Coin sales showing U.S. Mint the money

Electronic commerce has turned into a gold mine for the U.S. Mint. Its fourth quarter online coin sales topped $26.5 million — an increase of 114 percent from the previous quarter, according to Philip Diehl, director of the Mint.

The Mint launched online sales at www.usmint.gov in April 1999, and found that its products were overwhelmingly popular. In fact, some coins sold out immediately. The heavy demand has "moved us into the top tier of e-tailers in only eight months," Diehl said.

The Mint sells collectible coins, coin-based jewelry and related products on its World Wide Web site. Products related to the Mint's 50 state quarters program has been especially popular with online consumers who have been buying more than $2 million of these coins nearly every day.

Last October, the Mint began to sell the Connecticut quarter and expected to sell 7 million of them the following week. But all 7 million quarters sold in 4 hours. When the Mint launched its most recent state quarter — from Massachusetts — there were 20,000 online visitors in the first hour.

"Online traffic has doubled over the past six months, and we are expanding capacity to handle another four-fold increase in the next six months," Diehl said.

To keep up with demand, Diehl said the Mint will upgrade its online technology, including the number of servers supporting its Web site. Diehl said the Mint will be looking for partnerships with the private sector to continue meeting customer demand.

Diehl said online sales are less expensive than hiring telephone salespeople and staff to handle orders. As a result, he said, the U.S. Mint is passing along the savings by waiving all shipping and handling costs on Web orders.

With the popularity of online coin sales — an estimated 112 million Americans are coin collectors — Diehl said there are an "enormous number of opportunities" to create partnerships to market coin-related items, such as coin jewelry or special holders for coin collectors.

In March, the Mint will launch an advertising campaign for its newest product, the Golden Dollar, which is expected to generate significant traffic online. The coin is gold-colored and sells for $35.50 for a roll of 20.

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