The Holy Grail for many mailers would be the ability to know where their mailings are at any time within the postal system. Mailers are one step closer to achieving that goal with the launch of the U.S. Postal Service's new Confirm system.
Confirm provides mailers with near real-time tracking information about their First Class, periodicals and Standard mail letters and flats. "Confirm gives mailers a virtual window into our operations and brings them one step closer to being able to know where their mail is, at any time," explains Nicholas Barranca, vice president of Product Development for the Postal Service. "It also provides our operations managers with the same information to isolate problems and improve service."
During the pilot program, the Confirm system was tested by over 600 mailers including direct mail advertisers, financial institutions, lettershops, retailers, periodicals publishers, remittance processors and other large commercial mailers. With the launch of the full production system in October, Confirm now offers increased capacity and processing capability, which provides near real-time data access and increases scan rates; a "start-the-clock" function so mailers can verify when the mailing actually enters the postal system; expanded PLANET Code functionality; a user-friendly Web site and dedicated customer support.
Confirm provides tracking information to mailers on both their outgoing mailings and incoming replies using PLANET (Postal Alpha Numeric Encoding Technique) Code technology, which stores information about the mailpiece, using a unique barcode. Mailers who are already printing the POSTNET Code can print the PLANET Code. Most of the major software vendors have incorporated the PLANET Code capability into their offerings. The Postal Service can also provide mailers with a true-type PLANET Code font that can be used to design mailpieces.
Mailers place the PLANET Code barcode on the front of their letter or flat mailpieces. The encoded data is captured when the mailpiece passes through postal mail sorting equipment. Data is collected containing information on the PLANET Code, the POSTNET Code, the processing facility, the operation number and the processing date and time. Mailers can download this information to their own computer systems or they can access it from the Confirm Web site: www.planetcodes.com.
Current users of Confirm must provide a Confirm Advance Shipping Notice (ASN) data file, which includes important information about the PLANET Code mailing. Each mailing must also be accompanied by a Shipment ID Barcode to record the induction date and time of mailing. The Shipment ID Barcode is generated by the mailer and affixed to or included in documentation such as Form 8125. Current users must convert to the new production system before the end of the year. "The ASN file and Shipment ID Barcode are necessary to enable the start-the-clock function," notes Barranca. "This way, mailers will know when their mailing has actually entered the postal system."
Two services fall under the Confirm umbrella, they are Destination Confirm and Origin Confirm. For outgoing mail, Destination Confirm provides considerable value and benefit to mailers:
For incoming mail, Origin Confirm provides considerable value and benefit to processors of incoming payments, orders and other reply mail:
Mailers can sign up for Confirm by calling the Confirm customer support at 800-238-3150 to request an application. There is a $1,000 fee to certify a mailer's ability to print the Shipment ID Barcode and PLANET barcodes. The USPS plans to file a rate case for Confirm with the Postal Rate Commission, in the near future.
Anita J. Bizzotto is chief marketing officer and senior vice president, U.S. Postal Service. For additional information, visit www.usps.com.