Priority Mail: More Considerations for Full Service IMb

As the January 26, 2014 deadline grows ever closer for implementing full service Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) to qualify for automation-based postage discounts, printers who provide mailing services are realizing it may take a substantial investment in hardware, software, internal production control, staff training, and customer management to be effective in the full service IMb environment. To help mailers with the transition, many industry vendors, particularly those who sell software, are offering readiness analysis, training, implementation assistance, and other information—much of it free or at minimal cost.

Tech Credit Update

Earlier this year the USPS announced its intention to offer an incentive program to help mailers with the costs of transition to full service IMb. Called the Full Service Technology Credit (often referred to as tech credit), the program required permission from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). On April 16, 2013 the USPS filed a request with the PRC to approve the tech credit promotion. Several industry organizations (representing mailing service providers, newspapers, and major mailers) and big mailers (Valpak, Time Inc., and Conde Nast) submitted comments to which the USPS replied.

In its ruling, published June 10, 2013, the PRC found that none of the commenters objected to the concept of an incentive for mailers to convert to full service IMb, but that many objected to one or more provisions of the current USPS proposal. The objections mainly centered on whether the tech credit, as proposed by the USPS, was fair. The commenters noted that two groups would not benefit at all from the tech credit—mailers who were early adopters of full service IMb (because they have already incurred their costs) and small mailers (those with fewer than 125,000 pieces of qualifying mail volume) because they were not offered the tech credit.

A second fairness argument was related to the cost of the tech credit incentive, estimated by the USPS to be $61.6 million. In the filing, the USPS requested authority to adjust the annual price caps (the mechanism by which postage rates are raised) to recover the $61.6 million. The PRC disallowed this provision, which in practice would have had all mailers contributing to the recapture of the tech credit costs (in the form of increased postage rates), not just those who had benefited from it.

The tech credit promotion had been set to run June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014. On June 24, the USPS announced that will not proceed with the promotion due to the PRC’s decision not to allow the price cap treatment and the USPS’ financial condition.

More Decisions for Full Service IMb

One source of contention between the USPS and mailing service providers for full service IMb has been the definition of mail owner and mailing agent, both of which are embedded in the IMb—Mailer ID or MID for the mailing agent, and Customer Registration ID or CRID for the mail owner. Understandably, mailers have been reluctant to request MIDs and CRIDs for all their customers without knowing exactly how the USPS intends to use the information.

The USPS definition of a mail owner is “the business entity, organization, or individual who makes business decisions regarding mail piece content, directly benefits from the mailing, and ultimately pays for postage on the mail piece directly or by way of a mailing agent.” A mailing agent is anyone who facilitates a mailing on behalf of the owner.

The USPS does not require mail owner identification for mailings of fewer than 5,000 pieces. While this is a benefit for mailers processing small mailings, it brings up a production control issue for mailers who have a mix of over- and under-5,000 piece mailing jobs. Essentially, it creates two kinds of mailings—those that require a CRID and those that do not. Rather than develop two sets of procedures, the mailing service provider might find it easier to use a CRID on every mailing, which means obtaining a CRID for every customer.

Another decision needs to be made for move update. Full service IMb adds a fifth ancillary service endorsement for mail undeliverable as addressed (UAA). Electronic Service Requested printed on the mail piece tells the letter carrier that the specific disposition of the UAA mail piece—address service, change service, forwarding service, return service, or temporary return service—will be found within the IMb. Mailing service providers will likely need a scanner or barcode identification device to decipher the IMb to be sure that the correct UAA endorsement is within the IMb, especially since there is potentially a wide range of costs to the mail owner, depending on which UAA endorsement is specified.


Happy 50th Birthday, Mr. ZIP

In 1963 the USPS (then called the Post Office Department) implemented the Zone Improvement Plan as a way to deal with inefficiencies in the zoning system caused by rising mail volume. In 1962, Postmaster James Edward Day identified the need for a more effective postal zoning system, and on July 1, 1963 the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP code) was introduced.

As part of its promotional campaign to encourage use of ZIP codes, the USPS adopted the cartoon figure Mr. ZIP as the trademark for the Zone Improvement Plan. Mr. ZIP was designed by Harold Wilcox, son of a letter carrier and on the staff of the Cunningham and Walsh advertising agency for use by Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) acquired the design from the agency and gave it to the Post Office Department at no cost. After some modification, Mr. ZIP made his debut in October 1962 at a conference of postmasters.

Mr. ZIP was a prominent part of Post Office advertising throughout the 1960s. Research showed that within four years of Mr. ZIP’s debut, eight out of 10 Americans knew who he was and what he stood for. (For a video glimpse into the ZIP code campaign, go to

In the 1970s, use of ZIP codes began to approach 100 percent and the advertising campaign was scaled back. In 1983, after 20 years of use, Mr. ZIP was retired, no longer needed because the USPS had implemented ZIP+4.

Every location in the US has a nine-digit code: the first three digits are the general region or city; digits four and five are the delivery area (post office or neighborhood); digits six and seven are the sector (blocks); and the final two digits are the side of the street.

Today there are a total of 41,810 ZIP codes. California has the most ZIP codes (2,602); Rhode Island has the fewest (90). The lowest ZIP code is 00501 (a unique ZIP code for the Internal Revenue Service in Holtsville, NY). The highest ZIP code is 99950 in Ketchikan, Alaska.


Nancy DeDiemar is a former chairman of NAQP and Printer of the Year. She is the co-publisher of Printips (, a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at