Welcome to the golden age of shipping and mailing. The U.S. Postal Service is taking dynamic new approaches to the way it does business, creating alliances with carriers and using new online tools for paying postage and estimating delivery charges. If you combine that with the desktop shipping and available tracking tools, then your ability to estimate and control costs, create accurate labels and envelopes and track delivery is unprecedented. Here are a few of the services, trends and tools that herald this new era.
     
    Hello, Internet Postage � Goodbye, Postal Manifest?
    Fifteen years ago, the USPS introduced the postal shipping manifest � a way for small and medium-size shippers to save money and have packages picked up daily. Now, USPS has introduced Internet postage, a payment option that offers the benefits of the postal manifest, without the hassles. In addition, you can arrange for package pickup online, as needed.
     
    Internet postage accounts are set up online, not through a local post office, which simplifies the process. It�s like having one big virtual meter that you keep filled � and the postage is subtracted. The labels that print are the same format as FedEx or UPS labels. Pitney Bowes now offers a browser-based online postage option for its DeliverAbility enterprise package management software.
     
    Another sign that Internet postage is catching on: By partnering with Pitney Bowes, eBay recently began offering online postage as part of its service options for shippers. When an eBay auction is complete, the seller can create a shipping label and purchase postage, choosing from First-Class Mail, Media Mail, Parcel Post, Priority or Express. The service is linked to the shipper�s checking account or credit card through PayPal.
     
    Reducing Residential Surcharges
    The residential home delivery business is a fast-growing, competitive market, in part because of the increase of Internet shopping and home businesses. It�s critical that companies make informed shipping decisions about the costs of residential deliveries. Residential Deliver Indicator (RDI), a new tool from USPS, provides insight into carrier surcharges that may apply to residential deliveries so shippers can compare charges from multiple carriers and identify the best rates and service.
     
    While some carriers may bill users a surcharge for residential deliveries, the Postal Service delivers to every address in the United States without any surcharges. As RDI data is made available through commercial shipping solutions, users will be able to automatically determine if the USPS considers the address to be residential or commercial. With this information, shippers can better identify the complete cost of shipping to the address.
    Delivery Point Validation (DPV) is also a valuable tool, as is the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. DPV is a USPS tool that indicates if the address is considered valid and deliverable, and the NCOA database is an ever-changing database of Americans who are moving and have registered their change of address with the USPS. Both of these tools, DPV and NCOA, can add great value in ensuring your addresses are deliverable and up-to-date, thus eliminating the expense of sending the mailpiece or package a second time and increasing the likelihood for delivery and receipt of the message or package.
     
    Last Mile Collaboration Creates Options
    USPS offers something that commercial carriers don�t: delivery six days a week to every home in America. Now, USPS is joining forces with those carriers to offer �last mile� delivery services � Airborne@home, FedEx Home Delivery, UPS Basic, to name a few. Consider the case of a small direct mail company in Tennessee that�s using UPS Basic to ship to its customers. Let�s say it has a customer in a rural area outside of Seattle. UPS picks up the package and delivers it to the metropolitan post office in Seattle, which carries the package the �last mile� to its rural destination. What does this new approach offer you? Convenience, reliability and more options.
     
    �Do Not Call� Boosts Value of Mail
    Another trend that�s driving change in the shipping and mailing industry: Companies are shifting from cold calling to direct mail to get their messages out. Telemarketing is facing its greatest hurdle ever as millions of Americans register their phone numbers with the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Effective in October 2003, this registry was created to offer customers the choice of whether to accept telemarketing calls. To date, close to 60 million people have registered � and the numbers continue to rise.
     
    As companies reallocate their telemarketing dollars, direct mail as an industry will grow. The good news is this: A survey by International Communications Research found that 75% of customers prefer direct mail for receiving new product announcements and 70% prefer direct mail for receiving unsolicited information on products and services from companies with whom they are not doing business.
     
    Companies can take advantage of this preference for mail by assuring that they are getting the right information to the right people at the right time � and sending clear messages.
     
    What�s Ahead?
    The envelope (and the package) are being pushed from new directions and to new limits in the US market as never before. The USPS will continue to innovate and provide more tools and services to mailers and package shippers in the US. All will be designed with the goal of increasing the probability that your mailpiece or package will reach its destination on time, get opened and deliver its message. Look for the other carriers to aggressively respond with new services and tools.
     
    Johanna Boller is director of Product Line Management for Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. She can be contacted at johanna.boller@pb.com.
     

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