Is Your Mail Headed in the Wrong Direction?

What kind of question is this? Of course your mail is headed in the right direction! Isn’t it? It was addressed properly, presorted properly, your mailing facility bundled it, trayed or sacked it according to postal regulations, palletized it properly, all the tray/sack/pallet tags are correct, and it was shipped to the correct entry points. Or was it????

When was the last time you updated your mailing and shipping software to the most recent destination data files from the USPS? Just where does all the ZIP code and postal facility data come from? You know… that first line of information that prints out on your tray tags, sack tags and pallet placards? And what about the facility information that prints out on your 8125 clearance documents for drop shipping? Where does all that data come from, and how is it kept up to date? What happens if you use outdated data?

You’ve most likely heard terminology such as Labeling Lists, Drop Ship Destination Data, City-State Files, Zone Chart Data, and so forth, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what all these terms really mean, and why they are important to your mailing operations. The short answer – the USPS provides mailers “Destination Data Files” which may be downloaded from the USPS web site. There are a number of different files included in this group, all of which are critical to insure that your mail is prepared properly and is labeled and routed to the correct postal facilities for processing and delivery. This data can – and does – change frequently, so it is critical that mailers pay attention to these changes and update their presort and post-presort software with the new data as soon as it becomes available.

Why is this important? Using out-of-date data can result in your mail getting held up at acceptance because it has not been sorted or labeled correctly according to the most current data. Even if it does get past USPS acceptance, if the destination data is old, all that mail that you so carefully prepared is going to end up headed in the wrong direction to incorrect postal facilities. This will cause delivery delays because the mail will need to be reworked and redirected to the correct locations. And this can all wind up as a bad mark on your Mailer Scorecard. Keep in mind, the USPS plans to start implementing postage assessments starting in July. Bad marks on your Mailer Scorecard will start costing you money later this year!

Labeling List Files
These files contain the Labeling List information, which is used to properly label bundles, sacks, trays, and pallets of mail. This information is used by presort software to correctly sort the mailing list and to correctly populate the destination data line on sack tags, tray tags and pallet placards. This information dictates which ZIP codes may be combined together into the handling units, such as trays and sacks, as well as which ZIP codes may be combined together on containers, such as pallets. These files are updated monthly, and are announced in the Postal Bulletin. Mailers often confuse the Labeling List data with the Drop Ship data (see below), but the two are used for completely different purposes. To avoid confusion, it is helpful to think about the titles of the data files: Labeling List data is used to sort and label the mail, while Drop Ship data is used to direct the shipment of the mail.

Drop Ship Product Files
These files are used to properly identify postal facilities which may be used by mailers to transport (drop ship) mail to facilities closer to the final destination of the mail. This is a group of files that include the postal facility listings along with detailed data such as the operating hours, classes and processing categories of mail handled by the respective facility, contact information, driving directions, ZIP codes serviced, and so on. Included in this group of files is the Mail Direction File, which is used to identify when postal facilities “re-direct” mail to other postal facilities. For example, if a postal facility is undergoing renovation, some of the mail classes or processing categories it would normally process are re-directed to a nearby facility during the renovation period. This is a temporary condition, so this information is communicated using the Mail Direction File rather than making short term changes to the actual facility listings. The drop ship data is used in both presort and post-presort software to identify drop ship entry points and to correctly populate the drop ship clearance documents – PS Form 8125’s. These files are provided from the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking System (FAST) and the Mail Direction Files are updated monthly. This update frequency is the required frequency for mailers to perform updates, but in actuality this data is being updated on a daily basis. For mailers who do frequent drop shipping, it is recommended to get this data updated daily rather than just the minimum required frequency.

Other Files
There are other files, such as the Zone Chart files and City State Files, which are also important as they are used to assign postal zones within mailings that are subject to zone-rated postage and used in combination with other destination data files to insure accurate assignment of city and state names. Zone charts are updated quarterly, while the City State Files are updated six times per year.

Timing of updates
The USPS establishes mandatory use dates for all of this data to help make sure that mail is prepared and routed correctly. Mailers should update this data in both their presort and post-presort software as often as possible, but certainly no less frequent than the minimum requirements. Failure to do these updates on a timely basis may result in your mailings getting delayed or even worse, stopped at the point of verification. It is recommended that mailers work with their software vendors and service providers to coordinate the timing of these updates so that any potential conflicts are minimized. Window Book recommends updating this data on a weekly basis, or if you do frequent drop shipping, on a daily basis.

