Mailers Pleased With Confirm at Forum

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BOSTON -- Mailers at the Fall 2002 National Postal Forum here last week praised the U.S. Postal Service's Confirm program despite problems with Confirm when handling catalogs and other flat mail.

The postal service began charging for Confirm this month. The service, which lets mailers track the status of mail through the system, had been in a no-charge test phase since its introduction in 1995.

Sue Taylor, postal liaison manager at Prudential, Millville, NJ, said at the opening keynote session that Prudential uses Confirm and its "entry scan information, [which] gives the opportunity for [Prudential and the USPS] to be on the same page so we know when the handoff actually occurs."

Prudential also uses Confirm to reduce stop payments and re-issues for customers, said Taylor, who expects the company to find more ways to use it.

At another session, Jennifer Bagwell, manager of circulation at Neiman Marcus, said her company uses Confirm on direct mail sent to selective clientele to promote major store events with specific beginning and ending dates. With Confirm, Neiman Marcus tracks whether customers received offers within the in-home window.

"Delivery too early is just as bad as delivery too late," Bagwell said.

In another session, Martin A. Bernstein, manager of media transportation/small package & postal relations manager at JCPenney Corp., Plano, TX, said the scan rate -- the number of pieces actually tracked by Confirm -- has been lower for flats than for letter-size mail.

Bernstein did not say what the scan rates were for JCPenney, but the overall rate for flats is reported to be 50 percent to 60 percent while the rate for letter-size mail is 98 percent. The rate for flats is lower because about half of flats bypass the flat-sorting machines where the barcodes are scanned.

Bernstein said the postal service is working to correct the problem with flats by putting Confirm barcodes "on bundles, so that when the carrier breaks open that bundle ... then we know it is being processed," even if the individual pieces do not go through a machine.

JCPenney has used Confirm since October 1998 and puts it on "all our advertising mail," Bernstein said. He cited benefits, such as that the company learns whether "some facilities take longer than others" to deliver the mail, allowing JCPenney to make adjustments. If a catalog mailing is late, for example, he said JCPenney can run additional ads in a particular area to promote a sale.

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