Before Amazon, eBay, Google and the internet, there was S&H Green Stamps. The company started in 1896 but really came into its own in the 50’s and 60’s. Grocery stores, gas stations etc. would buy the stamps (green with a sticky back) from S&H and then give them out to customers based on the amount they spent. The customers would paste them into S&H books and could redeem them for merchandise at the S&H Green Stamp stores or through the Green Stamp catalog.
One book of stamps was 24 pages of 50 stamps and each stamp represented 10 cents spent. Therefore, each book represented roughly $120.00 spent. We are talking about the 50’s and 60’s when gas was 25 cents a gallon, new cars were $2,500 and the average weekly grocery bill was $30 dollars. Therefore, to get one book of stamps it was like a month worth of purchases. By way of examples, a men’s Bulova watch was 10 books, a silverware set was 27 books, a wall clock was 9 books, an ice cream maker was 4 books and a mixing bowel set was 1 book. Housewives would save stamps for year to redeem them for something they could have bought for $15-$20 dollars.
At their peak, S&H had 800 Green Stamp stores where people would bring the books they saved and trade them for merchandise. They also printed more than 30 million catalogs where people could redeem their books for merchandise through the mail.
People would pay more for their groceries just to get the green stamps and like many loyalty programs today, people would purchase from the same gas station or grocery store because they saw value in these stamps. They could have probably bought the items for a fraction of what they spent at these stores just to get the green stamps.
It was its own industry and the green stamp owners (Sperry and Hutchinson) were making a killing on the stamp program. It all came crashing down in the mid 70’s when several trade associations claimed that the program was unfair to the consumers by making them pay more for goods and services than the stamps were worth. Also, Walmart was expanding like crazy and other discount retailers arrived which exposed how much more consumers were paying at certain stores just to get the stamps. Like many businesses, it had a great run and great following but did not adapt to the changing market place.
There are literally thousands of companies that lost their market edge because they either refused to change or couldn’t see the reason for a change. Two perfect examples of this would be Sears and Blackberry. They both literally owned their respective market but ultimately lost their customer base because they didn’t adapt to change. Whatever business you are in (literally) is going to change and the future is to those who can see it and change with it. KT