Behind the USPS’ Delay of Intelligent Mail Barcodes
The U.S. Postal Service recently promised to delay the required implementation of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) for all letters and flats until May 2009 and will allow mailers to continue to access a yet-to-be-determined automation price by using POSTNET barcodes until May 2010. The USPS also said the two options it proposed for using IMBs — basic and full-service — will have separate prices. The announcement came in response to a barrage of comments from mailers opposing the original January 2009 requirement to use IMBs only (i.e., no POSTNET barcodes allowed) to qualify for automation prices.
The USPS published its proposed IMB requirements in the Federal Register using an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, soliciting comments from mailers and other stakeholders. Postmaster General Jack Potter said a number of implementation concerns were raised that the USPS has to address. The revised May 2009 deadline now coincides with the USPS’ next annual price change.
The Postal Service’s original proposal required the use of IMBs by January 2009 to qualify for automation rates. But the USPS outlined the very different basic and full-service options for using IMBs without disclosing whether the automation prices for the two options would be the same.
Without knowing the price structure, many mailers said they were unable to move forward with necessary capital investments and program changes to meet the many requirements for the full-service IMB option, which includes electronic documentation, barcoding of pieces, unit loads and containers with nesting of data, and making appointments through the USPS’ Facility Access and Shipping Tracking system. In his announcement, Potter said the basic and full-service options would have separate prices.
Mailers also voiced concern that the current POSTNET barcode would no longer qualify pieces for automation prices. As a compromise, the USPS said it would allow pieces with POSTNET barcodes to qualify for automation prices until May 2010. Although the USPS didn’t specify, it’s very likely this automation price won’t be as attractive as the one put in place for either the basic or full-service IMB option.
Another element of the USPS’ proposal that has raised numerous concerns is the requirement that the mailer ID field of the IMB be a code assigned to the mail “owner.” In the often complex mail supply chain, the USPS’ proposed requirement for the mailer ID would’ve made it a very cumbersome, complicated and often impossible requirement to achieve for many mailers. The USPS said it would revise the mailer ID requirement to allow new options.
Look for more details from the USPS on its IMB proposals in the Federal Register in the coming months; the USPS will again solicit feedback from mailers and stakeholders on its revised proposals. Stay focused on these issues, and continue to provide the USPS with feedback regarding the impact of its proposed requirements on your business.
USPS Responds Positively
The USPS’ response so far has been encouraging. The agency listened to its customers’ concerns, although there’s still much to be done even before a May 2009 IMB implementation date can be successfully met by many mailers. Many issues still exist, and the USPS can implement it successfully only by working closely with its customers and their service providers.
Catalogers need to educate themselves on the IMB program and work closely with their service providers to ensure they’ll be ready for a May 2009 implementation. The alternative’s not pretty — a reduction or loss of postage automation discounts, which translates to significant postage increases.
(For more on the IMB program, see the “Understanding Postal” column in the March 2008 issue of Catalog Success, pg. 48.)
Kathy J. Siviter is president of Postal Consulting Services, a postal issues consulting firm. She formerly served with the USPS and the Association for Postal Commerce and has 11 years experience in all areas of postal operations. You can reach her at (703) 237-1740 or firstname.lastname@example.org .