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Y2K Gives Boost to Fall Mail

Though this fall will be the biggest mailing season ever, Standard-A mail volume increases won't be as high as last year, mailers and the U.S. Postal Service said last week. But many companies are getting their mailings out early to avoid any Y2K technology glitches.

This year's increase is expected to be 5 percent, compared with last year's increase of 8 percent. From Aug. 17 to Nov. 27 last year, the USPS handled 27.5 billion pieces of Standard-A mail. This year, the number is projected at 28.9 billion pieces.

Joe Schick, director of postal affairs at printer Quad/Graphics, West Allis, WI, said 1998's increase was inflated because it was the end of a rate cycle and companies wanted to mail before the January rate increase.

“Last year, we were coming off one of the most substantial postal rate increases ever, which makes this year look a little bit down,” he said. “But it's really not. We are seeing an increase in volume this year, which in other years would be considered a substantial increase.”

Another reason for last year's high numbers, Schick said, was because Standard-A mailers had not yet implemented their e-commerce strategies, so they were sending more direct mail; this year, they are doing marketing online and offline. He also said companies weren't as concerned about sweepstakes legislation but are being much more cautious this year.

Contributing to this year's increase is the relative stability of paper prices. In addition, many mailers want to finish early so Y2K doesn't become a factor.

“People are definitely concerned about [the Y2K issue], there's no two ways about it,” said Russell Dunn of list broker Mal Dunn Associates Inc., Croton Falls, NY. “Some of them are moving mail dates earlier as a result.”

Postal officials said they are ready to handle the volume. The agency's Fall Mailing Group — which includes USPS employees and representatives from R.R. Donnelley, Harte-Hanks, World Color and Quad/Graphics — completed its fall mailing plans in July. Among them: adding 18,000 to 19,000 supplemental employees and migrating the Drop-Ship Appointment System — which lets mailers electronically secure specific dates and times for entering mass mailings into the mail stream at the USPS' bulk and mail sectional facilities — to the Web, so bulk mailers can perform this function more easily. The plans went into place last month and will stay in place until Thanksgiving.

Cataloger Brookstone Co., Nashua, NH, has started mailing its fall catalogs to consumers and plans to increase the number of catalogs it mails. Its catalogs include Gardeners Eden, Hard-To-Find Tools and Brookstone Gift Collection.

“Our mail-order business has been doing very well for us over the past year and it's one of our company's focuses to develop it in this coming year,” said Gustavo Pena, marketing communications director at Brookstone. “We've done a better job this year of modeling and targeting our best customers and finding new customers as well.”

Hanover Direct Inc., Weehawken, NJ — which publishes 13 catalogs, including Tweeds, International Male and Domestications — is planning to send the same number of catalogs this year, but “this is being augmented by our Internet initiative,” said spokeswoman Paula Zwerdling.

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