USPS Touts Four-State Barcode, OneCode Products

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KISSIMMEE, FL -- The U.S. Postal Service's new four-state barcode and OneCode solutions go live for all letter mail by Sept. 1, the agency announced at the 2006 National Postal Forum here this week.


The four-state barcode lets business mailers track up to 1 billion pieces of mail at a time. The current system can ID about 1 million unique pieces. The barcodes also let mailers more easily request services such as address correction and confirmation of delivery and enable the USPS to process and deliver mail more efficiently, the agency said.


The barcode is the latest offering under the USPS Intelligent Mail program. The postal service expects the program, begun in late 2001, eventually to let customers track every piece of mail from pickup to delivery.


The four-state barcodes use four types of barcode lines instead of the two now used in the Postnet barcode and the Planet Code barcodes.


The term four-state describes the "up" and "down" bars in the barcode: A tall bar, a short bar, an upper half bar and a lower half bar. It holds 31 characters and will be the same length as today's Postnet barcode, but it is taller than the Postnet code.


The four-state code will incorporate the Postnet barcode, which is used for sorting, and the PlanetCode, which mailers apply to letter or flat mail for tracking and other value-added services.


"Right now, a piece of mail can have several barcodes on the envelope," said Charlie Bravo, USPS senior vice president of intelligent mail and address quality. "But because the four-state barcode can hold up to three times more information than other kinds of postal barcodes, only one barcode will be needed on a mail piece. This will make it easier for our customers to do business with us as well as make the mail a more valuable business tool by freeing up space on the envelope for marketing messages."


The four-state barcode is the vehicle through which the USPS can offer two new services: OneCode Confirm and OneCode ACS. OneCode Confirm lets mailers use the four-state barcodes to access the agency's Confirm service, which uses barcode technology to provide USPS customers with information about where their letters or flats are as they travel through the mail stream.


OneCode ACS lets mailers use the barcode to access the agency's electronic Address Change Service to obtain move information when someone relocates after a mail piece has entered the mail stream.


OneCode Confirm will be available for First-Class and Standard mail letters starting Sept. 1. OneCode ACS will be available only for First-Class letters on that date; it will be available for Standard letters in late 2007 or early 2008. OneCode Confirm will be available for flats in late fall or early next year, and OneCode ACS will follow later.


But some big mailers have concerns about printing the four-state code in a production environment. There is also concern that the barcode will become a requirement -- currently it is an option. Others worry about the amount of real estate needed if there's a transition period during which both the Postnet and the four-state are used on a mail piece.


Companies that have tested the service are pleased. Prudential Financial Services, Newark, NJ, started using the barcodes in August, and American Express Co. came on board in October. Both plan to use the service when it becomes available.


Laurel Kamen, vice president, government and consumer affairs at American Express, said here that she has tested OneCode Confirm and that she is especially happy that the company gets 1 billion unique numbers to use.


"We are very excited about this new product because, for the first time, we are going to be able to uniquely identify every single one of our card members, and we will be able to track them from the time we generate a statement, from the time it gets to the customer, to the time it gets linked back from the mailing," she said.


Most vendors on the trade show floor are excited about the program, though they recognize the possibility of a learning curve for everyone in the industry to work with it.


"We think [the four-state barcode] is going to be a good thing for the industry and for our company as well," said Dave Lewis, president of trackmymail.com, Gaithersburg, MD, which provides solutions for tracking mail using the USPS Planet Code technology.


Lewis said that his company has three products in place based on the new barcode technology.


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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