New Idea Adds 'Urgency' to Business Reply Mail

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Though the U.S. Postal Service and others are intrigued by a time-sensitive business reply envelope invented by Bob Fredman, everyone -- including Fredman -- concedes that many kinks remain to be worked out before the idea becomes reality.

His concept, called Urgent Reply Mail, is basically a business reply mail envelope with an expiration date. Businesses would send the URM envelope along with bills to customers, who would have to mail their payment by a predetermined date to take advantage of prepaid postage. After that date, the customer would have to put a stamp on the envelope.

Fredman said the cutoff date for prepaid postage could be printed on the bill and be shown through a window on the envelope or printed on the envelope itself.

"Having the date on the bill would allow companies to change the date on a per-customer basis," he said. "Some companies may want to give certain customers only one day of free postage, while others may get 10 days of free postage."

Businesses would benefit from Urgent Reply Mail, Fredman said, because it would provide incentive for customers to pay their bills by a certain date. Regular BRM "does not create any sense of urgency," he said, since customers can mail the envelope whenever they want and still get the free postage.

Fredman said he thought of the idea for the envelope in 1999 when he was paying bills one night and looking for stamps. He has pitched it to First-Class mailers, direct marketers, envelope manufacturers and the U.S. Postal Service. Fredman said he has been approved for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Fredman said he plans to license the concept to an envelope manufacturer, which would print it for businesses. He is working with an envelope manufacturer to get a test case for the concept. Two major credit card companies have expressed interest in URM, he said.

The postal service, whose approval is needed for the concept, is more skeptical. Though it could charge a 2- to 10-cent fee for each envelope, as it does with BRM, "we question whether there really is market demand," USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said. "In addition, we are really focusing on initiatives spelled out in our Transformation Plan right now," and the URM envelope is not part of that plan.

Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said "while we think that it is an interesting idea, we don't know what the market for it is."

Fredman also admits that concerns exist. What if customers mail the envelope without a stamp after the cutoff date for prepaid postage? Does the business still pay the postage or does the USPS return the mail, which would end up costing money. To get around this, he suggested that "billers could perhaps offer it three times to a customer, and if they don't [mail it in time], suspend the offer. Or, credit card companies could charge them for the postage on their next bill."


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