Archive for category USPS

What Are Barcodes?

Barcodes, Barcodes, Barcodes!

What are barcodes? Ever wonder why there are so many different ones?

The answer lies within what kind of data, how much data, and what the common uses are of the barcode. Barcodes are methods of machine-readable data identification and collection. They were first introduced in the 1940s and have evolved across a wide variety of industries. Barcodes have tracking capabilities that go far beyond the supermarket checkout. They provide a useful means to capture and share data electronically.

Barcodes are expressed as a series of wide and narrow bars. They usually have unique start and stop codes so that the barcode scanner can determine if the barcode is being scanned forward or backward. When scanned a signal goes to the computer and decodes the information.

Barcodes are split into four different categories. These include:

  1. Numeric-Only Barcodes:
    • Usually used for retail applications in the US and Canada
    • Have error correction and self-checking features
    • UPC barcodes fall in this category
  2. Alpha-Numeric:
    • All-purpose worldwide code
    • Can include large quantity of information and error reduction
    • Widely used in healthcare industry
  3. 2-Dimensional:
    • Used for order confirmation and material control
    • Ideal for encoding large amounts of information
    • QR codes fall in this category
  4. Industry Standards for Labels: Made up of industries using their own barcode systems
    • Bookland EAN encodes ISBN numbers, used internationally to mark books
    • ISSN and the SISAC Barcode: International Standard Serial Numbering
    • OPC: Optical Industry Association barcode for marking retail optical products
    • UCC/EAN-128: Widely used data formatting model for Code 128
    • UPC Shipping Container Symbol: ITF-14

With all these available options at times it can be difficult to decide which barcode is the best solution. To compare all the barcode possibilities check out: http://www.makebarcode.com/specs/barcodechart.html. Do some digging and see what fits your present task the best!

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USPS | What’s the Difference Between CASS and NCOA?

CASS vs NCOA – What’s the Difference

NCOAHow can you increase the number of mailpieces successfully delivered and reduce the number of those pesky return pieces? Return mail, or Undeliverable as Addressed (UAA) is costly for you (think printing and postage) and costly for the USPS to handle as well.

So what can be done?

Always, always, always run your mail through CASS and NCOA processes prior to printing.

 

 

What is CASS and why do I need it?

CASS stands for Coding Accuracy Support System. The process standardizes address data and certifies that your mailing list meets automation rate specs and USPS presort discounts. Note that this is only improving your address by confirming the carrier route, five-digit zip code, zip +4 code, and delivery point barcode. Name-related fields are not taken into consideration during CASS processing.

What is corrected:

  • Misspellings in street and city names
  • Street suffixes such as Way, Court, Terrace
  • ZIP code and ZIP+4

We let our customers drive what happens if an address fails CASS certification. We receive a report back of any UAA addresses and can either suppress them from the mailing, mail to that address knowing that it will result in UAA mail (some clients must mail to address as given for legal reasons), or return these addresses to client for research/updating as necessary.

What is NCOA?

National Change of Address (NCOA) meets USPS mandated Move Update requirements by bouncing your mailing list against an updated USPS database. The USPS database contains any moves where a Change of Address has been submitted. In 48 months the USPS records more than 150 million permanent address changes filed by postal customers.

In NCOA processing, both the name and address are compared in the database. Strahm receives a report back when a record is identified as having a change of address. This allows our clients the opportunity to update their own database with the new address information. It also prevents mailing to an old address resulting in UAA mail returns.

Keep in mind that you will still receive some amount of UAA mail even after NCOA processing. Not all movers submit a Change of Address to the Postal Service. Sometimes the CoA submitted to the Postal Service is not an exact match to the name in your database (John A. Smith on the CoA, John Smith in your data, for example).

What you gain with NCOA:

  • Reduce printing/mailing costs by reducing the number of UAA pieces
  • Ability to update your mailing list for future mailings
  • Reduce internal processes for handling returned UAA mailpieces
  • Speed delivery to mailboxes since USPS won’t need to reroute from an old address to a new address

To recap, you should always use CASS certification part of a process to qualify for presort postage discounts. Use of NCOA will reduce printing/mailing/handling costs associated with mailing to address which would result in UAA mail.

