Advancements in Mail Tracking Over the Years

Twenty years ago, the online world was a lot different. In fact, not everyone considered online access a necessity. In 1998 a Pew Research Center study reported that 57% of people who weren’t Internet users didn’t feel like they were missing out on anything important. Can you imagine not having instant, online access to the things in your life (or business) that matter?

Manual Mail Tracking

Now, picture yourself a mass mailer twenty years ago. You put pieces in the mail and literally had nothing more than a guesstimate as to when they would arrive.

First-class mail typically took 1-5 days for delivery. Standard mail could take up to 3 weeks. Those are HUGE windows of uncertainty!

For retailers, the best indicator that an advertisement hit homes was a sudden influx of store traffic. ut, this gave them no time to ramp up in-store staff. And, if mail was delayed and sales ended before customers even knew about them, you can imagine the call center support needed to handle complaints.

Some mailers leveraged field help by soliciting residents to track and report on mail they received. The residents, included in seed lists, would collect and then hand-date pieces when they arrived and then send them back in bulk to mail houses. This manually intensive process still only provided a regional indication of mail delivery in a specific zip code.

Initial Barcodes Helped About Half the Time

However, as technology advanced, the USPS and other agencies began developing ways to track mail delivery via barcode. POSTNET (Postal Numeric Encoding Technique) was the first barcode implemented, followed by PLANET (Postal Alpha Numeric Encoding Technique) code. Mailers needed both barcodes to have about a 50% chance of accurately tracking mail pieces.

The Introduction of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) Increases Accuracy

The first IMb was introduced just 10 years ago, but not required by the USPS until 2013 in order for mailers to receive automation discounts. The use of this barcode has increased overall efficiency and improved deliverability. Here’s how the codes break down:

With IMB, mailers have 95-100% tracking accuracy on a single piece: who the piece belongs to, who mailed it, estimated delivery date and where it’s going. Mailers can now collect and organize data about their mail. However, the standard USPS system still falls short, as the data is not easy to sort and interpret.

Mail Tracking Software Organizes and Interprets Mailing Data

Advancements in barcoding provided the backdrop for the next step in the mail tracking evolution. Many of today’s mail monitoring products provide an easier way to roll up data on dashboards, gain insights and make informed business decisions.

Mail tracking advancements have led to coordinated reporting dashboards, triggered marketing responses, address hygiene improvements and even tracking on-the-go using mobile apps designed for tracking. All of these enhancements provide an all-inclusive view to mailers to be able to connect the dots on how their campaigns are performing, or verify delivery of time-sensitive communications with the click of a mouse.

The Future of Mail Tracking

Informed Visibility is the next generation of mail tracking and is currently in pilot mode. The new system will provide real-time, event-driven measurement of all mail. With it, the mailing industry can leverage key information about their mailings to manage operations, refine processes and adjust marketing campaigns as needed.

Just like the Internet itself, mail tracking will continue to advance and improve, making the mail process just a bit easier to manage.