USPS Wants to Expand Customized Postage

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The U.S. Postal Service will propose expanding the testing of customized postage using commercial images, according to a Federal Register notice slated to be published today.


Customized postage lets a postal customer personalize postage with pictures or images using PC Postage technology. Currently, the postage can be used as part of a one-year test that began in May. The test lets qualified PC Postage vendors produce customized postage to be used on First-Class, Priority and Express Mail for personal use. Vendors include Endicia.com, Stamps.com and Zazzle.com, in partnership with Pitney Bowes.


The test precluded using commercial images. But thanks to an appropriations bill signed by President Bush, the USPS wants to conduct further market tests with commercial images, and it is inviting proposals. The notice said the agency wants to expand testing for up to two years, commencing no sooner than March 20.


The bill, H.R. 3402, authorizes appropriations for the Justice Department for fiscal years 2006-09. But it included an amendment ensuring that the issuance of personal postage by private vendors, under agreement with the USPS, does not violate federal law.


According to the USPS, the old agreement with the vendors "specifically prohibits images [that] consist of notices or advertisements, [but] the change in the law essentially opens the door for the USPS to authorize [PC Postage] postage vendors to include advertising images."


The Federal Register notice said that though each concept will be evaluated on its own merits, conditions may be required and agreed to by the USPS and the provider regarding testing of that concept.


At the USPS Board of Governors meeting in January, Deputy Postmaster General/COO Patrick R. Donohoe said 5 million pieces of postage were bought with pictures or images using PC Postage technology over the holidays.


One company that has used customized postage is Pitney Bowes. At a conference for institutional investors and financial analysts in New York this month, it distributed stamps with the company's tag line: "Can you see the mailstream?" It could be used as postage because it did not use the company name, Pitney Bowes spokesman Matt Broder said.


And at last month's third annual get-ready-for-Valentine's Day event at Grand Central Terminal, Pitney Bowes gave away customized postage that included the phrase: "Pitney Bowes Valentine's Day Event, New York City, February 9, 2005."


"This was allowed under the postal service's current rules because we were promoting an event, not advertising our products or services," Broder said.


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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