While you will probably not ever eliminate all Undeliverable as Addressed mail, managing the amount will reap rewards!

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National Postal Museum Exhibit: Behind the Badge

“Behind the Badge”

The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum has opened a new exhibit “Behind the Badge” showcasing the fascinating history of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

jcb-001_8x10The Postal Inspection Service is one of the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies, dating back to 1776.  Then USPS Postmaster General Benjamin wanted to measure the efficiency and security of mail routes. Today there is a network of U.S. postal inspectors whose job it is to keep the mail safe and help protect consumers and prevent crime.

The exhibit is interactive and has many interesting artifacts on display and videos where inspectors, forensic analysts and postal police officers share stories of their lives “behind the badge”.  At the close of the exhibit is a video commemorating fallen heroes who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Below is a link to a series of videos designed to keep postal customers informed about scams and how to protect yourself.  Make sure to watch the first video “We are the U.S. Postal Inspection Service”!

http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/behindthebadge/videos.html

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USPS | Paper | Direct Mail – All Working Together!

Selecting The Right Paper When Designing Direct Mail!

When designing your fabulous direct mail piece, have you ever just fallen head-over-heels in love with a particular paper only to find out that it doesn’t meet certain USPS requirements? Or, worse, that you will have to pay increased postage just to mail it?

Selecting the right paper can make all the difference in how your mail piece is perceived and how well it travels through the mailstream.

There are a plethora of papers out there to choose from. Work with your designer, printer and mail house to choose a stock to make the best impression with your mail. Each of these people should provide insight into why a paper works or doesn’t work and how to effectively produce your job.

You should be aware of light reflectivity – there needs to be enough of a difference between the ink and the paper for USPS MLOCR equipment to read the address and barcode. This means no dark stock. And stock with fibers throughout, including some recycled papers, can cause problems with reading address as well.

A big decision will be whether to use coated or uncoated paper. 

For images with lots of detail, a coated paper offers a sharp, clean look. Coated paper also makes color “pop”. Think about the end use of your printed piece.  If it needs to be addressed after printing, make sure that the coating will not interfere with high-speed inkjet printers used by your mail house. 

Uncoated papers have become increasingly popular. They can “feel” formal, or very contemporary. If you are hand signing a card, for example, you want to use an uncoated paper. Uncoated paper also scores and folds a little better than coated papers and some digital presses “prefer” uncoated stock.

A visit to the local paper supplier is always fun; you’ll be bowled over by the shear number of papers available. But make sure to get input from your printer and mail house before you get too attached to a stock that won’t convey your message well or, worse, won’t look great in your recipient’s mail box!

For further details visit USPS® paper regulations for direct mail.

What are your favorite papers and how do you think they enhance your mail piece or company image? Or just share your war stories on paper choices gone awry. We’d love to hear them.

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Mr. ZIP And The Zip Code Turned 51!

How Much Do You Think About ZIP Codes?

logo1It’s just a string of numbers you add to your letters, cards and packages, right?

There is a whole history, and a pretty cute character, that helped educate your parents and grand parents on how to use these codes and improve mail service.

In July 1963, the postal service implemented the Zone Improvement Plan or ZIP code as it is commonly called. The ZIP code is comprised of 5 digits specific to an area. These codes assist in routing mail efficiently for the USPS.

Predicting that the public would be less than enthusiastic about memorizing not only their ZIP code, but those of family and friends, the USPS introduced Mr. ZIP in late 1962.

Mr. ZIP appeared on buttons, signs, magazines, and even the edges of a sheet of stamps. The point was to educate the public and ingrain the use of ZIP codes to all mailers. Including a ZIP code promised “space-age speed”.

51 years later and Mr. ZIP stands as one of the most successful ad icons of all time. The USPS notes that by 1967, 80% of all Americans recognized him and knew what he stood for.

