Understanding Postal: Get Smart
If you mail at automation-discounted postal rates, your catalog will have to meet a host of new requirements next January, including the USPS’s Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB).
The USPS last month issued its proposed rules on the requirements that go along with automation rates starting in January 2009. It goes beyond the IMB, although that in and of itself is a significant change. The Postal Service’s proposed rules would no longer allow the POSTNET barcode, which has been in use for nearly two decades, to qualify for automation discounts beginning in January 2009.
It’s not clear what will happen to pieces mailed after January 2009 with POSTNET barcodes only. But one thing the USPS has made certain is that they will not qualify for automation postal rates. The USPS may not reject the pieces outright, but having the POSTNET barcode won’t qualify them for automation rates.
What Kind of Barcode?
The IMB is a 65-bar, four-state (e.g., four different types of bars in the code) barcode that contains 31 digits of data. These encode:
* the delivery-point address routing code used by the USPS to sort and track mail;
* any special services requested by the mailer, such as Address Change Service or Confirm;
* the class of mail and mailer’s ID code (a new feature being introduced with IMB); and
* the unique identity of the mail piece.
The IMB holds nearly three times the data of POSTNET and can be printed using the same technology — the key to its attraction to the USPS and mail users. It can’t be deciphered by the human eye, however, which raises new quality-control challenges in mail production.
While the USPS provides software and fonts to produce the IMB, and most postal software vendors have or will incorporate it into their software, conversion’s not as simple as flipping a switch. More data is required to generate the IMB. The process is much more complex and may require extensive system or software modifications. Technical information and resources are available from the USPS’s technical information Web site (http://ribbs.usps.gov/onecodesolution).