By Sean Poulter for the Daily Mail 00:45 01 Dec 2012, updated 00:45 01 Dec 2012
Expensive: People are being urged not to buy first class stamps because of poor deliveries over Christmas
Families are being urged to forget first-class post for Christmas cards, amid warnings of poor deliveries and stamp price rises.
The official customer body, Consumer Focus, suggests those who still send cards should opt for second class stamps and post early.
The nation is expected to cut back on the number of cards sent this year because of the Royal Mail’s decision to impose huge price rises.
The total number of cards sent at Christmas was estimated at just over 1 billion in 2005, however the figure this year is likely to be fewer than 800 million.
The Royal Mail triggered controversy earlier this year with a decision to raise the price of a first class stamp by 14p to 60p, while second class rose by the same amount to 50p.
The increases - the biggest in the 172 year history of the organisation - came as people are increasingly choosing to use the internet and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and virtual cards, to send Christmas messages.
While the Royal Mail will have fewer cards to handle, it will be kept busy with deliveries as a result of a predicted 15per cent surge in the number of Christmas gift purchases made online.
Monday is being dubbed the UK’s ‘Cyber Monday’, which is the busiest online shopping day of the year with a predicted 115million visits to online stores.
Consumer Focus is urging people to avoid disappointment by posting cards and ordering online shopping early.
Advocating the use of second class stamps, a spokesman said: ‘Post as early as possible using second class. This will save money and cut stress by ensuring items are delivered well in time for the big day.
Down on deliveries: The increase in stamp prices is set to see the amount of Christmas cards sent plummet this year
‘Second class post also has a better delivery record - last Christmas only just over a half of items sent first class arrived the next day, but over 90 per cent of items sent using second class arrived on time within three days.’
The net effect is that many people may be paying an extra 10p per card on first class post, yet find they arrive no faster than if they used cheaper stamps.
In theory, the Royal Mail has to meet targets to deliver at least 93per cent of first class post the following day, however this regime is suspended during the busy Christmas period.
Last year, 55.5per cent of first class post arrived on time during the Christmas rush, but the figure was just 33.7per cent in 2010 when much of the country was covered in snow and ice.
By contrast 92.3per cent of second class post arrived within three days ahead of last Christmas and
it was 76.5per cent in 2010.
In the first half of the 2012 financial year, Royal Mail narrowly missed its 93per cent first class target with a punctuality rate of 92.6per cent. It beat the second class target with a performance of 98.6per cent.
Director of Postal Policy at Consumer Focus, Robert Hammond, said: ‘With only a month to go and last post dates for some international mail this week, we’d urge people to think about their Christmas post now.
Better delivery record: According to Consumer Focus, deliveries with second class stamps are just as likely to make it in time for Christmas as first class stamps
‘Posting and ordering gifts early will save money and ensure things arrive in plenty of time. Not leaving things to the last minute helps avoid disappointment.’
Chief executive of the Greeting Card Association, Sharon Little, said manufacturers are worried about how the rise in postage costs will affect sales. However, she insisted that the internet and social websites are not a real alternative.
‘Christmas cards are a great British invention and tradition, not an overseas invader, and we lead the world in terms of greeting card design and the number of cards we buy a year, on average of 31 each,’ she said.
‘We all love to be in our homes at Christmas time surrounded by the cards we have received from far and wide. These cards show us that all these friends and family care about us and have taken the time to write us their Christmas wishes.
The Post Office: The post office also came under some criticism for its waiting times recently
‘Christmas is all about caring, sending real cards to friends and family is far more meaningful than any form of electronic communication – it’s one of the very few times we see each other’s handwriting these days. You can’t put a Facebook message or an e-card on your mantelpiece.’
This year sees the Royal Mail running its ‘Delivery to Neighbours’ scheme across the country, where items bought on the web are left next door rather than being returned to the delivery office to be collected by customers.
In theory, this will avoid the queues at local delivery offices, however there is also a concern that valuable gifts will go missing.
The Royal Mail is offering some eligible customers the right to buy stamps at the pre-increase price of 46p for first class and 36p for second class.
Elderly people who receive Pension Credit, and others who are on Employment and Support Allowance or Incapacity Benefit can buy 36 first and second class stamps from post offices at the lower prices.
The last recommended postal dates for standard parcels in the UK is December 13; while final date for second class post is December 18 and for first class, December 20.
People sending presents are advised to ask for a free proof of posting, which are available from Post Offices and are required for compensation for loss, damage or delay.