Bad addresses are costing businesses millions. More than 43 million Americans move each year, and outdated address lists can result in a letter, bill, package, or flat being undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA). For a mailer and their mail house, this is just bad business – starting with potential liability for financial penalties, along with poor customer communications, limited marketing effectiveness, lagging account receivables, and fewer sales.
Mailers or their service providers can avoid these problems by working in compliance with US Postal Service’s Move Update requirements – for example, checking a mailing list against the USPS’s National Change of Address (NCOALink) database. This will verify that a recipient on a mailing list has filed a change of address notice with the USPS and will note the new address as well, if it is available. Full-service providers are licensed to provide the previous 48 months of this data.
Why is NCOALink so cost-effective as a Move Update process? It is the only method that identifies UAA before a mailing. By helping mailers reduce UAA as well as the costs of wasted printing, packaging, and postage, it is green from end-to-end. But while NCOALink is critical, it is not the only method of updating moved recipients. Other USPS-approved methods include post-mailing options such as Address Change Services and Ancillary Endorsement Services – each with its own range of options that may impact mailer needs differently. Because undeliverable mail means wasted resources and lost opportunities, mailers should understand their options and prioritize their focus on address quality.
NCOA — and Other Address Quality Processes — Matter to Mailers
Correcting out-of-date addresses using NCOALink and other preapproved methods allows mailers to meet the USPS Move Update requirement for a 95-day period from the date of processing. These operations not only add value in reducing UAA mail but empower mailers to qualify for First-Class and Standard Mail discounts. Move Update is required to achieve USPS Marketing Mail, First-Class presort letters and flats, and Parcel Select Lightweight.
The costs associated with undeliverable mail can be severe. The Postal Service leverages its Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) technology to check every address a mailer submits in bulk for accuracy. If only 0.5 percent of addresses are faulty, failing to mirror USPS change-of-address records beyond a certain cutoff point, the mailer can be charged an 8-cent fee on each bad address. The potential for thousands of dollars in penalties due to out-of-date mailing lists is tangible and extensive.
Adding Value with Address Quality Methods Beyond NCOA
The Postal Service’s Address Change Service (ACS), a post-mailing option, allows customers mailing First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, and Periodical flats or letters to receive electronic or automated address corrections using the Intelligent Mail barcode.
This allows for the USPS to forward mail or notify mailers of a change-of-address electronically, provided the addressee submitted a change of address request with the Postal Service. ACS ultimately reduces the volume of printed address correction notifications handled by both the Postal Service and mailers; ACS options also centralize and automate the provision of address correction information to mailers.
ACS is available for use with all classes of mail, and there are four distinct types of ACS options that meet Move Update standards:
• OneCode ACS allows mailers to receive electronic address corrections using the Intelligent Mail barcode on First-Class, Marketing Mail, and Periodical Flat or Letter mailings.
• Full-Service ACS is provided as an additional benefit for mail that qualifies for Full-Service discount postage prices and also relies on the Intelligent Mail barcode. Full-Service Mailers do not have to pay additional costs for Full-Service ACS.
• IMpb ACS is requested through the Intelligent Mail Package barcode.
• Traditional ACS allows customers to receive UAA notifications electronically, but the Intelligent Mail barcode is NOT required. Instead, a USPS-assigned Participant ID is required and an optional “keyline” may be printed in the address block of the mail piece.
Because ACS service options are automated, they benefit users by more easily reducing the volume of UAA mail. Manual or generally labor-intensive functions are eliminated, and users may choose when to retrieve fulfillment of time-sensitive information via a secure Internet site.
Ancillary Services Improve Addresses Continuously, Post-Mailing
In most cases, ACS services must be combined with the USPS’s Ancillary Service Endorsements (ASE), which provide the Postal Service with instructions on how to handle mail if it does come back undeliverable as addressed. These options allow the sender to obtain, on request, the addressee’s new, forwarding address (if the addressee filed a change-of-address order with the Postal Service) or the reason for non-delivery.
Mailers may use one of four Move Update-compliant ASE options to request a notification of the addressee’s new address:
• Address Service Requested ensures that whenever possible, the mail piece is forwarded to the new address. The mailer receives a separate notice with the new address and is charged a manual address correction fee. When forwarding is not possible, mail is returned to the mailer along with details on the reason behind the failed delivery. Only First-Class mail is returned at no additional charge; all other mail classes are charged postage and/or fees for the return of the piece. Because of these potential costs, this endorsement is not recommended for USPS Marketing Mail or Parcel Select Lightweight. (Weighted fees would be charged for returned mail, equal to the comparable First-Class mail postage, plus any non-machinable surcharges, multiplied by 2.472.)
• Change Service Requested provides address correction services without forwarding or return. If undeliverable, either the new address or the reason it is undeliverable is provided to the sender.
• Return Service Requested (or Temp-Return Service Requested) provides address correction services and always (or temporarily) returns the piece.
Here, mailers should be aware that undeliverable USPS Marketing Mail without an endorsement is disposed of by the Postal Service. Proper selection of endorsement is crucial part of the address quality process, helping to ensure addresses are correct and current.
It’s also important to note that ACS and ASE processes do not necessarily meet the Move Update requirement for the mailing since they are post-mailing methods. Yet they still deliver value, as mailers remain in compliance with Move Update requirements if they mail to customers at least once every 95 days using a post-mailing method, and update addresses to be used on the mail pieces prior to each next mailing. If new mail is sent more than 95 days after the last mailing or if this is the first time you mail to an address obtained other than directly from your addressee (in the last 95 days), mailers must use an approved method or mail the pieces at the single-piece First-Class Mail price. Also, mailers can always combine ACS and ASE with NCOALink processing to meet the move update method the first time used.
Good Data Is Worth the Effort
Correct addresses have always mattered, but now maybe more than ever. Is your target working from home or are they still at the office? Have they moved out of the city and into a different or more rural area? The physical nature of mail stands out – welcomed by potentially displaced workers and as an efficient, customer-centric channel for marketers – but only if it reaches the right door. On this landscape, address quality is the foundation to mailing success. Consider your options and choose the right tool or set of tools for better postage rates and USPS-compliant mail that gets delivered.
Greg Brown is vice president of global marketing for Melissa (www.melissa.com), a provider of global data quality and address management solutions. Melissa is an NCOALink Full Service Provider licensee of the USPS and its MAILERS+4 postal automation software is USPS PAVE Gold certified to presort mail to qualify for postal discounts on First Class, Marketing Mail (Standard Mail) and Periodicals. Connect with Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org or LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.