USPS Enhances Letter-Tracking System

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The U.S. Postal Service will formally introduce an upgraded version of its Confirm program today.


Begun in 1999, Confirm lets USPS customers track letter-size mail and flats regardless of mail class electronically through Planet Code barcodes that collect location and time data as mailings move through the automated mail-processing flow.


The old system gave mailers basic data every six hours. With the new system, mailers receive information in near-real time. Also, the USPS has expanded the functionality of the Planet Codes, made the Confirm Web site easier to use and added a dedicated customer support operation for Confirm customers. The Confirm system's infrastructure also has been updated with additional servers, enabling the USPS to handle more customers. Hundreds of customers use the current system.


Despite the expected benefits, some mailers, especially smaller ones, say they lack the technical capabilities to meet additional reporting procedures the new system requires. Mailers and mail shops must file advanced shipping notices electronically, including detailed information about each shipment, each mailing and what Planet Codes will be placed on which mail pieces.


"The reason we need this information is because it allows us to tie this data back to when we took possession of the mail," said Marty Emery, manager of product development at the USPS. "This advanced information will let us know if we've done a good job delivering [the customer's] mail, and let the customer know this as well. It puts everyone on the same page."


Confirm has two services: Destination Confirm and Origin Confirm.


Destination Confirm tells mailers when outbound mail pieces such as bills, statements or advertising solicitations will be delivered.


Origin Confirm provides information for inbound mail pieces such as business reply or courtesy reply mail.


"Folks that send an advertising piece and want to know how effective that is can log on the system and see what percentage of the people have taken advantage of an offer and dropped [BRM or CRM pieces] ... before they ever even received the card to get an early indication of the success of the campaign," Emery said.


The service is free, though the USPS is developing a pricing strategy and options, including per piece, subscription or a flat rate. While discussions are continuing, Emery said there could be three types of rates:


-- An introductory rate, where a customer can get three or four months with a limited amount of scans for $2,000 to $4,000.


-- A one-year subscription rate, where a customer can have one unique mailer ID and 50 million scans for $5,000 to $7,000.


-- A one-year subscription rate, where a customer could have three unique mailer IDs and unlimited scans for $14,000 to $17,000.


In late fall, Emery said, the USPS will file a rate case with the Postal Rate Commission to establish a rate schedule for Confirm. Emery said the USPS wants to expedite the filing "because there are a lot of folks in the industry that are very supportive of the need to charge appropriately for Confirm."


The USPS also plans to start an extensive marketing campaign, including direct mail, later this month.


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