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 What happens if you use outdated data?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 Using out-of-date data can result in your mail getting held up at acceptance because it has not been sorted or labeled correctly according to the most current data.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.

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 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.

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!

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!®

USPS Resumes Facility Closures in 2015

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) announced that Phase 2 of the planned network consolidation and corresponding adjustment of delivery service standards will be resumed beginning in January 2015. As we reported in earlier e-Tips, the USPS originally laid out their Network Rationalization plan in 2011 with a phased approach to closing and consolidating various postal facilities and making the necessary service standard adjustments to correspond with the new service network. Phase 2 of that plan was scheduled to be implemented on February 1, 2014, but the USPS postponed those plans. The USPS goal in closing a large number of processing facilities is to cut costs and optimize their processing network to more closely align with the decreased volumes of mail.
Network facility changes

The first phase of the network optimization plan began in July 2012 and involved 48 facilities. The USPS halted closures during the busy mailing season of September through December 2012, but resumed the first phase closure plans in January 2013. The USPS again halted the closures after July 2013 for the busy mailing season through the end of the year (consolidating a total of 141 facilities), and then planned to resume Phase 2 in early 2014. The Phase 2 plan will begin in January 2015 with consolidation of up to 82 facilities. The network consolidation so far has realized an annual cost savings to the USPS of $865 million and required no employee layoffs. This next phase is expected to realize an additional $750 million in annual savings.

The Plan
The USPS provides detailed information regarding the planned facility consolidations and closures on a special Our Future Network web page. Included on that page is a link to the Phase 2 FAQ’s. Their Mail Move Plan is available in Excel spreadsheet format, and will be updated on a weekly basis. The USPS also provides information on these planned consolidations on its main web site.

What it means for mailers
So, what does all this mean for mailers? As the consolidations and closures take place, mailers will need to make sure their mailing software solutions – both presort and post-presort – are updated with the most recent postal destination data updates. This includes Labeling Lists, destination drop ship data files (including re-directions), etc. Mailers will also need to pay close attention to the proposed changes in the USPS service standards and monitor mail delivery so that any necessary adjustments can be made to mailing schedules. Stay tuned for further updates as this initiative progresses.

Your Solution
Window Book’s software allows you to easily keep your USPS destination data files, including Labeling Lists and drop ship data, up to date automatically. Our Automatic Postal Data Updater is a complimentary feature in our software, which requires a one-time configuration in the Window Book Automation Scheduler. Contact our technical support team for more details on how to configure your Window Book software for these automatic updates.

Be Prepared: New Monthly updates to USPS Data

Effective June 1, 2014, the United States Postal Service® (USPS®) will begin sending monthly updates to several critical data files, such as Labeling Lists, Mail Direction Files, and Zone Charts. (Currently the Labeling List data is updated quarterly.) This is a MAJOR change that will definitely impact mailers, possibly resulting in loss of postal discounts, or rejection of mailings if the mailing has not been processed using the correct data. Read more.