MAILING SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY April 2011 Return to Sender
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Issue Date: March/April 2011, Posted On: 4/7/2011
Return to Sender
Sending your business communications to the wrong address is more than just a minor annoyanc; it can have major effects on your
budget. Here's why quality control is crucial. By Elizabeth Lombard
The last time a mailpiece you sent showed up days later marked “Return to Sender,” your initial thought was
probably that the customer would not be happy with your service. Critical as customer satisfaction is to a
successful business, you can add the reality of lost revenue to your thoughts as well. A business or
organization with consistently incorrect addresses — and no system in place to correct them — or one that
does not comply with other USPS addressing regulations, penalizes itself. That is, the business or
organization essentially disqualifies itself from taking advantage of USPS discounts, subjecting themselves to
higher postage expenditures.
Traditionally, a returned mailpiece may have registered only on the annoyance scale as having to mail the item
twice. But today's USPS addressing regulations move the issue from the weight scale to the balance sheet.
Based on compliance, or lack thereof, business owners can come up in the red or black. Postal discounts or
incentives can turn saved postage dollars into found revenue. Quality control of address management — and
compliance to USPS standards — can, indeed, make a lot of sense.
Noted here are a number of USPS regulations in which commercial mailers must comply or potentially lose
their postal discounts.
Compliance through CASS-Certified Solutions
Some mailers choose to prepare commercial mailings at non-automation prices. In essence, they are sorting
and preparing the mailing without the use of addressing software. While this might be a fairly easy process for
local mailings, mailers must still comply with the requirement that states that a certified process must be used
within 12 months before mailing to ensure accuracy of five-digit ZIP Codes. Approved methods include, but
are not limited to, Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS)-certified address matching software for
computerized lists, and for manually maintained lists or small computerized lists, options include surveys of
addressees on the mailer’s address list inquiring about the accuracy of ZIP Code information, USPS mailing
list services or that of an authorized service provider, CASS-certified software or the USPS website
(www.usps.com). The mailer’s signature on the postage statement certifies that this standard has been met.
As it applies to automation-price mailings, the physical portion, e.g., street, city, state, ZIP of the addresses
must matched using a CASS/MASS-certified process within 180 days before mailing date (90 days for carrier
route mailings). Using CASS-certified software to meet this regulation is efficient. Further, most CASS-certified
software provides options or suggestions to addresses that couldn’t be coded automatically. In doing so, the
opportunity to increase the number of qualifying mailpieces for the mailing is maximized! Addresses that can’t
be postal-coded and assigned a delivery point routing barcode do not qualify for automation prices. As it
applies to most CASS-certified software, an additional cost-saving feature is the duplicate-detection feature.
Based on mailer-specified criteria, duplicate names and/or addresses can be identified and removed from the
mailing list, thus reducing redundancy, wasted postage and materials.
Compliance through Move Update Solutions
Commercial First-Class Mail and Standard Mail mailers must also comply with the Move Update regulation,
which states that addresses on all pieces must be updated within 95 days prior to the mailing date through a
USPS-approved address update method. These include Address Change Service (ACS), an NCOALink the
FASTforward program or an appropriate ancillary service endorsement such as Address, Change or Return
Service Requested. For ACS and ancillary endorsements, it isn’t just that a mailer use the Service or
endorsement on their outbound mailpieces, but also that they make the appropriate updates to their database
upon receipt of address change notifications. The Postal Service also recommends that mailers retain address
correction records for up to two years.
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Mailers that fail the Move Update standard must pay seven cents per assessed mailpiece in the mailing.
Further, according to the USPS Move Update Advisement Policy (Nov. 2010), Standard Mail and First-Class
Mail mailings that have not performed a Move Update method are not eligible for the presorted (including
automation, non-automation and carrier route) prices, and must be mailed at a price that does not require
Move Update e.g. the First-Class Mail single-piece price.
