USPS Announces Plans for Confirm Program

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The U.S. Postal Service will upgrade its Confirm service Oct. 1 and file an expedited case this fall with the Postal Rate Commission to establish a rate schedule for Confirm.


Introduced in 1999, Confirm lets USPS customers track letter-size mail electronically through Planet Code barcodes that collect location and time data about their mailings as they move through the automated mail-processing flow. Currently, there is no charge for the service, though the USPS has been developing a pricing strategy and options -- including per piece, subscription or a flat rate.


"We are going to enhance and enlarge the capacity, basically," said Gerry Kreinkamp, a USPS spokesman.


Kreinkamp said the USPS is moving the Confirm control center and database system to a USPS data center in Egan, MN, "which will give us greater capacity. Then, once we file with the PRC, we'll have a rate schedule set up and then we can sign on new customers." The system is currently based in Raleigh, NC.


The USPS would not provide details, but USPS officials who asked not to be named said the proposed rate schedule would charge companies a flat rate for the service based on the number of mailings sent. If mailers went over the preset number of mailings, they would pay more.


If approved, the rates could be implemented within a few months.


Don Harle, president of Mid-America Mailers Inc., a mail shop in Hammond, IN, which works primarily with direct mailers, said he has been pleased with tests of the enhanced Confirm service.


"The system lets our customers time their marketing programs better," he said. "They will know when their mailings are about to hit home and be able to make a call based on that time frame if they are doing telemarketing follow-up calls."


He and other mailers are concerned, however, about the enhanced system's additional reporting requirements. Mailers and mail shops will have to electronically file advanced shipping notices, which must include detailed information about what Planet Codes will be placed on which mail pieces and at which locations. They also will have to use a mail induction barcode that informs the USPS when the mailing entered the mail stream.


The USPS said this would help both the USPS and the mailers track mail better as it moves through the system, but mailers say it will create more work that may negate the tracking benefits.


"In concept that's [an] excellent [idea]," Harle said. "But it will make it very difficult for a lot of mailers to use the Planet Code Confirm system. A lot of people may simply opt out of using the system simply because they do not have the logistics to get the job done, and that would be a shame."


Harle is looking to implement the system in one of two ways. One way would be to apply the Planet Codes on mail pieces and then push them through the mail at his company. The other way would be to work with an intermediary, such as Trackmymail.com, Gaithersburg, MD, or Grayhair Software Inc., Moorestown, NJ.


"We will make our decision based on which will allow us to get up to speed as fast as we'd like to," Harle said. "We will have to see whether or not we can internally develop the software fast enough to give the kind of reports to our customers that they would be looking for."


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