Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail continues to be measured in the billions of pieces each year, despite the advancement and broad availability of address quality solutions. According to the recently published USPS UAA Mail Rollup spreadsheet located at PostalPro, the total number of UAA mail pieces in 2021 was 5.6 billion pieces. The total cost to forward, return, and in most cases dispose of these pieces exceeded $1.38 billion. That cost is not just absorbed by the USPS, but instead is passed through to the mailing industry in the form of postage increases, which now continue to occur twice annually in July and January (at least until the USPS achieves a financial stability in which they plan to be more judicious with their expanded pricing authority).
While mailers should be seriously concerned about the nearly double-digit postage price increases over the past 18 months, there is a strategic way for mailers to reduce postage prices while at the same time improve the overall response rate for their mailings. That strategy leverages advanced address quality tools and techniques to reduce UAA and improve the overall ROI (return on investment) of the mailing.
Address Quality: A Series of Steps
Address quality is not a singular event or process, but rather a series of steps involving USPS databases and industry developed parsing and matching technologies that are oftentimes viewed as a pyramid of steps ultimately transforming questionable data into trusted information. It begins first with CASS Certified software, which forms the foundation of the process. CASS Certified software parses address elements such as primary number, street name, city, and state according to USPS Publication 28, and then match that parsed data to USPS ZIP+4 tables. Numerous return codes from the CASS Certified software provide important clues as to why an address received an initial ZIP+4 code or why it was unable to determine one.
Once a ZIP+4 code is determined, the next step is to determine if the address is deliverable by the USPS, and that leverages the USPS Delivery Point Validation (DPV) table. In some cases, a ZIP+4 code may be removed by DPV, and if that occurs, a different return code will explain why. There are numerous DPV return codes, and the USPS and mailing industry are continually collaborating within MTAC User Group 5 to improve and expand these codes.
While DPV is a powerful address quality solution, it does have its limitations. For example, DPV can determine that an apartment number (also known as a secondary address) is missing, but it cannot provide what that apartment number is. Mailers would need to leverage industry provided address quality services such as an Address Resolution Service that can append apartment numbers as well as correct difficult address quality challenges such as a transposed primary number (e.g., 132 Mail Street should be 123 Main Street).
Other USPS databases such as LACSLink and SuiteLink also assist with converting rural route addresses to street-style addresses as well as appending suite numbers for business addresses. These too are part of the USPS CASS Certified solutions provided by various software companies in the mailing industry and are important steps in the overall process. However, keep in mind that while these underlying USPS databases are the same for each CASS Certified solution, the parsing and matching technologies that leverage this data are unique to the software vendors. Thus, the overall assignment efficacy will vary amongst the various CASS Certified solutions. Moreover, leveraging industry address quality services in conjunction with USPS CASS Certified solutions can result in a much higher overall address assignment, which further reduces UAA and improves the overall ROI of the mailing.
Fully leveraging CASS Certified software is an essential part of the overall address quality process, and for good reason. Without a proper ZIP+4 Code, we cannot leverage the next essential step in the processs, and that is NCOALink. The USPS NCOALink database is a highly encrypted database that requires a fully complete and correct address along with a recipient’s name to match the change-of-address filed with the USPS. USPS postage workshare discounts require a change-of-address process to be applied on all addresses within 95 days prior to the mailing. The USPS provides both an 18-month database and a 48-month database for non-exclusive licensees to leverage for change-of-address processing, and while there are hundreds of non-exclusive licensees providing the minimum USPS requirement of an 18-month lookback, there are fewer than 20 companies that directly provide the 48-month NCOALink change-of-address service. Fully leveraging NCOALink again not only reduces UAA, but it also helps keep up with customers on the move. And since it is estimated that about 60% of all permanent moves are filed with the USPS, leveraging industry services such as proprietary change of address (PCOA) in conjunction with NCOALink can provide USPS-compliant address quality plus capture additional address corrections that may have been missed.
Capturing and maintaining accurate customer contact data is critical to businesses of all sizes today. In fact, poor data quality can cost companies 15% to 25% (or more) of their operating budget, according to internationally recognized expert Larry English, founder of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Information Impact International and developer of the Total Information Quality Management (TIQM) methodology. So, this is not just a mailing industry concern, but rather has broad implications for multichannel marketing and other decision-based technology that relies on a complete, correct, and current address.
While overall mail volume has declined by nearly 40 billion mail pieces over the past decade, the overall average UAA percentage has remained at 4.22%. In fact, it went up a few percentage points to 4.34% in 2021, the highest since 2016, which was 4.42%. Sadly, 61% of the 5.6 billion UAA pieces were treated as waste, which means they never had a chance to reach the intended recipient and certainly cost the mailing industry billions of dollars in lost opportunity and lower response rates.
Fortunately, it is not too late to continue to make UAA go away. A new CASS certification cycle is on the horizon and should result in a marked improvements in address quality. Mailers should start receiving CASS Cycle O certified solutions in the next 12 months, which, when fully leveraged, may help to finally push UAA below the four-percentage threshold where it’s been for over two decades.
Chris Lien is EVP Postal Affairs for BCC Software, a BlueCrest Company.
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.