Trading stamps are small pieces of glue-backed colored paper, given in proportion to purchases made and redeemable for merchandise. They were first used in the United States in Schuster's Department Store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1890. Schuster's gave the stamps to customers paying in cash in an effort to limit credit use. The S&H Green Stamp Co. attributes their invention to their founders (the Sperry and Hutchinson of S&H) in 1896 as a way to "say thank-you" to customers and calls the trading stamps "America's first frequent shopper program and grandfather of marketing promotions such as frequent flyer miles." The first S&H redemption center opened in 1897 as a kiosk. One of the earliest items in the catalog was a Bissell carpet sweeper; its modern counterpart was still in the catalog 100 years later.
The heyday of the trading stamp came during the 1950s and 1960s when large numbers of Americans got the stamps with their groceries and exchanged filled books (usually 1500-3000 stamps) for a variety of household goods. At the height of stamp fever, S&H distributed its catalogs free in supermarkets and operated multiple redemption centers, the size of small shops, in towns all over the United States. They claim that in 1964 its catalog was the largest single publication in the United States.
S&H Green Stamps, Top Value, King Korn, Triple S, Gold Bell, and Plaid were among the most popular nationally circulated brands of stamps. Attesting to the pop chic of trading stamps, artist Andy Warhol painted a series of S&H green stamps posters along the lines of his famous Campbell Soup works.
As consumers opted for lower prices in lieu of stamps in the 1970s and 1980s the movement waned but never disappeared. One of the last major grocery chains to carry the stamps was the Publix chain in Florida, which dropped them in favor of coupons and other promotions that were less costly to the store. A 1988 study in the Academy of Marketing Science Journal notes that a survey of retail stores showed that stores that gave trading stamps had significantly lower gross profit margins and net profit returns than did stores that did not.
At the end of the twentieth century, the consumer's persistent desire to be tangibly rewarded for patronage continued in other forms—frequent flier miles, the return of percentages of credit card purchases—but only a few retail establishments offered actual trading stamps. The stamp movement tried to keep pace with changes in technology. Although S&H continued to distribute stamps and offer merchandise catalogs, they began to offer "paperless green stamps" saved on an ID card and added automatically at the register. In addition to redemption for gifts in the catalog, the stamps could be used to save in the store, as coupons for entertainment, frequent flyer miles, and donations toward a charity or community project.
Lynn, Judy, and Bobby Vaught. "Three Different Variables and Their Relation to Retail Strategy." Academy of Marketing Science Journal. Vol. 16, Fall 1998.
Similar in appearance to postage stamps, trading stamps are small, adhesive-backed coupons. These stamps were once frequently given to consumers when they purchased merchandise from certain retailers. The trading stamps were pasted in small books that could later be redeemed for other merchandise. Retailers commonly gave out one stamp for each purchase of ten cents. The first stamps were issued in 1890 by Schuster's Department Store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Schuster's gave the stamps to cash-paying customers to encourage them to forgo charging their purchases. The most prominent trading stamps were S&H Green Stamps, first issued by the Sperry & Hutchinson (S&H) Company in 1896. Other major trading-stamp brands included Top Value, King Korn, Triple S, Gold Bell, and Plaid.
S&H calls trading stamps "America's first frequent shopper program and grandfather of marketing programs such as frequent-flyer miles." During the prime years of trading stamps in the 1950s and 1960s, when they were offered by most large grocery chains and gasoline stations, S&H printed three times as many stamps as the U.S. Post Office. S&H claims that its 1964 catalog was the largest single publication in the United States. As he did with the Campbell's Soup (see entry under 1910s— Food and Drink in volume 1) can, pop-artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987) created a series of S&H Green Stamp paintings that confirmed their role as icons (symbols) of popular culture.
Trading stamps fell out of favor after the 1970s with the rise of cents-off coupons and other promotions. In 1999, S&H reinvented the trading-stamp concept in digital form, called S&H Greenpoints, describing them as "the new incentive and rewards currency for the next generation of loyalty marketing." Like trading stamps, Greenpoints were issued by participating merchants to consumers who could redeem them through a catalog or via the S&H Web site. Consumers could choose merchandise, discounts, frequent flyer miles, or contributions to a charity.
For More Information
Fox, Harold W. The Economics of Trading Stamps. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1968.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about S & H and the Trading StampBusiness. New York: Sperry & Hutchinson, 1958.
Sperry and Hutchinson Co. S&H Greenpoints.http://www.greenpoints.com (accessed February 26, 2002).