Businesses Can Put Their Stamp on Mailings

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The three qualified PC Postage vendors have launched products aimed at business now that the U.S. Postal Service has signed contracts allowing them to offer customized postage for commercial use on First Class, Priority and Express mail.

This type of postage lets the buyer personalize it with pictures or images using PC Postage technology. Businesses can add graphics such as their logo, Web site URL or other ad messages to authentic U.S. postage in their mailings.

End-user companies send graphics to the vendor companies, which create the postage and send it to these end users. Vendors are authorized to offer this postage in denominations ranging from 24 cents for a single-piece First Class postcard to $4.05 for material sent in a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope, plus the 39-cent First Class letter rate.

Endicia.com, Stamps.com and Zazzle.com will add the commercial application to their existing agreements for producing the postage for personal use, said Nick Barranca, USPS vice president of product development. They can offer their products for commercial use immediately.

"Expanding the way customized postage can be used is a bonus for businesses who want to create awareness for their products or services, build their brand and develop strong customer relationships," he said.

This third phase of the market test for customized postage runs through May 16, 2007, with an option for the USPS to extend it another year. This phase removes the restrictions on commercial images. An amendment to a bill signed in January by the president ensured that the issuance of personal postage by private vendors, under agreement with the USPS, does not violate federal law.

The USPS said the previous agreement with the vendors "specifically prohibits images [that] consist of notices or advertisements, [but] the change in the law essentially opens the door for the USPS to authorize [PC Postage] postage vendors to include advertising images."

The first phase of the test occurred over 10 weeks in 2004. The second phase ran from May 2005 until May 16, 2006. The tests let the USPS and the vendors gauge consumer interest in creating personalized postage. Since the second phase began, 20 million pieces of postage have been bought with pictures or images using PC Postage technology, including 5 million during the past holiday season.

"The success during the holiday period in particular showed us that this is a viable product and that customers will use personalized postage," USPS spokeswoman Joanne Veto said.

Endicia, Palo Alto, CA, launched PictureItPostage for Business last week. The company already is fulfilling orders for a financial services company and an insurance agency that are using the postage on direct mail, said Mark Delman, Endicia's vice president of marketing for PictureItPostage.

Mr. Delman said the offering "is ideal for business correspondence, fliers, direct mail pieces, brochures, annual reports and other important business communications." Real estate agents and insurance agents are two types of companies likely to be interested, he said.

"These companies almost always use their personal images to create a connection with their customers, and PictureItPostage for Business will give them another opportunity to do this," he said.

The offering also is useful for companies that emphasize their brands or wish to reposition them, he said.

PictureItPostage for Business offers a larger image size, up to twice as large as one competitor, Mr. Delman said.

"That provides more real estate for an advertiser to put their message on, and we think that is really significant," he said.

Stamps.com, Los Angeles, also launched PhotoStamps for Business last week.

"We think PhotoStamps for Business will have broad applications from small businesses all the way up to large corporate mailers," said Ken McBride, Stamps.com president/CEO.

Consumers have ordered 14.5 million PhotoStamps since May 2005, he said, and the new offering for business is a logical extension.

Along with the current sheet format, Stamps.com said, PhotoStamps now are available in a roll form factor for higher-volume applications.

Zazzle, Palo Alto, CA, also announced the immediate availability of ZazzleStamps customized postage for business use last week. Zazzle, in partnership with Pitney Bowes, began producing ZazzleStamps in July 2005.

"We heard from small businesses who wanted to be able to use personalized postage to frame their own messages, but couldn't offer it to them because of the restrictions," said Ian Siveyer, vice president for Stamford, CT-based Pitney Bowes' small business and postage solutions group.

Small businesses wish to use the postage for mailings such as invitations, he said, and interest also exists in the nonprofit industry and from charities. He doesn't see the application being used by large businesses for big direct mailings anytime soon, however.

"You won't be seeing this on every direct mail piece," Mr. Siveyer said. "The postage is for a limited number of classes and for the single-piece rate only."

Zazzle already has devised a ZazzleStamp for Hewlett-Packard. The postage features HP's logo, and the company is Zazzle's first customer for business postage. Other professional businesses such as search consultants, regional car dealerships, real estate agents and restaurateurs plan to use ZazzleStamps featuring their logo as well, Zazzle claimed.

Customized postage has two parts: a customer-supplied image and a state-of-the-art secure barcode. All customized postage is compatible with the postal service's automated mail processing systems. The USPS said it requires vendors to produce a product that meets current postal regulations and prove that all images produced and services provided abide by all federal laws, including copyright laws.

Authorized vendors will determine pricing and are expected to price their products based on the value provided to the consumer. The USPS said its role is to authorize and monitor qualified providers.

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