Mr. ZIP was retired in 1986, but last year (2013) was the 50 year anniversary. As expected, he has been popping up all over the place. He even has his own page on the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum websitemr_zip_650x300_a01_101201_e

This simple doodle was able to move the general public into participating in the Zone Improvement Plan – which increased efficiency and speed for the USPS for generations to come.

Please enjoy this video from the mid-1960’s starring our friend, Mr. ZIP!

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USPS Proposes Reduced Rates for Priority Mail

USPS Proposes Reduced Rates for Priority Mail

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The U.S. Postal Service has filed notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission that it intends to reduce rates on Priority Mail for those using Commercial Plus and Commercial Base shipping services.

Commercial Base Pricing does not have any volume requirements and these reduced rates are available for customers who use Click-N-Ship, PC Postage products, permit imprints, or digital mailing systems (meters) that generate an IBI (Information Based Indicia) and submit data electronically to the USPS.

Eligibility for Commercial Plus Pricing is based primarily on shipping volume.  For Priority Mail, 50,000 pieces are required within the prior year. In lieu of past volume, customers can instead complete a customer commitment agreement.

Pricing at Post Offices and other retail outlets will have a modest increase of 1.7 percent on average, while the Commercial Base prices will decrease 2.3% and Commercial Plus will decrease 0.9%.

The Postal Service will continue to offer Priority Mail customers free insurance, expected delivery day, flat-rate packaging options and Regional Rate Boxes. Priority Mail is one of the Postal Service’s most popular shipping products. Last year, 871 million pieces were shipped through Priority Mail.

“With the Postal Service, there are no shipping surcharges. We deliver on Saturdays for no extra charge, we pick up packages for free, and we deliver shipping boxes and envelopes, also for free. Just a few more ways we help businesses get the most out of their shipping,”stated Nagisa Manabe, chief marketing/sales officer.

Highlights of the new proposed retail pricing for Priority Mail products include:

  • Small box – $5.95
  • Medium box – $12.65
  • Large box – $17.90
  • Large APO/FPO box – $15.90
  • Regular envelope – $5.75
  • Legal envelope – $5.90
  • Padded envelope – $6.10

The PRC will review the prices before they become effective September 7, 2014.

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Penalties Assessed by USPS June 2014

Penalties Assessed by USPS June 2014

Screen_Shot_2011-10-02_at_3_22_44_PM_large_verge_medium_landscapeOccasionally readers ask me why I spend so much time reviewing postal rules and regulations. Most often these questions are regarding meeting Move Update requirements, specs for postcards, self-mailers and letters vs flats.

In the news this week were two good examples of why understanding these regulations is crucial.

The postal service hit Southern California Edison with $7.6 million in penalties for allegedly not keeping its address lists up to date. The postal service noted a “suspiciously high increase” in the amount of undeliverable and return-to-sender First Class mail SCE sent between 2006 and 2008.

SCE acknowledged two errors in managing its address correction procedures. These errors showed up in missing apartment or suite numbers and how to handle fractional number street address (such as 29 ½ Elm Street). They contend that these instances did not cause an appreciable increase in bad addresses.

The postal service ordered a refund of postage discounts SCE earned for mail presented between May 14, 2007 and November 26, 2008. The estimate was 82 million pieces of mail at a total penalty of $7.6 million.

The second news story involved Sears allegedly violating rules for folded self-mailers. The trouble was over the placement and type of seals used on 6.3 million folded Standard Class self-mailers sent out for promotions in 2009.

Sears stated that the pieces met postal regulations or were specifically approved by postal officials because they were designed not to jam letter sorting machinery. USPS determined that the pieces needed a second tab and that some were improperly sealed with glue instead of tabs.

Sears was dinged with $1.1 million for the alleged violation.

Both Sears and Southern California Edison have filed appeals of the USPS decisions with the U.S. District Court in Washington.

Keeping up-to-date on postal rulings and regulations is no laughing matter when your company is fined for non-compliance. Please reach out to USPS Mailpiece Design Analysts and/or your outsource mail vendor. Both are there to help guide you through maximizing your mailings.

