As we move past the midway point of 2011, it's time to begin setting our sights toward planning for 2012. Change and uncertainty have been common postal industry themes in recent years, as the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) continue working to ensure a successful future for the industry, with support from many industry groups and associations.

    A few things have changed and evolved in the past couple of months. First, the National Postal Forum took place in May and brought together hundreds in the mailing industry to share best practices and collaborate on ways to overcome current challenges.

    Also in May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sent the USPS's exigent rate case request back to the PRC for further review, ruling that it was up to the PRC to spell out "how closely the amount of the adjustments must match the amount of revenue lost as a result of the exigent circumstances."

    And, finally, discussions continue about the potential implementation of a five-day delivery schedule to street addresses.
    Obviously, business mailers and others in the industry must stay on top of breaking industry news to remain competitive and compliant. With that in mind, let's discuss two pressing issues for the postal industry as we head toward 2012.

    The first is the transfer of Standard Mail Parcels from the Market Dominant category to the Competitive category as a lightweight option under Parcel Select. (Non-profit Standard Mail Parcels will remain in the Market Dominant category.)
    With a target date of January 2012, the change from Market Dominant to Competitive enables the USPS to adjust prices for those products on a competitive basis, rather than adjusting prices in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as allowed by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). The move aligns commercial parcels, both over and under one pound, within the Competitive category.

    The transition will move those products to a lightweight parcel offering under Parcel Select called Parcel Select Lightweight Parcels, and the pricing structure for the category will be ounce-based.

    On April 28, 2011, the proposed USPS rules for the Intelligent Mail Package Barcodes (IMpb) implementation for commercial parcels were published in the Federal Register, which would require the use of a unique tracking barcode on all commercial parcels claiming presort and destination entry pricing by January 2012, except Standard Mail parcels.
    Enhancements and adjustments to affix and scan the IMpb are being made by businesses that ship parcels, and service providers such as UPS Mail Innovations.

    These advancements will make additional tracking information available to commercial mailers, including acceptance and delivery status. Mailers will have piece-level visibility of mail processing and delivery, including a routing code that can facilitate processing on automated sorting equipment, and an application identifier that connects to a payment method. The result is added efficiency to delivery, payment and reporting.

    The USPS plans to encourage the use of unique tracking barcodes by including free delivery confirmation on commercial parcels, except Standard Mail parcels, after action by the Postal Service Board of Governors and the PRC.
    The new barcode standards are expected to be set in place when the first Market Dominant price change occurs in 2012, or in January 2012 if no Market Dominant price change occurs. An optional-use transitional period is planned until June 4, 2012, to allow mailers to make necessary changes to software and systems.

    As you work through all these and other changes, there are things you can do now to maintain seamless service to your customers and ensure future success.

    First, keep up with industry news. Mailing Systems Technology is a great resource, as are other media outlets that cover the postal industry. You can also visit the USPS and PRC websites to review updates and news. Also, monitor trade publications from your industry for insights about how postal changes will impact businesses similar to your own.

    Second, keep your customers informed. Your sales personnel and account managers should be able to simply communicate to customers how changes will impact their business.

    It's also crucial to provide reliable tracking information to your customers to provide visibility into the movement of their mail.

    For instance, UPS Mail Innovations is making tracking information available to customers via www.UPS.com beginning this month (July 2011), providing recipients with an easy way to monitor their UPS Mail Innovations packages and mail pieces, with delivery confirmation for those who select it.

    Finally, consult with or outsource your mail processing to a business mail services provider to tap into its expertise and technology. If your business has the in-house capabilities to efficiently process mail and apply proper postage, a business mail services provider can be a conduit for postal industry updates and the practical implications for your business and your customers. If you are outgrowing your in-house mailing capabilities, a business mail services provider can be that information conduit and utilize advanced technology to manage your mail.

    The postal industry is changing, so put yourself in a position to handle those changes with minimal impact on your business. View these changes as an opportunity to reassess your processes and identify ways to improve them.

    Chet King, Postal Affairs Manager for UPS Mail Innovations, has more than 25 years of experience in the postal industry. Visit www.upsmailinnovations.com or call 1-800-500-2224 for more information about UPS Mail Innovations and its services.
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