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USPS Upgrades Merlin Web Page

The U.S. Postal Service launched an updated version of the Merlin page Nov. 30 on its Web site, www.usps.com/merlin.

Merlin, or Mail Evaluation Readability and Lookup Instrument, is an acceptance tool that validates the preparation of discount-rate mailings for bulk mailers.

The updated site includes help for customers in designing their mail pieces; details of the Merlin verification process; specifics of the Merlin appeals process; and resources and tools. The site also lists best practices the industry has developed, such as what mailers should do to maintain the quality of their mail to avoid worries about it passing through Merlin machines.

In the site's coverage of barcode quality, it provides links to the areas in its regulation manuals — such as the online version of the Domestic Mail Manual — that explain the barcode characteristics.

The site also offers samples of a typical Merlin report.

The section regarding the appeals process covers the recourse mailers have and describes the different appeals. It also features a link to a help desk where they can log complaints.

This section should be helpful to the many mailers that say Merlin still has reliability problems because different machines often give different readings.

This section of the site appeals to Ray E. Delacqueseaux, senior manager, mail services at Special Data Processing, a direct mail processing company in Clearwater, FL.

“The site explains in layman's terms the process you can do to go ahead and send your mail to New York to have it tested again,” he said. “If your mailing fails, you can send a portion of your mail that has failed to a [bulk mail facility] in New York to have it re-run. [The USPS] has always allowed this, but many people might not have realized it.”

Delacqueseaux said he has had two mailings fail when passed through Merlin machines locally, but he sent them to New York, had them tested “and I was refunded my money,” he said.

The site “is there to help people learn a little bit more about Merlin and some of the things they can do to help themselves get through the Merlin process,” Delacqueseaux said. “[Despite some of its problems] Merlin is a good thing, and I think the Web site helps to explain that it isn't all bad [as well as] some of the things that you can do to help make things easier for yourself and your company to get clean mail.”

The Web site represents the first phase of the upgrade. Also planned is an improvement of the report samples section, which includes explaining the Merlin reports.

“Early next year, I'd like to add onto the Web site the typical errors that we are seeing in Merlin, and what mailers can do to resolve the errors,” said Pritha Mehra, USPS manager of marketing technologies and channel management. “We are also looking to beef up the quality section a lot more.

“In the ideal world, what I'd like to do is personalize this Web site, so when a mailer comes to this Web site they can click on their own mailings and look at their trends and their analysis, and look for systemic issues and address them accordingly.”

The USPS has said that more than 95 percent of letter and flat mailings tested for barcode readability on Merlin machines have passed this year, but “a 5 percent fail rate is still very costly for the postal service,” Mehra said. “We are hoping this Web site helps improve these rates.”

Mehra said the USPS wants feedback from mailers about the Merlin Web site. Customers with questions or comments about Merlin should click on the “Site Feedback” link on the left side of the site and enter the information requested, noting the subject is Merlin at the beginning of the comments section of the feedback link.

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