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How To: Identify and Handle Suspicious Letters and Packages

Identifying and Handling Suspicious Letters and Packages

There have been a few recent incidences of mailed letters containing suspicious and/or lethal materials, typically of a powder consistency.

While your mail operation center may already x-ray incoming letters and packages, powdered materials would not be identified.

pos84Characteristics of a Suspicious Letter/Package

  • Unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you
  • Addressed to someone no longer with your organization
  • No return address or one that cannot be verified as legitimate
  • Unusual weight given its size or lopsided
  • Restrictive markings such as “Personal” or “Confidential”
  • Exhibits protruding wires, strange odors or stains
  • Postmarked from a city that does not match return address
  • Displays distorted handwriting or addresses with homemade labels or cut and paste lettering
  • Unprofessionally wrapped or secured with combinations or excessive tape
  • Excessive postage

What to do if you receive a suspected explosive device:

  • Do not open the parcel
  • Isolate the parcel
  • Evacuate the immediate area
  • Record the specific point in the screening process that caused the alert (excessive postage, no return address, lopsided or bulky).
  • Without touching the mailpiece, record from each visible side of the item all available information (name and address of sender and addressee, postmark, cancellation date, types of stamps and any other labels or markings).
  • Inform security team, call 911
  • If sent through the U.S. Mail, call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 (press 2)

What to do if you receive a biological or chemical threat by mail:

  • Do not handle the mailpiece or package
  • Wash hands with soap and water
  • Evacuate the area
  • Isolate the mailpiece or package
  • Make sure all persons who have touched the mailpiece wash their hands with soap and water. Record all persons who have touched the mailpiece; include contact information
  • If the package or letter has been opened and powder spills out DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN IT UP. KEEP OTHERS AWAY FROM THE AREA.
  • Inform security team, call 911
  • If sent through the U.S. Mail, call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 (press 2)

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An Ounce of Prevention is Worth Thousands in USPS Fines!

US Postal Service EMM Trays

Perils of Printers without Mail House Experience

If your printed piece is going out in the mail, how important is it to choose a printer with in-house mail capabilities?

Last week we had a meeting with a local printer who found this out the hard way. Due to their lack of experience in mailing, they were subject to some hefty USPS fines.

Certainly an avoidable situation, but how do you make a print/mail vendor selection?  Contact them directly and by all means request a tour of the facility. Here are some helpful questions to ask.

  • Ask for credentials.
    • Are they a USPS sanctioned mail co-mingler?
    • Do they provide NCOA, LACSlink or Fast Forward services?
    • Do they provide CASS certification?
    • Do they have an onsite USPS verifier?
    • Do they have an onsite MERLIN?
    • Does the USPS pick up from their dock, or do they deliver to BMEU?
    • Do key employees hold any industry certifications?  How often are they updated?
  • What services do they provide within their own production facility?
    • Color, highlight color, and black and white printing?
    • MICR capable?
    • Inkjet addressing for postcards or envelopes?
    • Collating?
    • Folding?
    • Intelligent mail inserters?
    • Match mailings?
    • HIPAA compliant?
  • How secure is their facility?
    • What is their business continuity plan?
    • What is their disaster recovery plan?
    • Secure building access?
    • 24/7 video monitoring of facility and production floor?
    • If mail is delivered to them, is it left unattended on the dock?
    • Are employees background checked?
An ounce of prevention is worth thousands in USPS fines!

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Nine Surprising Facts About The Postal Service

Nine Things You Should Know About The Postal Service

“You probably know your mail carrier and the clerks at your neighborhood Post Office, but how well do you know the Postal Service itself? Here are nine facts that might surprise you.”

PostalFactsAbove is a quote from this great USPS blog we discovered. It can’t be said any better, “how well do you know the postal service itself?” Please take a minute to check out this wonderful blog: http://uspsblog.com/nine-things-you-should-know-about-the-postal-service/ and learn nine facts that might surprise you about the postal service.

We would love to hear your feedback and see if you knew any of the facts or if you were truly surprised. Comment below!

 

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