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Intelligent Mail Technology Delivers New Shipping Options

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by Patrick Brand
Senior Vice President and General Manager
Global SMB Products and Strategy
Pitney Bowes

If your mail center is like most other companies, you are seeing a significant increase in the number of parcels processed on any given day. Today’s borderless, connected world is fueling explosive growth in ecommerce and propelling parcel volumes by double digits in most major markets.

In fact, parcel shipping is now having a significant impact on both corporate operating costs and customer satisfaction. A survey by Pitney Bowes* found that 80 percent of Americans consider shipping options an important part of the shopping experience. This means that a brand’s ability to provide a variety of shipping options can make a difference in attracting and retaining customers. It also means that to succeed, shippers need the flexibility to offer and pick the best options for each parcel, balancing service levels and costs based on individual customer requirements.

Most people want visibility to track where their order is at any time. According to our research*, 81 percent of customers track their orders when expecting a delivery and say automated alerts give them added confidence in a business’s operations. Tracking the shipping process and results on a parcel-by-parcel basis also helps a business respond to customer issues and questions in real time. In addition, tracking generates roll-up reports across vendors that can help identify performance trends and opportunities for improvement.

Cost, of course, remains a critical factor. 49 percent of American consumers have abandoned a purchase due to higher than expected shipping costs*. This is why shippers are continually looking to add more affordable options to offer their customers. What all this means is that every organization should take another look at the U.S. Postal Service as part of their carrier mix.

USPS Steps Up; Becomes More Viable Option

It is no secret that the USPS is grappling with declining mail volumes and sees opportunities for growth in parcel shipping. However, in the area of parcel shipping technology, the USPS has lagged behind the private carriers.

For years, these well-known, highly successful carriers have set the standard for client service and visibility, from parcel pick-up to delivery, and every step along the way. The well-earned reputation of these carriers for outstanding client service and tracking capabilities has led shippers to overlook the USPS for parcel shipping, because it did not offer comparable services.

Well, that is all changing. This is the result of the USPS’ efforts and investment over the past several years to enhance its service offerings and deploy new technologies that provide more competitive parcel shipping options for businesses. More specifically, the USPS has enhanced its Priority Mail® service, invested in its network scanning capabilities to enable more visibility and tracking, and introduced innovative offerings like Flat Rate® shipping.

At the heart of the USPS resurgence in parcel shipping is the Intelligent Mail® Package Barcode (IMpb). The IMpb is the next generation USPS tracking barcode for parcels that offers mailers similar visibility into the shipping process as their private carrier competitors, with very competitive rates. It utilizes the same barcode symbology as the current Confirmation Services barcode, but adds some key enhancements.

Additionally, the IMpb can add automatic parcel insurance for packages shipped by Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express™. And most importantly, an Impb- compliant label enables end-to-end package tracking – affording visibility throughout the delivery process, from shipping to customer delivery.
With the IMpb, the USPS can now provide up to 11 scan events for every parcel it ships and notify recipients of any attempted delivery. This ability to track a package in transit supplies the level of responsive service customers have come to expect. IMpb will also enable new service enhancements, which could include email or SMS text delivery alerts with post-delivery actions and a delivery information summary for all packages.

In addition, the Intelligent Mail® Package Barcode gives shippers a wealth of information that can be especially useful for companies to better manage their mail and shipping operations. In this way, each IMpb is the gateway to an entire unique shipping story: from who sent the parcel, to what happened to it in transit, to who took delivery, and at what point in time.

Combining Mailing and Shipping

The new IMpb capabilities represent state-of-the-art tracking technology at very competitive pricing. And since your mail center already uses the USPS for mailings, this newly competitive package capability means you can centralize and consolidate mailing and shipping with one carrier, at one location. And you get the added convenience of having your shipper on premises every day the mail comes in.

To access these IMpb-enabled services, mailers need to apply an IMpb barcoded label or USPS Tracking Label 400 with a tracking number to all packages. Using a commercially available PC or web-based shipping solution will allow you to take advantage of all the value added services IMpb has to offer. The software will produce IMpb labels with the proper barcode and send all necessary shipping information to the USPS.

Bundling a PC or web-based software solution with your meter gives you even more flexibility to leverage these value added services, including commercially competitive tracking capabilities, free insurance, and Extra Services.
There are a range of IMpb-compliant software solutions available to meet your needs, whether you send an occasional package or you’re sending high volumes of packages.

Some Good News on Shipping Costs

Starting in September 2014, the USPS began offering new pricing for meter and online postage users and those with shipping software:

— Pricing went down for shipping heavier Priority Mail® packages to local areas, thanks to the new USPS zoned pricing.

— If you ship packages regularly via private carrier Ground services, the reduced USPS prices make Priority Mail more competitive – and often with faster delivery.

— If you send heavier packages, the Priority Mail “Regional Rate” boxes may save you considerably more money than shipping using your own packaging.

Next Steps

Learning more about the Intelligent Mail® Package Barcode is a smart idea, whether you send a high volume of packages on a regular basis, or simply want to take advantage of state-of-the-art tracking services from the USPS.
It is certainly good news for all mailers that the USPS is now offering enhanced tracking, day specific delivery, free insurance, and free pickup and optional hold for pickup. On par with major private carriers, 98 percent of USPS mail carriers now have package scanners, and the average number of USPS scans rivals FedEx® and UPS®. USPS also offers very competitive rates for packages under three pounds, free daily pickup, and Saturday delivery at no extra charge.

I encourage you to talk with a certified mailing consultant to learn more about the new shipping tools available today to enhance and simplify your mailing and shipping operations. New tracking technology, coupled with rate shopping and carrier management tools, can help you expand your carrier options and better serve your customers to grow your business.
* Pitney Bowes/ORC International Survey, October 2013

(This article is from the April 2015 newspaper edition of MAIL: The Journal of Communication Distribution. Click “Subscribe” to begin your subscription.)