Savings through Physical Address and Recipient Accuracy
While compliance to the Move Update standard is critical, savvy mailers must realize that regardless of the
Move Update standard, employing solutions that maximize the accuracy of both the physical portion of the
address, as well as the “recipient” who resides at that address, simply makes good business sense. In fact,
one study indicated that on average, the monthly rate of deterioration of address currency, due to family and
individual moves alone, is approximately 1.2% and in six months, about 7.2% of addresses in address files
have the potential to be inaccurate. And while undeliverable as addressed mail is very costly to the USPS
because pieces must be forwarded, returned or discarded, UAA mail is very costly to mailers as well. It has
been said that poor quality customer data cost US businesses $611 billion a year in postage, printing and
overhead, plus the costs associated with losing and alienating a customer.
Quality addresses maximize the opportunity for improved delivery, resulting in potentially faster responses,
reduced days sales outstanding and enhanced cash flow. Procedures should be put in place to measure the
impact of address quality solutions. The results should reflect a decline in address correction notices, returned
and/or forwarded mail.
Address and Barcode Compliance
There are a number of regulations relating to the printing and placement of addresses and barcodes on
commercial mailings. Some of these include:
Minimum clearances between the barcode and any information line above or below it within the address block
must be met for both the POSTNET barcode and the Intelligent Mail barcode. There is also a limitation relative
to the separation between the barcode and the top line or bottom line of the address block. For barcodes
printed on documents using window envelopes, a clear space must be maintained when the document or
insert is moved to its full limits in each direction within envelope. This is often referred to as the “tap test.”
Many document generation and addressing software solutions include functionalities to assist mailers in
meeting these requirements.
The MERLIN program verifies First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, and Periodicals mail against Domestic Mail
Manual (DMM) standards. One of several verifications is barcode readability. Results that fail below the
minimum threshold may not be eligible for the postage rate in which the mailing was entered. MERLIN
provides diagnostic reports so that mailers can improve mail quality as applicable.
According to USPS Publication 28, Postal Addressing Standards, minimum size point type fonts apply; the
point type may be slightly smaller if the mailpieces bear a POSTNET or Intelligent Mail barcode and the
address is printed in all capital letters.
Delivery addresses for letter-size mailpieces must be within the optical character read area. Address
placement criteria also applies to commercial flats. On all Periodicals, Standard Mail, Bound Printed Matter,
Media Mail and Library Mail flats mailed at presorted, automation or carrier route prices, mailers must place
the delivery address parallel or perpendicular to the top edge on the front or the back of the mailpiece and
within the top half of the mailpiece. That doesn’t mean that the mailpiece must be addressed in landscape, but
rather, when positioned in portrait for the purposes of preparation and processing, the address must then be in
the top half of the piece.
If these standards for flats are not met, the mailer may be required to pay additional postage, or correct and re-
enter the mailing. For example, an automation-price Standard Mail flat-size mailing that does not meet the
standards would pay automation First-Class Mail flats prices appropriate for the weight of the pieces, resulting
in a significantly increased postage spend.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the Intelligent Mail barcode. While the Postal Service recently postponed
the retirement of the POSTNET barcode, use of only the Intelligent Mail barcode to qualify for automation
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discounts will eventually occur. It is with this barcode that the USPS will gain total visibility of pieces within the
mailstream, as well as capture and grade mailers’ address quality data. To that end, mailer implementation of
procedures and solutions to ensure compliance of postal regulations will become increasingly more important.
Customer satisfaction is certainly a critical factor in building and maintaining a business, but that should not
preclude an owner’s responsibility to monitor and carefully guard the bottom line. Quality control to ensure
correct addresses is a win-win for mailers as they benefit in multiple financial ways - and simultaneously
support and protect their valued customers by keeping them happy.
Elizabeth Lombard, CMDSM, CMDSS, MDP, MDC, EMCM is National Postal-Carrier Manager, Pitney Bowes