Resources
The major release schedules for this data may be found on the USPS RIBBS web site. Information regarding the drop ship data may be found on the FAST web site. Window Book posts updated destination data files to our software downloads web page each Friday. These updates may be manually downloaded and installed to your Window Book software, but you can do these updates automatically at a frequency you can dictate by using the Automated PostError! Hyperlink reference not valid.al Data Updater plug-in of the Window Book Scheduler. There is no additional charge for this utility, so users should definitely take advantage of this convenient means to automatically update this critical data.

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Window Book can help you implement the destination data changes in your mailing operation and automate your processes using our software and service solutions.
Window Book offers a free Mailing Optimization Analysis.

Call us at 1-800-524-0380 for more details or to sign up for your FREE Mailing Optimization Analysis!

Local Keys

If you are submitting electronic documentation (eDoc) to PostalOne!®, one of the critical pieces of information required to identify postal facilities are the locale keys. Locale keys are unique identification codes that are assigned by the USPS® to each postal processing and delivery facility. This allows for very precise identification of the postal facilities that mailers are using for their origin entry and for any additional entry points at which mail is entered. There are a number of fields in the Mail.dat® file where these locale keys may be populated for communication of this information to the USPS and other entities in the mailing process.
Read More: http://www.windowbook.com/Learning/Postal-Concierge-E-tips

Labeling List Changes effective August 1, 2015

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) announced changes to the Labeling List data, effective August 1, 2015, with an expiration date of September 30, 2015. The Labeling Lists affected are L006, L007, L012, and L606. The Labeling Lists are located on the Postal Explorer web site under the Additional Links tab. This will direct you to the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking System (FAST) web site; from there you can choose Resources, then Label Lists File Download, then Label List Files.

Use of Labeling List Data
The Labeling List data is used to define the specific destination information to be printed on sack labels, tray labels, and pallet labels. This destination information is used to route the mail inside the sacks, trays and pallets to the correct postal facility for processing. The destination information is based primarily on 3-digit ZIP Code prefix, and varies based on the class of mail, processing category, and other criteria. Virtually all container labels are generated using computer software, which accesses this Labeling List data in a file format, operating much like a look-up table.

Why the changes?
There are many reasons why the USPS makes changes to the Labeling List data. Recently, many of the changes are being made as a result of their efforts to consolidate processing facilities to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. Changes also take place when the USPS makes alterations to the service areas for certain processing facilities, which can be the result of shifts in population, mail volumes, staffing and many other reasons. Keep in mind that approximately 12% of the US population moves each year and there are about 1,800 new delivery addresses added each day. So, there are lots of ZIP Code changes happening all the time!

Time for change
The USPS modified the frequency of these updates last fall from quarterly to monthly. What this means for mailers is that Labeling Lists are now effective for a period of only two months. While these updates have always been important to insure proper direction of the mail, keeping up to date is now more critical than ever. Gone are the days when mailers could perform their postal presort process months in advance. Due to this change, the maximum advance time for the presort process is 60 days, and in reality probably less than that to accommodate production schedule fluctuations. The scheduled and actual induction dates (mailing dates) also become much more critical as a result of this change. These dates are what is used by the USPS to determine if valid Labeling Lists have been used to process the mailing.

Handling Change
When these types of changes are announced, it is important for mailers to work with their software vendors and mail service providers to make sure that the changes are implemented on a timely basis. This is critical so that the correct destination information is populated into the Mail.dat® files, or any other files or printed documents that are used to process or submit postage statements (and other postal documentation) and to create sack, tray, and pallet labels. Keep in mind that the Labeling List changes involve not just the facility names, but the ZIP codes associated with those facilities. This affects the destination line on the tags and the mailpieces that are placed into the sacks, trays, and pallets. As such, these changes MUST be incorporated into the presort software first; if the data is incorrect during this process (and thus incorrect in the Mail.dat files), it cannot be corrected in Post-Presort software, such as DAT-MAIL™.

Automatic Postal Data Updates System
Window Book makes these updates easy for our clients by providing an automated method to update the Labeling List information into your Post-presort software. Once you have this FREE add-on tool installed with your DAT-MAIL software, you no longer have to remember to check for Labeling List updates, nor do you have to perform manual downloads because it will automatically be taken care of for you! You can just set it and forget it!

And if you think that’s cool – ask us about how we can automate the process of downloading and installing new MDR Client software from PostalOne!®

Labeling List Changes effective June 25, 2015

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) announced changes to the Labeling List data, effective June 25, 2015, with an expiration date of August 31, 2015. The Labeling Lists affected are L001, L002, L005, L006, L007, L009, L010, L012, L201, and L606. The Labeling Lists are located on the Postal Explorer web site under the Additional Links tab. This will direct you to the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking System (FAST) web site; from there you can choose Resources, then Label Lists File Download, then Label List Files.

