Mailer Worries Won't Delay New Merlin Program

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The U.S. Postal Service will begin using its Mail Evaluation Readability and Lookup Instrument, or Merlin, to validate address accuracy Jan. 1 despite concerns from some mailers.

Merlin verifies barcode readability and other mail requirements. As of Jan. 1 the postal service will use Merlin to read, parse and validate addresses against barcodes for greater accuracy.

Specifically, it will analyze barcode digit strings and check for what it calls "gross" address accuracy errors. These include ZIP+4 codes of 0000 and 9999 (legitimate addresses with four nines in the ZIP+4 will not count toward "9999" errors) and multiple instances of identical ZIP+4 codes within the Merlin sample.

The USPS said that it will allow a 1 percent tolerance for some address accuracy errors, but no tolerance for the incorrect use of ZIP+4 codes 0000 or 9999.

Originally, the USPS was going to give mailers until February.

"If we have add-on codes that are incorrect or pretty blatant errors, it makes us inefficient and costs us more to process the mail and to provide service to that mail piece," said John Sadler, manager, business mail acceptance, USPS. "It's strictly a quality issue."

Sadler would not comment on why incorrect add-on codes sometimes are added to addresses. But insiders said some mailers put ZIP+4 codes of 0000 or 9999 on mail pieces as a way to trick the machines so that they can get discounts. Others said mailers have old data in their database that has been filtered into the mail stream by mistake.

Mailers are concerned that there will be no grace period to test the new process before the zero-tolerance rule begins.

"We are not objecting to going after people who are trying to defraud the postal service," said Wanda Senne, director of postal development at ACE Marketing, a mailing services company in Smyrna, GA, and a division of World Marketing. "But there may be mailers who inadvertently have records in a mailing that will be identified as failed without time to make changes in their processes."

Large and small mailers also said they have not had enough time to communicate with industry and USPS personnel to allow for feedback and adequate training.

"While the USPS is providing training and information to the field this week [the week of Dec. 15], I don't see sufficient time for hands-on training and actual work with the process based on past experience with the verification process," Senne said.

The USPS, however, said the new rules should not come as a surprise to anyone.

"We've let the folks know early in the fall, if not before, that we were considering this, and urged them at the time to take a look at their software and make sure they are not putting zeros or nines on addresses that are not calling for nine add-on codes," Sadler said. "I think mailers have had ample time, frankly, to take a look at their software to make sure that it does not do any of those three things."


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