Royal Mail Tests Online Postage Service in January

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The Royal Mail Group plans to let home-office users, small businesses and medium-sized businesses buy postage online, the group said yesterday.


The Royal Mail Group is the new formal name for Consignia, the British post office.


Royal Mail said the new Web-based postage service will be on a trial for selected business customers in January and February. Research from these pilots will be evaluated before the service becomes generally available to business customers next fall.


Lockheed Martin, working with German software service provider GFT Technologies AG, is responsible for maintaining and providing Royal Mail with the technology to enable online postage stamps. Lockheed Martin currently provides Royal Mail with mail-sorting technology.


"The new service offers a fast and simple way of buying postage via the Web," said Gillian Wilmot, managing director of mail markets at Royal Mail. "We want customers to have a choice about how they access our products and services in a way that best suits them."


To use the service, customers set up an account and prepay postage by credit/debit card or Internet direct debit. Any type of postage, including international, will be available and will be printed directly onto envelopes or labels via the customer's desktop technology.


When a subscriber orders postage online, an indicia -- or the digital postage mark -- is produced and applied by the user to the item being mailed. These indicia, which traditionally have been a stamp, bar code, meter mark or prepaid postage symbol, will be replaced with one icon, containing predetermined information such as delivery and return address information as well as customer identification.


"In addition to being an efficient way to purchase and track postage expenses, [the service] will permit sender and receiver delivery time and location preferences to be processed automatically," said Judy F. Marks, president, Lockheed Martin distribution technologies.


Wilmot said the service will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said the service is a component of Royal Mail's emerging strategy to produce efficient, customer-oriented products and services that can be accessed via the Internet. Royal Mail goals include making its postal services convenient and faster as well as easy for customers to access.


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