USPS Pushes the Envelope

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CHICAGO -- The U.S. Postal Service plans to push the envelope in the next few years with a variety of intelligent envelope and document technologies that it says could change direct marketing forever.

Jay Freitas, manager of strategic marketing for the USPS, gave a small group here at this week's Chicago Direct Marketing Days Conference a peek at some of the experiments the agency has been working on for the past three years with its partners, which include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab and the Envelope Manufacturers Association.

Freitas showed an example of an intelligent document technology that works like this: Consumers receive a direct mail piece for a special offer. By holding the letter or postcard to the computer screen and using special scanning technology attached, recipients are sent to the page where the special is highlighted so they can buy it. Instead of keying a credit card number into the computer, the technology lets buyers hold their credit card up to the screen, and the transaction takes place.

The system also would allow customers to print a tracking form once the transaction is completed; customers can hold the forms up to the screen to receive shipping and tracking information.

"We call this electronic impulse buying," Freitas said.

If the product needs to be returned, the technology can allow the company to send a return label to the customer with a barcode that corresponds to that return. When the customer holds the return label to the screen, he is sent to a page that lets him choose whether he wants to send it back or get a new product.

"This is very important for inventory planning," Freitas said.

He also spoke of other technologies being developed at MIT that may help direct marketers, including fiber fingerprinting, electronic ink, clothes that communicate and even shoes that generate power to manage large quantities of information.

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