Postal Service Ready to Debut Tracking Program This Month

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Part of postmaster general William J. Henderson's vision to give the U.S. Postal Service and its customers access to information about mailings starts this month with the launch of a new service.

Origin Confirm/Destination Confirm will allow USPS customers track letter-sized mail electronically by using Planet Code barcodes that collect location and time data about their mailings as they move through the automated mail-processing flow.

According to the USPS, Destination Confirm is designed for outgoing mail and lets mailers know when and if their customers have received bills, credit cards or advertising mail. Depending on the type of data that customers use with the system, it will allow them to synchronize telemarketing programs with the delivery of their solicitations, augment direct mail pieces with other advertising media and receive day-certain mail.

Origin Confirm, which collects data on incoming mail, provides information about which customers have sent back their responses or remittance mail before the mailer receives the hard copy. According to the USPS, this can help mailers manage cash flow and accounts receivables more efficiently and provide opportunities to evaluate the success of ad campaigns as responses come in.

The system has significant customer service benefits, said Bob Rosser, director of new business development at Experian Marketing Services, Lincoln, NE, and co-chairman of the Planet Code Mailers Technical Advisory Committee work group.

"Mailers are getting information two to three times ahead of time, before you get your hands on a hard copy," he said. "So, for example, a customer service rep can say 'thank you' to a customer when that customer calls in, or it may prevent [a biller] from sending notices to customers who have already paid."

Rosser said another benefit is it can be printed using the same technology that prints barcodes today.

Currently, Origin/Destination Confirm is being tested at 30 processing and distribution plants across the country. Later this month, hardware and software will be deployed at the 248 largest sites. Full product deployment is scheduled for next summer.

The USPS is currently developing alternative pricing strategies and options, which may include per piece, subscription or flat rate fees. After these costs are developed, it has to go to the Postal Rate Commission with a proposal, but that is eight to 10 months away. In the meantime, there is no charge.

So far, companies that are beta testing the system are pleased.

"We firmly believe there are new ways to market and service our customers buried within this system," said Cameron Bellamy, associate director of mailing services at Columbia House, New York. "Every marketing person I know in the entire free world has some kind of a belief that response rates are linked very much to not only when the mail piece is dropped but when the mail piece is returned, and this is the only service or product that I know of that provides this information back."

To keep the information flowing smoothly on the back end, the USPS has awarded Siemens ElectroCom, Arlington, TX, an automated mail sorting and image recognition system company, $89.4 million for a new hardware and software system.

The system will allow data to be shared within each postal facility and between each facility and enable postal management to automatically sort mail pieces on which unreadable barcodes have been printed. The system, which has been tested since 1996 on 34 delivery barcode sorters in Virginia, will begin a national rollout in November 1999.

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