What happened? During a recent stay in a Spanish city, we bought a few picture postcards in one of the many souvenir stores, and, along with them, some stamps appropriate for mailing to Germany.
Upon closer examination after returning to our hotel, we found out that the stamps in question were not issued by Correos, the national Spanish post service, but by a service called Post by me!. (This alone did not seem suspicious to me - living in Germany, I'm used to getting my mail from several mailmen working for different post services throughout the day.)
What did seem suspicious was that the stamps cost 2€ each, whereas (as I later looked up) national Correos would only charge 1.65€ for a postcard to Germany (and actually, I got some of these Correos stamps later on in a regular Tabacos store at 1.60€ for some reason).
What is Post by me!? According to their website, Post by me! offers the following advantages for tourists:
MAXIMUM SIMPLICITY AND COMFORT
Can't really say that's the case. At least, it was not any more difficult to get stamps in a Tabacos store and to find a Correos mailbox.
POST BY ME offers a wide network of outlets “Post Points“.
Actually, true - once we knew what to look for, we realized that seemingly every second souvenir store, but also many newspaper stands and similar small shops (which are not directly/exclusively targetted at tourists) had the little green Post by me! mailboxes.
I wouldn't call it an "advantage", though, as the density of Correos mailboxes was completely sufficient, as well.
The “Post Points” are located in the cores of tourist life. (Hotels, campsites, leisure centers, souvenir shops, etc.)
True, see above - but at least for our stay in a large city, those locations coincided with general hubs where Correos mailboxes were located, as well.
This gives them easier access to the Postal Service making their vacations more comfortable.
Well, no, see above.
What seems fishy about this? Considering all of the above, I see various red flags that might point to a scam, or at least shady business practice:
- The service presents itself as an alternative to the regular solution (Correos), while arguably it provides no tangible advantage over the regular service at all.
- The service charges more than the regular solution.
- The service makes itself "more visible" than the regular solution, in such a way that tourists can easily end up buying the alternative service's products instead of the regular solution's products they were planning to buy.
Why do I wonder whether it is a scam rather than just well-done marketing being legitimately smarter than myself? Let me insert some clarification here in response to some comments that have been posted in the meantime:
It's not the price difference on its own. It's more the overall constellation of factors:
- Spain does have a "standard" post service (Correos) - it's the service that owns and empties all the (yellow, in this case) mailboxes seen in plenty of public places, the only kind of mailboxes frequently seen in Spain. The type of mailboxes that will be pointed out when asking someone who lives there what a local mailbox looks like.
- In a place that has such a service, when I ask to buy "stamps", without any other qualifier, I expect to get stamps of that standard service. You may call this assumption invalid. Fair enough (especially if you run the alternative service), but what harm would be done by explicitly pointing out the alternative stamps are not the same thing as the standard service? IMHO, the fact that it is not highlighted speaks for itself.
Now, the fact that I get those alternative service's stamps, without even a mention that "these are post by me-stamps for the green mailboxes, not for the regular yellow mailboxes", is IMHO questionable.
Then, I'd see the fact that the alternative service provider deliberately positions itself in such a way to create that situation - by having souvenir stores sell their stamps to tourists, who are somewhat unlikely to recognize at a glance that the stamps are not from the standard service - as quite problematic.
That the alternative service charges more than the standard one is just the icing on the cake in this situation.
What do others say? In the meantime, I could find a couple of online mentions that draw an even much darker picture - in the sense that they do not just charge a bit more, but that it actually doesn't work, i.e. mail never arrives in many cases. See, for example:
- Rant / Scam Warning: Don't buy "Post by me" stamps (green letter boxes, Bypost Global World)!!! (from a Reddit forum on Mallorca)
- Spanien: Vorsicht vor sog. Briefmarken von Postby.me - Postkarten kommen nicht an (in German; English translation of title: "Spain: Caution with so-called stamps by Postby.me - postcards do not arrive at their destination")
- Postby.me, sending postcards internationally (a TripAdvisor user review, for whom the service did work as expected, even though at a longer runtime than Correos)
I cannot say anything about the arrival rate yet, and some of those reports are also a few years old, so it's not clear whether they accurately describe the current situation.
THE QUESTION: Can this Post by me! service currently be considered legitimate, or is it a known scam, or at least a tourist trap, popping up in tourist locations inside (and maybe outside?) of Spain?
UPDATE: So far, I know that 3 out of 4 Post by me! postcards have actually arrived, and all within roughly 10 days. Thus, delivery actually worked unexpectedly well, contrary to what I feared based on the customer reviews. Will update further once I know about the fate of the Correos postcards, as well.