The Truth About Mail Dates

We hear mail owners complain about the predictability of the delivery of their mail campaigns. They’re sending Standard Mail campaigns consistently on a particular day of the month with an expectation that their mail pieces will arrive about the same time everywhere in the U.S. That’s an unrealistic expectation – and here’s why.

First of all, when a mailer dictates a “mail date” to their printer or Mail Service Provider (MSP), their campaign is considered “mailed” when the shipment leaves the dock or consolidation location. The printer or MSP has fulfilled your wish. What happens then?

Let’s assume it’s a national campaign leaving Atlanta. If all loads meet the criteria for Sectional Center Facility (SCF) entry, the trucks destined for SCFs within about 500 miles will offload the same day. If they arrive before 4 PM, mail processing begins on those loads. Under Standard Mail Delivery Standards that portion of the mail will begin to reach nearby recipient homes in 3 to 4 days.

Meanwhile, a truck heading as far as Los Angeles, Seattle or Bangor might not reach those SCFs for two more days. And if they don’t arrive before 4 PM, the mail will not be scanned in and processed until the following day. So the same campaign may not begin to reach homes in those locations for 7 days from the mail date.

When you add the Delivery Standard to this, the campaign can be arriving in homes over a 3 to 9 day period across the nation. And this is just a simple scenario. It’s highly unlikely that an entire campaign will enter the USPS at SCFs. Some will enter at Network Distribution Centers (NDCs) and some portion may even be sacked, requiring more handling and longer processing times. And these factors can be compounded by inconsistencies in processing center performance, weather and seasonal volumes.

So how can a mailer deal with these inconsistencies? The primary option is to define an in-home date range rather than selecting a mail date, ship date, drop ship date, round stamp date, etc. In the end, in-home date is the only thing that is truly relevant to the mailer. Based on the Delivery Standards for Standard Mail, it’s reasonable to define an in-home window of 3 to 4 days nation-wide. Then the printer or MSP is responsible for creating a mail plan to meet the mailer’s expectation.

Shipments going to the farthest points from origination will leave days before those heading to closer USPS facilities. Experienced MSPs can also factor in entry level, seasonal volume, processing center performance and weather. The largest Mail Service Providers ship from their docks 24/7, providing significant opportunities for myriad campaign components from large numbers of mailers to combine for efficient shipping all around the country to USPS entry points. Smaller MSPs may need to spend more time consolidating enough mail to make an efficient shipment

Managing the mailings of numerous clients requires specialized data capabilities and a sophisticated logistics network. But such intricate coordination of data and product pays off for participants not just in better delivery performance, but also in postage savings through Work Share discounts for drop shipping deeper into the postal system. The Drop Ship Discount requires pallets of mail to meet minimum weight, product counts and presort levels. As your mailing is dispersed, much of it may not meet the discount requirements to achieve the lowest postage.

MSPs with the ability to manage mail files and address mail prior to shipping can also combine mail streams into large co-mail pools taking advantage of additional Work Share discounts for presorting mail before it’s shipped. This is the optimum way for mailers to save money and maintain better control over the deliverability of their mail campaigns. Selecting a mail date hinders the mail Service Provider’s options to combine your mail stream with others.

There’s always a bit of give-and-take in balancing the lowest postage cost with the desired delivery window. You owe it to yourself to be aware of your options as your priorities may also change based on your campaign goals, seasonality or even business rules. The more information you share with your Mail Service Provider the more assurance you have that you’re doing the best job for your company.

Getting back to delivery performance, MSPs should be able to provide mailers with information on their ability to meet delivery schedules. And with Intelligent Mail barcode tracking, mailers now have options to track in-home delivery performance for themselves.

Maureen Noe is a Sr. Consultant in Quad/Graphics Postal Solutions group. With 23 years of mailing industry experience her focus is now on USPS mail performance and advising customers on mail distribution plans using data from tracking. Maureen is also a member of the USPS MTAC workgroup on IMb Tracing.

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