Proof of Mailing: Say Goodbye to the Red Round Stamp
As the United States Postal Service® (USPS) and the mailing industry are busy with the integration of Intelligent Mail® (IM), one item of particular concern to the ultimate postage payer seems to have fallen by the wayside. That item is the official proof that the mail has been accepted and paid for. For years, postage payers of bulk mailings have relied upon the red round dated stamp on the postage statements or other USPS documents as proof of mailing. That red round stamp still exists today, but be prepared for it to fade into the sunset soon.
Why is the red round stamp disappearing? It is due to the increasing use of electronic documentation (e-docs) rather than hard copy documents. With Intelligent Mail Full Service, use of e-docs is required, which will eliminate the ability for postal clerks to apply the red round stamp to hard copy postage statements. What then, is to be used to provide proof of mailing?
The USPS does provide for an electronic receipt file once postage statements have been processed through PostalOne!, however these receipts do not contain any detailed information about the mailing. These receipts can be obtained either individually or in batch mode, but in either case, it requires an active effort by the mailer or postage payer to obtain these receipt files. This does not sound like a big deal unless you are a large volume mailer, or a mail preparer who processes mail for numerous clients. This change in USPS process creates the need for a new mailers process that is not required when hard copy statements are used.
Moreover, since the receipts are not attached in any way to the postage statements themselves, it also creates an additional process of reconciling the receipt file to the postage statements. There are USPS statement numbers, register numbers, and mailing group ID numbers on both documents for purposes of reconciliation, but this would be a manual process. Also of concern is that it is not clear how long this receipt information will remain on the PostalOne! site, so access after the fact may prove to be troublesome.
Inevitably, software developers and other mailing process suppliers will create more automated means to obtain and reconcile this information, likely even including an electronic facsimile of the old red round date stamp. However, these methods will vary depending on the supplier, so postage payers who do business with multiple mail preparers will be faced with a variety of representations of the USPS proof of mailing.
The mailing industry has been calling for the USPS to respond to this issue by asking them to provide a more automated, easy to use proof of mailing. The USPS has not been very responsive to this request, mostly because they have their hands full implementing other more critical components of IM and because their budgets do not allow for additional programming to accomplish this.
As a result, postage payers and mail preparers need to be made aware of this issue and prepare for it. You should be working with your postal contacts and mailing associations to raise the awareness of this problem with the USPS. You should also be planning for the worst-case scenario, which is that the USPS will not be able to provide an automated solution anytime soon. In this case, you need to work with your software developers to come up with some workable interim solutions. You will also need to be prepared to handle these additional processes and to educate your staff and clients as to the interim solution.
We all can agree that hard copy postal documents need to be eliminated and replaced with electronic documents. However, this should not be done at the price of creating additional work for postage payers. Only by making your voices heard through your mailing associations, and by making plans in advance of IM implementation will you make yourself prepared for this change in USPS processes.
Monica Lundquist, Postal Affairs, Window Book, Inc.