USPS Tracking Programs to Go Live by End of Year

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Two new mail tracking programs from the U.S. Postal Service will be ready for customer use by the end of the year, officials said last week.

Destination Confirm and Origin Confirm let customers track letter mail electronically as it moves through the automated mail-processing flow by using special Planet Code barcodes. The data is sent to the USPS' centralized service, which forwards it to the customer.

Eighteen mailers -- including JCPenney, Prudential, Columbia House, MCI and Experian -- are reporting positive beta results with Destination Confirm, and 30 more companies are expected to join the program this month. The postal service currently sends tracking information to customers three times a day, seven days a week, but it plans to increase that frequency later this year.

When the Planet Code system was launched last year, the USPS could only handle one customer a week, but system upgrades will expand capability to 75 customers per week by October, said program manager Paul Bakshi. The USPS has equipped its 275 largest processing and distribution centers with barcode readers and software and plans to have every piece of letter-sized barcode, sorting and reading equipment Planet Code-ready before the end of summer.

Experian began beta-testing the program for an inhouse project in late December.

"We added Planet Code to our redesigned consumer credit report so we can track the reports and tell our telephone operators at our national consumer assistance center in Allen, TX, the whereabouts of them," said Bob Rosser, director of new business development at Experian Marketing Services, Lincoln, NE, and co-chairman of the technical advisory committee work group at Planet Code. "This is important because consumers may call in, anxious to receive their consumer credit reports and wondering where they are."

The system also lets customers time their marketing programs better. When the postal service rolls out Destination Confirm, Rosser said, it will be extremely useful for direct marketers who use Standard-A mail.

"They will know when their mailings are about to hit home and be able to make a warm call if they are doing telemarketing follow-up," he said.

Origin Confirm collects data on incoming mail and provides information to companies about which customers have sent back their responses or remittance mail before the companies receive the hard copy. This can help mailers manage cash flow and accounts receivables more efficiently and evaluate the success of ad campaigns as responses come in. Origin Confirm codes can be placed on reply mail coming from any ZIP code by March 1.

The USPS is developing alternative pricing strategies and options for Destination Confirm, which may include per piece, subscriptions or flat-rate fees. After these costs are developed, the rate strategy will be brought to the Postal Rate Commission, which would start the rate-setting process. Bakshi said he doesn't expect the project to go to the PRC for another 10 months, so the service is free until then.

The postal service also plans to have Destination Confirm and Planet Code available for flats by the end of the year. Mail.dat, a series of data files capable of being produced by any PAVE-certified software that represents the details for a given presorted mailing, also will begin supporting Planet Code data.

By connecting Planet Code to Mail.dat, mailers will be able to "keep track of all of the pallets, sacks and trays a mailer or mailing service company sends out," said Joe Lubenow, vice president of postal affairs at Experian. "This is important to a company, for example, that sends out 500 pallets for a customer that is very particular and wants to know what's going on with [his] mail."

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