Royal Mail SmartStamp software open at a blank labels template.
Today we posted our Christmas cards. Yes, I know the airmail ones won’t get there in time for Christmas, but hey! last year we didn’t write our Christmas 2004 letter until the end of January 2005! It’s a start.
This year I used the Royal Mail SmartStamp software that I bought (leased?) earlier this year. I’ve been using it off-and-on for the last four months but today was the first time that I really put it to the test, and I have to admit that while it does what I need it to do (that is: print stamps) the whole experience is rather disappointing.
It doesn’t appear to be a terribly well thought-out piece of software. The graphic user interface (GUI) isn’t great, or terribly user-friendly. One of my major gripes is that it is limited to an 800 x 600 pixels screen resolution. Here’s how it looks when I maximize the SmartStamp window on my 1280 x 1024 pixels resolution monitor:
Having maximized the window, disappointingly, nothing has resized!
Look at the size of the labels! I can’t read them, but if they automatically resized when I maximized the window that would make things a whole lot easier. I might even overlook some of the other ‘features’ if it did that.
I’ve not used the print-directly-onto-envelopes option yet, I’ve only used the print-onto-labels option, which suits me fine. It’s easier to load an A4 sheet of labels into my laser printer than faff around adjusting the paper guides to load a ream of envelopes.
Labels can be created either individually, one label at a time, or in a mail-merge where you select the stamp price and then tick the contacts you want labels printed for — SmartStamp automatically hunts down your Outlook or Outlook Express address book (which is great!)
Opening the application and double-clicking the first stamp you are presented with this screen:
Customize your stamps and address labels here.
The three options are
- Single Print
This allows you to create a variety of stamps (1st class, 2nd class, Airmail, etc.) with or without address labels.
- Mail Merge
For loads of stamps of the same denomination, with address labels selected from your Windows Address Book or Outlook contacts.
- Bulk Print
This option will give you a sheet of stamps of the same denomination, with no address labels.
Stamp prices and weights are all kept up-to-date and selecting the right price is simple — this I think they have got right — for either UK Mail or Overseas Mail. You can also assign regularly-used stamps to one of six Favourites buttons. CDROM in the screenshot above is for my Psion SDK software CDROM that I distribute.
Clicking the Address Book button (top-right) brings up this window:
Choose your recipient’s address either from the list on the left or use the search facility to narrow it down to a shorter list.
As soon as it is open the Address Book list on the left starts to populate, which feels really annoying. I have 541 items in my Outlook Contacts list (which is the default address book selected in my SmartStamp). Almost every time I use this feature all I want to do is search for one particular name. I’d much rather that SmartStamp waited for me to type in the name rather than racing off trying to be helpful and list every name in my address book.
For Mail Merge much the same window pops up, but with the addition of tick-boxes to the left of the names in the Address Book list. This I don’t mind. But I do wish that it would sort the list alphabetically by surname once it has populated the list.
Another feature that would have been wonderful would have been to tie it into the Royal Mail’s online postcode checker facility. What a faff it was to keep clicking back and forth between SmartStamp, Outlook Contacts and the Royal Mail postcode website just to ensure that three addresses had their postcodes completed.
It would also be great if this software could read syndicated feeds that gave useful information such as last posting dates at Christmas, or information about proposed price increases.
Finally, once I’ve completed one batch of labels (eg Mail Merge of airmail letters to the USA) the only way that I can see to start anew is to exit the application completely and start again from scratch. Surely it wouldn’t have been too much of a hardship of include a New button. In fact, had they built the application using a standard Windows UI it would have made things much more familiar.
This week I ordered a book on Amazon called Don’t Make Me Think about website usability. I’m absolutely certain that this application could do with a major usability overhaul. Royal Mail, if you’re listening I’d be delighted to be involved.
And the price really is too high, for something this poor: £4.99 a month or £49.99 a year, plus cost of postage. I wouldn’t have minded paying a one-off fee of £49.99 to buy the software but every year?! Come on, Royal Mail!
And I forgot to mention that once you have printed your labels and stamps you then have 2 days to post the letters! I printed a sheet of 21 stamps today each of which said at the bottom of each “Post by 19.12.05”. Why?! I don’t get booklets of stamps at Tesco that have a use-by date, why here?!
I will keep using the software because it saves me time, and it means that I can deal with my mail at times that are convenient to me and when the local post office is closed. But at the end of the day while I was able to use the software to print all our labels and stamps, I could have done it a lot more pleasurably and intuitively had a few things been better designed, in my opinion.