USPS Launches Friend-To-Friend Mail Test Today

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The U.S. Postal Service begins a test today of its Friend-to-Friend Mail service, which lets direct marketers provide their customers with postage-paid advertiser cards that can be sent to any third party, making it easier for advertisers to get the word out about their services to more consumers.

Under the program, an advertiser deposits funds in a First-Class Mail permit account to cover return postage for a percentage of the Friend-to-Friend card. Each Friend-to-Friend card is mailed at the First-Class Mail single-piece rate.

Then, the recipient mails the cards -- which include a Planet Code barcode that identifies the advertiser -- to any third parties, such as friends or family. When the USPS receives them, it sprays Postnet barcodes on the cards, which, when combined with the Planet Code, give the card a unique identifier that enables the USPS to bill the advertiser after the piece is scanned. The USPS scans the barcodes, processes the cards and delivers them to the intended recipients.

Every two weeks, the USPS reports to the marketers on the number of cards scanned, including their origin and destination. In addition, the account is charged every two weeks, and, if necessary, the marketers deposit additional money in the account.

VarTec Telecom Inc., a telecommunications company in Dallas, is the company testing the Friend-To-Friend program. It will send 2 million Friend-to-Friend cards enclosed in outer mail pieces in 10 mailings between today and Sept. 18. The test period, however, will run for six months -- until Feb. 1, 2001. Return pieces still will be accepted and processed after the test period, and VarTec will maintain postage in the account. VarTec is sending the pieces to its national mailing list.

The USPS said this program is only a test, and adjustments may be made based on the results. In addition, before the product can be offered beyond the test stage, the USPS must file a case with the Postal Rate Commission.

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