Mailers Question Response If Flats Address Shifts

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WASHINGTON -- If a customer's address label is moved from the bottom right or left corner of a mail piece to the top center, might fewer people open the mailer? And, as a result, will response fall?


Mailers raised that and other questions at last week's quarterly Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting. Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service said it's proceeding with deployment of a new flats sorting system that will require mailers to change the location of customers' addresses on larger pieces of mail.


Flat mail, which includes large envelopes, catalogs, magazines and newspapers, is one of the most labor-intensive mail categories to process because of variations in size, thickness and address label placement. Allowing the sequencing of larger mail pieces in delivery point order will reduce the time that carriers need to prepare mail for delivery.


A prototype machine will be installed in April in Indianapolis. Once field tests are completed, a full-size preproduction machine will be built and tested through June 2007. Full deployment of FSS equipment will begin in spring 2008.


Whenever a major operational or technical change occurs at the USPS -- such as barcoding or putting mail in delivery point sequence -- issues arise, but eventually get sorted out for the better, said Don Harle, vice president of postal affairs at Diamond Marketing Solutions, Bloomingdale, IL, and MTAC industry vice chair and treasurer.


"In theory, the [flats sorting system] should be good for everybody -- mailers and the postal service," he said.


At the meeting, MTAC representatives discussed two new work groups focusing on FSS. One will provide input on the system's development and implementation, identify its effect on stakeholders and analyze costs for all parties.


"This is a big change for the flats industry," said Jack Weidener, director of distribution/finishing at Newsweek Inc., Mountain Lakes, NJ, and industry co-chair for one of the new work groups. "It affects everyone in the supply chain: manufacturers, printers, transportation companies, catalogs, periodicals."


Focus areas for the work groups include mail piece design, mail preparations, transportation and entry of the mail, address placement and address quality and accuracy.


"Since the pieces will be out in carrier walk sequence, the matching is going to have to be much tighter," Weidener said.


The group will report progress on FSS to stakeholders to ensure that all customers can plan for the transition.


The other work group will focus on address location, aiming to set a location that will result in the maximum number of flat mail pieces being processed on the FSS equipment, taking into consideration the processing and cost effects on all members of the flats mail supply chain -- postal and industry.


The FSS program "is going to make a big change," said James West, director of postal and legislative affairs at Williams-Sonoma Inc. and industry co-chair of that group. "I know that some of my peers in the catalog business are a little bit terrified, [but] I think we can do a good job managing their expectations, and it will be good for them as well as for the post office."


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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