Americans have always had a fascination with time travel and the possibility of venturing either centuries into the past or future. As children, we heard of mail that was delivered by stagecoach, on horseback or by ship, relayed from one carrier to another, sometimes spending months in transit until delivery. Imagine the shock of an 18th or 19th century mail carrier at the speed with which the U.S. Postal Service operates today in the 21st century. Spurred by competition and stimulated by new technologies, the Postal Service is meeting new demands with ingenuity and efficiency. Nowhere is this more evident than in the online, Track & Confirm and Application Program Interface (API) services that are now available to both large-volume shippers who mail thousands of parcels a day to all parts of the country and around the world and to individuals sending out a birthday present to Grandma or a care package to a child in college.
Signature Capture Leads the Way
Even in colonial times, proof of receipt of important material was preferred. Today, inkwells and quill pens are for decoration only. The Postal Service implemented its signature capture process in July 2000. More than 400 million signature items are delivered yearly by the Postal Service. All of these records, which used to be manually stored at more than 38,000 locations, are now stored electronically in a national database. At the time of delivery, scanning equipment allows the Postal Service's 250,000 plus delivery employees to capture relevant information. This new system of electronic record keeping provides the Postal Service and its customers with fast, efficient access to important delivery record information.
This same system of electronic records provided the support for the Postal Service's newest service offering, Signature Confir-mation, which was launched in February 2001. This service, which is available on Priority Mail and parcels mailed at First Class or Package Service rates, provides proof of delivery for higher-value shipments. A signature is captured at the time of delivery, and a copy of the delivery record, including the recipient signature, is provided via fax or mail upon request. Customers can conveniently make their delivery record requests online at www.usps.com or at 800-222-1811. Signature Confirmation service popularity continues to increase with Postal Service customers due to this ease of use option.
Delivery Confirmation and Signature Confirmation are two popular products that are purchased by mailers at the time of mailing. Delivery Confirmation service provides verification of delivery. Signature Confirmation service provides additional proof of delivery in that a signature is captured at the time of delivery.
Mailers choosing to submit an electronic file for their Confir-mation Service items receive a reduced fee for these services. Mailers can create their own software or use vendors that sell this type of software to produce their Confirmation Services labels for mailing. Certification is required through the Postal Service to receive the discounted rates. These programs can be used with any volume of mail. Publication 91, Confirmation Services Technical Guide, has all the information required to participate in the electronic rate program.
Web Tools Help Businesses
The Postal Service Web Tools are a set of APIs, which commu-nicate across the Web in eXtensible Markup Language (XML) the Internet's "language of business-to-business e-commerce." These tools provide shipping information to an application or Web site that allows mailers to supply Postal Service rates and Track & Confirm inquiries. APIs also support the printing of shipping labels (with barcodes) and more to your customers and your shipping department or customer service staff. The Postal Service's APIs provide the tools for shipping via the Postal Service, and mailers choose how to use them in a Web site's shopping cart, in back-office software, at retail windows or integrated into a software package.
Confirmation Services API
Ideal for small-volume shippers, this API allows you to generate Delivery Confirmation or Signature Confirmation barcoded labels for Priority Mail, First-Class Mail packages and Package Services shipments (which include Parcel Post, Media Mail, Library Mail and Bound Printed Matter). The API provides the complete address label including sender's address, delivery address and Confirmation Services barcode; you provide the postage. These barcoded labels are mailed at the Delivery Confirmation electronic option rate, free of charge for Priority Mail and 13. for First-Class Mail and Package Services. Signature Confirmation electronic option rate is $1.30 regardless of the mail class. New optional features include a post date request and e-mail notification to the recipient of the shipment creation. Additional Web tools that can be integrated in mailers' Web sites and shipping systems are explained on the Postal Service's Web site at www.usps.com.
No matter how sophisticated the technology, early American standards of service and support still apply. The Postal Service has a group of dedicated account managers who service corporate customers. These managers deal with general issues such as mail service, fees, mail preparation, etc. For technical support on electronic rate Confirmation Services, there is a customer service team at the Postal Service headquarters facility. Information on electronic rate Confirmation Services can be found in Publication 91, Confirmation Services Technical Guide.
For more information, visit www.usps.com.