Read more: http://www.windowbook.com/Learning/Postal-Concierge-E-tips

The Direction (And Re-Direction) of Mail

If you drop ship mail to multiple entry points, you know how confusing all the postal facility acronyms can be. How do you know which facility should be the entry point for which portions of your mailing? Drop shipments require delivery appointments (with few exceptions) and it is often then that mailers find out that the USPS® is “re-directing” mail to a different postal facility. And all those Labeling Lists! Who can make sense of it all?

Postal Facilities
Let’s start by defining the primary types of postal facilities:
• Network Distribution Center (NDC): The new name for what was a BMC, or Bulk Mail Center. Highly mechanized mail processing plants that are part of the USPS network distribution system. These facilities distribute Standard Mail®, Periodicals Mail, and Package Services Mail in bulk volumes.
• Airport Mail Center/Airport Mail Facility (AMC/AMF): A postal facility at an airport that receives, concentrates, transfers, dispatches, and distributes mail transported by air.
• Auxilliary Service Facility (ASF): A mail processing facility that has its own service area and serves as a satellite processing hub for a particular Network Distribution Center (NDC)
• Sectional Center Facility (SCF): A postal facility that serves as the processing and distribution center (P&DC) for post offices in a designated geographic area as defined by the first three digits of the ZIP Code® of those offices. Some SCFs serve more than one 3-digit ZIP Code range.
• Area Distribution Center (ADC): A mail processing facility that receives and distributes mail destined for specific ZIP Codes. ADC’s and their associated ZIP Codes are in the DMM labeling list.
• Destination Delivery Unit (DDU): A postal facility, usually identified by a 5-digit ZIP code, that receives, sorts, and delivers the mail destined to the individual recipients within that 5-digit ZIP area.

Drop Shipping Mail
The USPS provides regulations and incentive pricing for mailers to transport mail at their own cost to postal facilities closer to the ultimate recipients of the mail. Mailers are permitted to drop ship this mail to any of the postal facility types listed above. Mailers may elect to drop ship mail in order to take advantage of the drop ship discounts, or they may drop ship mail in order to better control the delivery window. In any case, mail preparers who are processing drop ship mail must generate a clearance document, PS-Form 8125, for each entry point and must also make delivery appointments with the destination postal facilities. These delivery appointments are most commonly made using the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system. The FAST system includes all the updated information regarding the various postal facilities, including information on any re-directions to alternate postal facilities.

Redirections
The USPS often re-directs mail from its original intended destination facility to a different postal facility. These re-directions are done for a variety of reasons:
• Seasonal mail volume fluctuations, requiring some types of mail to be processed at alternate facilities to even out the flow of mail.
• Facility construction, remodeling, or equipment re-vamping, which requires some or all of the mail volume to be diverted to an alternate facility.
• Acts of nature, such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, snow storms, etc., which may require mail volumes to be diverted to other facilities.
• Production or workflow efficiencies, which may require certain types of mail to be temporarily sent to facilities with newer, more efficient equipment, or more flexible staffing.

Regardless of the reason, it is best if mailers can obtain this redirection information in a timely and efficient manner. This helps insure that the 8125 clearance documents are completed with the most up-to-date, accurate data, and that the logistics providers have the most accurate delivery address information for their drivers.

It is primarily due to these redirections that FAST is requesting mailers to properly identify the redirection facility on the 8125 forms whenever possible. To prevent confusion, the USPS asks that the intended drop ship entry facility information be placed in Box 15 of the 8125, which includes the facility type designator (e.g. NDC, SCF, etc.) and the ZIP code for the entry (e.g. SCF Houston 770). In Box 28 of the 8125, however, the entry facility name must be listed exactly as it appears in the drop ship destination database, which is available from FAST. In this database, most of the facility names do not include a facility type designator or a ZIP code. While that information is provided elsewhere in the database record for that facility, it is often not included in the facility name. In the case of the SCF Houston 770 facility given earlier, the facility name for this SCF as it appears in the FAST database is simply “Houston.” So, in Box 28 of an 8125 for a Houston SCF drop shipment, only the facility name Houston would appear, along with the delivery address, city, state and ZIP + 4 for the facility. As a result, the facility name appearing in Box 28 of the 8125 will rarely match exactly the facility information in Box 15, due to redirections, or simply due to the fact that the facility name as it is listed in the drop ship database is not exactly the same as the data required to be populated in Box 15.

