USPS Seeks Rate Boost for Repositionable Notes

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The U.S. Postal Service wants to try charging extra for the use of repositionable notes, commonly known as "stickies," on the outside of envelopes to see whether mailers will pay, according to a recent filing with the Postal Rate Commission.


Postal officials asked the PRC to recommend a one-year test of the charge for repositionable notes, which have been found to raise response rates. However, the postal service's justification for the increase on the grounds that RPNs boost response -- not because they are more expensive to process -- could anger some mailers.


"They're saying that because there was a boost in response, they should get more postage," said Joseph Schick, director of postal affairs with Quad/Graphics. "In my mind, that's not the way the postal service should be getting postage."


The USPS so far has not charged mailers for attaching RPNs to the outside of mail. However, RPNs currently are allowed only on automation-rate letter-size mail. The postal service would expand their use to many other types of mail, including other categories of letter-size mail and flats.


Under the proposal, the USPS would charge an extra 0.5 cents per piece bearing RPNs for three categories of First-Class mail including presorted, automation letters and automation flats.


The USPS would charge an extra 1.5 cents per piece bearing RPNs for Standard mail, including regular and nonprofit presorted, automation and enhanced carrier route mail. In-county and regular periodicals also would see an added 1.5 cents per piece for RPNs.


The USPS filed its request for a market test of the added rate July 16. The request was published in the Federal Register on July 29.


Throughout multiple tests, letters and flats bearing RPNs have never been shown to cause processing or delivery problems, according to testimony submitted July 16 to the PRC by Darron Holland, marketing specialist in the USPS Product Management-Direct Mail Group.


Market research commissioned by the USPS in April revealed that consumers responded favorably to RPNs. It also found that businesses that thought RPNs increased response rates would be willing to pay an added charge.


But not everyone agrees with that reasoning. Using that logic, any creative tactic employed by mailers to increase response could be subject to an extra charge, Schick said.


Leo Raymond, director of postal affairs for the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, understands the postal service's desire to raise rates on RPN mail "from a marketing perspective." However, he said, it's unclear how mailers would react to the charge.


Flats mailers, who have been unable to use RPNs, may find value in them, Raymond said. Letter mailers who have used RPNs at no additional charge may balk at paying more.


"RPNs are one of those niche things," Raymond said. "You're not going to use it on a mass mail to 10 million people."


RPNs got their first engineering tests on automation letters in August 2000, according to Holland's testimony. After it was shown that RPNs traveled safely through processing equipment, a one-year pilot test commenced.


During the pilot, which ended in February 2003, there were 34 RPN mailings consisting of a combined 4.2 million pieces. Three customers requested repeat mailings following the pilot.


The USPS began allowing RPNs on automation letters in April 2003. As of May 2004, there have been 68 mailings and no reported problems, Holland testified.


Due to requests from flats mailers, the USPS conducted an engineering test run of RPNs on 3,500 sample flats in July 2003. In November, it conducted a live test of 5,000 Standard mail, tabloid-like pieces. No problems were encountered in either test, Holland said.


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