Pitney Bowes Inc., Stamford, CT, the world's largest maker of postage meters, last week received approval from the U.S. Postal Service to commercially launch its ClickStamp Online Internet postage solution for small businesses as part of the agency's PC Postage program.
According to the USPS, PC Postage products are developed by private enterprise and approved by the agency after successful testing and evaluation. All products and services in the program must pass three phases of field-testing on the West Coast of the United States and in the District of Columbia over a 12-month period. Postage products and services from two other companies — E-Stamp Corp., San Mateo, CA, and Stamps.com, Santa Monica, CA — were approved last year.
As with the other technologies, ClickStamp Online allows small businesses to instantly access postage via the Internet. Postage is printed in the form of a digital postage indicia as required by the USPS' Information Based Indicia Program. Using three basic office tools — a PC, an Internet connection and an inkjet or laser printer — small businesses can print First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, Express Mail and Parcel Post postage. Business owners also can use ClickStamp Online to manage mail lists, verify addresses and calculate postage.
In addition, “we have tools in our product that allow customers to add special message lines and graphics and logos to mailing envelopes,” said Amina O'Farrell, a Pitney Bowes spokeswoman. “We believe that every time you mail something, you can use that as a marketing opportunity.”
Pitney Bowes is planning to offer a product to customers nationwide later this year called ClickStamp Plus that allows customers to buy postage and store it securely on a small device called an electronic vault, enabling the printing of digital stamps without maintaining a constant connection to the Internet. This product is similar to E-Stamps' vault-based product, called E-Stamp Internet Postage.
“The reason we offer solutions [like these] is because we recognize that there are some small businesses that have limited Internet access, and we don't want to leave them behind,” said O'Farrell. “We do think the market is going toward the Internet solution. But if the market shifts, we are ready.” ClickStamp Plus is still in its trial phase, although it has gone through a third phase of testing.
Customers can register for ClickStamp Online at www.pitneyworks.com. The service costs $1.49 per month (plus postage).
The company is offering the service to customers who have signed up for it via a form on its Web site. Pitney Bowes also is reaching prospective customers through direct mail, telemarketing and Internet marketing programs that it launched last month. In addition, there are plans for a broad-based, integrated nationwide advertising campaign this summer.
Companies are desperately trying to reach the rapidly growing Internet postage market and the 22 million small businesses in the United States that use stamps.
According to a recent study by International Data Corp., Framingham, MA, small businesses and home offices have spent $8.2 million on PC Postage products and services since they were introduced. The IDC study estimates that spending will reach $30 million by the end of the year and double by the end of 2001.