Merlin Flat Mail Readability Rate Rises July 31

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The barcode readability rate for flat mail pieces evaluated by the U.S. Postal Service's Merlin machines will increase from 80 percent to 90 percent starting July 31, the postal service announced last month.

Merlin, or Mail Evaluation Readability and Lookup Instrument, checks address accuracy for mailers receiving automation rates. Letter-sized mailing rates remain at 90 percent.

"The Merlin system is delivering the quality results we hoped for," said Michele Denny, USPS manager of marketing technology and channel management. "More than 94 percent of flat mailings are passing at the current quality threshold."

Mailers who don't meet the new threshold but achieve the former standard of 80 percent still will receive some discount.

"A mailing will only fail to get any automation discount if it falls below 80 percent readability," Denny said.

Bob O'Brien, vice president for postal affairs at Time Customer Service Inc., Tampa, FL, and industry chair of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, said the increase in the readability requirement would benefit mailers.

"Our industry relies on mail's effectiveness and efficiency to meet its business goals and those of its customers," he said. "That value promise can only be delivered if the mailing industry prepares and enters its mailings in accordance with the highest possible standards."

Merlin, however, still causes problems for some mailers, and many think the system has reliability issues. One mailer said he recently received a Merlin report with 27 percent compliance and an up charge of $8,000 based on a mailing of about 152,000 pieces. But after running the sample through another Merlin machine, he got an 85 percent compliance rate, resulting in a $1,200 up charge.

"The Merlin system is capricious," said Ellen Paul, owner of Paul & Partners, a marketing services firm with a focus on direct mail in northern Virginia. "It seems to me that you can take mailings to different post offices and get different readings. The USPS is not uniform in the calibration of the machines."

But Paul said that she agrees with the 90 percent read rate.

"As an industry we are trying to be professional, and being professional means having a certain standard, so having a 90 percent standard is fine in my book as long as the enforcement is evenhanded."

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