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Back-to-Back PostalOne!® Mandatory Software Updates

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) will be issuing back-to-back software updates for the PostalOne! production system this fall. The first update, which was postponed from the planned July 13, 2014 date, will now be implemented on August 24, 2014. The second update is for the regularly scheduled October update, and that implementation date is October 26, 2014. In both cases, the Test Environment for Mailers (TEM) update will take place the following day.

Why the update?
The USPS periodically makes updates in the PostalOne! system to incorporate enhancements and bug fixes to the software. Major changes are performed when there are significant changes to postal rates or regulations, such as when the USPS increases their prices in January each year. There are usually at least four PostalOne! software updates during the year: January, April, July, and October. There may also be interim updates to PostalOne! for immediate fixes or other system issues.

The August update is a major change to support new USPS products and services, postage statement changes, and other updates. The postage statement changes take effect on September 7, 2014.

There is a Mail.dat® specification version change associated with this update; the current version is 14-1; while the new Mail.dat version is 14-2. For purposes of submitting Mail.dat files to PostalOne!, the table below shows the various Mail.dat version numbers and the dates on which they are supported by PostalOne!

Submit Date Postage Statement Mailing Date Postage Statement Version 13-1 14-1 14-2
Before 8/24/14 Up to and including 9/6/14 January 2014 Supported Supported Not Supported
8/24/14 and after Up to and including 9/6/14 January 2014 Supported Supported Not Supported
8/24/14 and after 9/7/14 and after January 2014 or September 2014 Updates Only Supported Supported

Summary of some of the changes for the August release:

  • Periodicals Statement of Ownership: The Requester Publications Only (PS Form 3526) and Requester and General Category Periodicals Publications Only (PS Form 3526-X) will be combined into a single automated online form.
  • Manifested Parcels for Domestic & International Mailings: Customers who currently ship single piece mailings and who use the manifest mailing system with the permit imprint payment method can now meet volume minimums of 50 pieces or 50 pounds by combining parcels volumes of various classes of mail.
  • Shipping Services File conversion: Additional classes of mail will be converted from Mail.dat to the Shipping Services File format for Standard Mail, Parcel Select Light Weight, and the remaining portions of Priority Mail.
  • HUB Facilities FAST Appointment Scheduling: The FAST system will be updated to allow customers to schedule appointments for drop ship to HUB facilities.
  • Full-Service eDoc verification & Invoicing: Reports which provide metrics for Full-Service errors will be launched and known issues will also be fixed. Reporting metrics will be made available for mailer-review on August 24. Whereas actual charges for assessments of postage will be visible on the reporting, assessments of postage will not be activated.
  • Seamless Acceptance will add reports and enhancements to correctly assess Seamless errors.
  • eInduction will enhance numerous electronic processes to increase visibility.

The following items will be available September 7, 2014:

  • Call Return Tag: This new service allows Merchandise Returns Labels to be generated and delivered by the Postal Service to a customer on behalf of a merchant.
  • Premium Forwarding Services Commercial: This new service will allow commercial mailers to consolidate mail received from multiple Post Office boxes and street addresses, or both, into a single package for delivery to a single address. The Mailer can sign-up through the Business Customer Gateway (BCG).
  • Political and Election Mail: New indicators for Mail.dat and Mail.XML™ can be used in the eDoc. This will help USPS better tabulate election mail volume by entry point to help with current and future planning.
  • Intelligent Mail® for Package barcode (IMpb) Non-compliance: The Non-compliance threshold will increase slightly.

The October update does not have any postage statement changes associated with it, but here is a sample of some of the other changes:

  • For postage statement Mail Owner display, the company name and address of the Mail Owner that is displayed on the postage statement will be based on the eDoc submitted when the Mail Owner is identified by a Mailer ID (MID), Customer Registration ID (CRID), or Permit.
  • The nonprofit authorization numbers must be attached to the CRID, i.e. company location, instead of attached to a permit as is the case currently. The eDoc Submitter may identify each nonprofit organization by a MID, CRID or Permit when using Mail.dat files.
  • Postage assessment of Seamless Acceptance error for certain error types will be automated.
  • Move Update will no longer be measured in MERLIN, but assessed as a census verification for all eDoc Submitters over 75% Full-Service and residual Address Change Services (ACS) will be provided for pieces received from these eDoc Submitters at no charge.
  • The Incentive Programs and Online Enrollment services area of the Business Customer Gateway (BCG) will have a new look and feel.
  • New functionality will be added to the BCG and Mailer ID in order to facilitate accurate designation of a CRID when a customer attempts to add or modify a company name/business location.

Details of the changes for these updates may be found on the USPS RIBBS® web site for both the August 2014 changes and for the October 2014 changes.

