The USPS has made it quite clear that its Intelligent Mail initiatives are a main component of its ability to create value for the mail, increase visibility, and reduce operations costs. At all opportunities, including the recent National Postal Forum (NPF) held in Orlando, Florida, the USPS is promoting the adoption to the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to include the Intelligent Mail parcel barcode (IMpb). The USPS’ Postmaster General (PMG) is serious about growing its presence in the very competitive package space, and the IMpb will be the tool it plans to use to catch up and pass the competition. Jim Cochrane, Vice President for Product Information for the USPS (and aka IMpb evangelist), talked about the Intelligent Mail package barcode (IMpb) and the increased scans that each package receives.

The USPS’ share of the parcel business has been steadily increasing, and Cochrane points to the IMpb and the increased visibility as a key driver in the growth of this business. Let’s look at the numbers. In 2009, prior to the IMpb, the average package processed by the USPS received five scans as it made its way through their network. Today, the average package receives 10 scans, and the added visibility is a welcome improvement for parcel shippers that can use this data to better understand where this package is in the mail stream and how close it is to being delivered. John Medeiros, Director, Postal Affairs at DHL Global Mail, says that these added scans allow DHL Global Mail to have a much better understanding of how parcel delivery is actually taking place across the US. 

For 2011, the USPS stepped up its package tracking by implementing a package nesting solution at 62 sites, adding 4,000 ring scanners to over 200 plants and deploying 194 retrofits to its automated package bundle sorters. These upgrades increase the opportunities for the USPS to capture an IMpb scan and this has culminated in more than 2.4 billion package tracking events in the past four months. Customers using USPS package services report that they are very satisfied with the USPS scan data they are receiving. Considering that the USPS provided 1.2 billion package tracking events over the same period last year, this is an impressive achievement. 

Another aspect of the service delivery improved by the addition of the IMpb that the USPS has really focused on is its Return Service. In 2009, for the top 20 online retailers, eCommerce generated a 19% return rate verses a two percent return rate for traditional retail. Returns account for approximately eight percent of retail spending but over 11% of eCommerce spending. Given that 85% of customers that experience a problem with the return service leave and do not come back, retailers are focused on the need for a complete solution. The return service is a $3 billion market and positioned to grow significantly. The USPS, with the IMpb, has developed a superior return service and this has been growing in retailer adoption and overall volume. IMpb works. It’s a change that is already bringing enormous enhancements to the shipping process.

As a reminder, with the Federal Register Notice on September 27, 2011 (Volume 76, Issue 187), the date for printing the IMpb was effectively January 22, 2012 on all commercial parcels (except Standard Mail and Package Services parcels). Merchandise Return Service (MRS) parcels and Business Reply Mail (BRM) parcels were also included. However, the USPS did provide an optional-use transitional period for specific requirements until July 2, 2012. The Postal Service finalizes its implementation effective January 7, 2013 by requiring an Intelligent Mail package barcode (IMpb) for all commercial mailpieces (except Standard Mail parcels) claiming presort or destination entry pricing. In addition, the Postal Service will require the use of version 1.6 electronic shipping services manifest files. January 7, 2013 is the date you need to keep your eye on - and plan toward. 

For those that have yet to begin the process of implementing the IMpb, this would be a good time to start. There are those who are reluctant to start because they unsure exactly what to do or how to do it. I can tell you the on boarding process has gotten easier as the USPS has spent a great deal of effort to make the needed tools available online on their Ribbs website ( For the complete process, refer to the tech guide that can be found at:

However, your service partners also have resources that are well equipped to provide you with solutions and you are encouraged to reach out to your partner of choice so that you can begin taking advantage of the added scans and improved delivery made available by the IMpb.

While the IMpb started out as a means of the USPS working to improve the visibility of packages being processed in its operations, it has since added many ancillary benefits to the USPS, including reducing the cost of operations, adding or enhancing services such as their Return Service and, in the end, creating satisfied customers in both the shippers and the package recipients. All of this comes at time when the USPS needs it most. IMpb is good for the USPS – and equally as beneficial for shippers. January 7, 2013 is the deadline. Getting onboard sooner than later will allow any shipper to reap the financial benefits that will come with it - now. 

David Robinson was recently named Client Engagement Leader for Pitney Bowes. He was formerly Director of Address Quality for Pitney Bowes. For more information on how you can adopt IMpb, please go