as little of our money as possible in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As businesses I expect you have all complained through the appropriate avenues. The postal regulator does not accept individual complaints, but the following may be helpful

      http://www.cedr.com/postrs/

      http://www.royalmail.com/personal/help-and-support/how-do-I-make-a-complaint

      https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/post/post/problems-with-post/

      http://ceoemail.com/s.php?id=9559

      Bear in mind, though, that the existing Smartstamp system cannot be used for the 2D-barcode that Royal Mail want businesses to apply to packets (although if you use stamps there won't be one!) and that your volume may mean that you need an alternative way of doing so.

      Delete
  9. I Have complained through my MP on behalf of a number of small businesses who will have to now look for an alternative. The Response from Royal Mail was as banal as expected. They did have the rider that they were looking at adding a similar facility to Smart Stamp but could not say if or when it would be introduced. Then i received a call from RM offering £50 of prepaid envelopes or £50 credit utilising there new exciting products!!!!! Accepted neither this needs to be pushed as we pay for this service and yet again are being Royally ****ted by RM as with the rest of the British public. They think paying people off will shut them up...... Sorry no..

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  10. Well i am not sure whats going on with SmartStamp but i successfully topped up and printed stamps tonight they said they we pulling it on the 31st ?

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  11. I topped up yesterday also and it was working. Either they've forgotten to disable it, changed their minds due to the number of complaints, or are about to pull the plug any minute....Who knows?!

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  12. Just called the smartstamp help line and they told me not to use it as the stamps may not be valid. Something to do with the 2d barcodes being rejected? If this is the case why is it still up and running . Makes no sense!

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  13. Not surprised. They have not really thought this trhrough, nor put in place a viable alternative. If they can't even take the service offline when they say they will I have little hope any suitable alternative will be in place any time soon. Off to buy some stamps for the first time in 8 years. Now thats Progress ;-)

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  14. I have managed to print of a couple of stamps today and will post them anyway as I cant see how they can cant be valid but may hold back with a top up. Alternatives are just not compatible, over complicated and time consuming. just don't understand why they would pull the plug on something which is convenient and user friendly ...hang on a minute that must be it

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  15. A special delivery posted on the 5th using a smart stamp was delivered today, the 6th so the 2D bar code is not causing any apparent issues yet.....

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  16. Hey i called the smartstamp team back up today as i had about 70 parcels to dispatch. They guy on the phone said it would be ok to use it today but dont use it tomorrow as the server is slowly winding down LMAO . The people in the smartstamp help desk dont even know what's going on. It's a complete shambles .

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  17. Hey i think that's smartstamp shut down , Can't connect to the server but can still top up. OBA account here i come !!!

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  18. I'll add my frustrations to those above. Royal Mail haven't thought this through at all. There must be tens of thousands of small businesses who would have found Smart Stamp the perfect solution. The alternatives are not suitable at all for those of us who send a handful of (different sized) letters each week. Buying stamps over the counter in the 21st century - you're on a different planet decision makers at RM.

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  19. Further to my comment (12 November 2015 at 23:06 above) I have now reverted to stamps purchased online & delivered Special Delivery for free by RM. Mostly no real issues for me since 80-90% of my output is large letter or small parcel to all parts of the world less than 100g so can be covered by 4 single stamps (LL, 2.45, 3.15 & 3.30) plus a range of make-ups for the small number of other values. The odd recorded delivery etc. I'll do with online postage. The sum result is that RM now pay for my stamp delivery, they don't get any electronic traceability and I can continue using the post box 50m from my front door. I'd have been perfectly happy to continue with SmartStamp, and will consider any innovation that the geniuses at RM come up with, provided I can continue to use the good old pillar box.

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  20. Still fully working at 18.00 on 7 Jan.

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  21. No connection today with server from SmartStamp after PC was restarted.

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  22. Totally frustrated by Royal Mail they are sorry for the inconvenience I told them I do not want an apology I want a system that works. The online postage alternative is not fit for purpose unless you are sending packages. Slow, you have to key in the data, it only prints one label even if it is a 2 label or 4 label page. This is absolutely disgraceful of Royal Mail to do this to its customers. All the local post offices have been closed 9 mile round trip to the only post office left and buying stamps is just not a viable option. And no one who will listen and take action.

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  23. Just adding to the list of businesses that are affected by this and alternatives not up to scratch - again printed in 'small quantities' to roll printer for stamps. Went to print yesterday and today (10th Jan 2016) and not working - first I heard of it shutting down.

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  24. Looks like SmartStamp has now stopped. I was using it up until last Thursday (7th). It let me top up my account this morning but would not print any labels. Guess I'll have to try one of their alternatives. I'm very disappointed this very useful system has been closed. My nearest Post Office is 5 miles away after they closed the one in our village 4 years ago and their alternatives are just not good enough.

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  25. Not sure if it will do any good, but a Facebook page has been put up here http://www.facebook.com/SmartStampUsers

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  26. Another disappointed customer who has used Smartstamp for years. It really was an amazing service from Royal Mail and their lack of foresight and customer care has annoyed this small business. We will unfortunately revert to Stamp and see how things go. Maybe they will rethink their business model and reintroduce this system - well not likely.! Hopefully the Managing Director of Royal Mail gets to see these endless comments over the past few months or is he happy to sit in his ivory tower getting paid handsomely for upsetting his customers.

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  27. Thought I would try Smartstamp today fully expecting to get an error message, but no, it continued to print as before with no issues giving a post by date of '13.01.16'.

    Anybody know what's going on, since in reality, they could have kept it going until the next round of postage increases as there is no additional work involved.

    Don't really think they ever appreciated what a great system they had created, it was just badly marketed and really needed the software issues resolved to provide an excellent system on-going rather than the VERY time consuming alternatives.

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  28. 13th and still working??? Like many other disgruntled users, I complained to RM and also like those complainants, I got no response :-(

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  29. My Smartstamp stopped working at beginning of Jan claiming it couldn't connect to the server. After seeing recent comments on here about it still working I thought I'd give it a try today and it's working again. Just printed an overseas stamp and it's showing a post by date of 19.01.16.

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  30. I tried this morning and printed a UK first class and a £1.52 stamp dated to post by 20th. A week or so ago it was not working. It looks like it may be "intermittent".

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  31. Smartstamp still up and running .

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  32. I too am dismayed at the demise of SmartStamp. I run a not-for-profit membership organisation that has need of posting occasional bulk mail both within the UK and internationally. In the good old days to the end of last year, we could bulk print stamps on sheets of labels, taking into account the various destinations. That has, of course, ceased. We attempted to use Online Postage but this is a terrible system for anyone that needs more than a single stamp at a time. To print 50 stamps would take, I estimate, well in excess of two hours. And to boot, key information on the address label such as job title and company name would be missing.
    I have written to Moya Greene and now have had a reply from the 'Executive Response Team', purporting to be from her (her signature is printed) saying that they recognise the frustration and that the sales team will be in touch to discuss an alternative solution.
    As many people have said on this very useful blog, Royal Mail has not thought this through and has withdrawn a product that many people made use of and replaced it with something completely unsuitable for anyone sending more than one item of mail a day. We'll see what they say, and I'll report back. In the meantime, perhaps this is a story for 'Watchdog'.

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  33. Just come across this post and want to re-inforce my total exasperation with RM just removing Smartstamp.

    Only being able to print huge labels via the online postage website, and no ability to print to a Dymo Labelwriter is ridiculous.

    Was there any meaningful update from the "Executive Response Team" ?

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