Handling Change
When these types of changes are announced, it is important for mailers to pay attention to the outage periods so that you can make adjustments in your mailing operations to accommodate the downtime. It is also extremely important for mailers to download and install the USPS Mail.dat Client software (also sometimes referred to as MD Client or MDR Client) as soon as it is available. This software can be downloaded from the Business Customer Gateway web site. Mailers also need to make any associated updates or configuration changes to software that interfaces with PostalOne! once their Mail.dat Client software is updated. For example, if you use DAT-MAIL’s eDocs Manager Plus, you will need to edit the configuration for this in the Window Book Automation Scheduler.

Resources
The USPS sends out notifications of all PostalOne! outages and software updates using the DMM Advisory. You can subscribe to the DMM Advisory by sending an email to dmmadvisory@usps.com. In addition, detailed information regarding the changes in the PostalOne! software are available on the USPS RIBBS web site. Also available on the RIBBS site are the planned release schedules for these updates.

Window Book offers our Professional Services to users who may need assistance to download and install the Mail.dat Client software from the USPS, or to make any necessary updates or configuration edits to your Window Book software when these PostalOne! updates occur.

Alert: FAST – Corrupt June 20 File Postings from USPS

Batch File Processing Corruption Alert!  Please disregard the recent June 20 revision of the 060120014Mail Direction Files (v1, v2, and v3) and the Label Lists (L006 and L007).  It has come to our attention that the “06012014Update Release” posting dated June 20 was corrupted by an undetected batch processing error.  FAST App Support is aggressively working to re-post a corrected version as soon as possible but with an anticipated re-posting date no later than COB tomorrow – Wednesday, June 25, 2014.  In the interim – until the revised June 25 release is posted, mailers are encouraged to continue use of the original files that were posted as scheduled on June 1, 2014.  Those June 1 files remain available on-line for usage.  (NOTE:  The referenced June 20-corrupt files have been removed.)  We envision this is a temporary inconvenience; and we are implementing safeguards to ensure future corrupt files are detected before announced postings occur.

Once again, we regret this (short-term) system-related problem transpired; and a prompt resolution is underway.  If you have any questions or issues, please contact the FAST Help Desk via eMail at FAST@usps.com or via telephone @ 877-569-6614.  Thank you.

Labeling List Changes for January 2014

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) announced changes to the Labeling List data, effective January 1, 2014, with a mandatory use date of January 31, 2014. The Labeling Lists affected are L001, L002, L006, L007, L008, L012, L602, L605, and L606.  Read more.

Important Sites, Links, and Numbers to Note

Every once in a while it becomes necessary to stop, dig through emails and stacks of paper on your desk to find a phone number, email address or website to use to get help or research something. You may want to keep the following information easily within your reach:

  • For all the latest Intelligent Mail information and guides, visit the USPS RIBBS website at: www.ribbs.usps.gov. Click the “Intelligent Mail Services” tab on the left side of the page.
  • Find your local Business Mail Entry (BME) Manager:
    http://www.usps.com/ncsc/locators/find-bme.html
  • Find your local Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA):
    http://pe.usps.com/mpdesign/mpdfr_mda_lookup.asp
  • Subscribe to the DMM Advisory: send an email, with “subscribe” in the subject line, to:
    dmmadvisory@usps.com
  • On-line Intelligent Mailbarcode encoder and decoder:
    http://ribbs.usps.gov/onecodesolution/Default.aspx.
  • Information on OneCode ACS®: ACS Department, 877-640-0724, acs@usps.gov
  • Information on OneCode Confirm® and theConfirm service in general: Confirm Customer Help Desk,800-238-3150, option 1 or visit:https://mailtracking.usps.com
  • PostalOne! Help Desk:1-800-522-9085
  • Questions about addressing and/or move update requirements: National Customer Support Center, 1-800-238-3150
  • Information on Mail.dat and Mail.XML, including how to get a User License Code: www.idealliance.org

IMb Services and FAST Update

Today’s DMM Advisory issued the following update:

IMb™ Services Update

FAST® Release 15.0.0 will deploy on November 7, 2010. Updated FAST 15.0.0 Release Notes are available at http://ribbs.usps.gov/fast/documents/tech_guides/FASTRelease/. The key features of this release are:

  • Users now have the capability to choose to receive emails for stand-alone content association.
  • The FAST Web Services messaging will be updated to account for previous error messages.

The Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) is available on Postal Explorer (pe.usps.com). To subscribe to the DMM Advisory, send an e-mail to dmmadvisory@usps.com. Simply indicate “subscribe” in the subject line.