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Decoding the Co’s

One of the most effective ways to simultaneously improve mail delivery and reduce postage is to commingle multiple mail pieces together. Although this concept is not at all new, the need for predictable and timely delivery has perhaps never been greater—while advancements in software technology and postage discount opportunities have provided mailers with more means and motive than ever before.

The term commingling can denote different types of mail piece consolidation. Typically, two comingling methods are used today. First is comailing, which is the mixing of dissimilar mailings into the same bundle or group. Periodical mail, for example, typically leverages comailing in order to increase carrier route bundle eligibility by mixing together two or more different publications into one larger mailing. Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) devices basically do this same function for letter mail. The primary incentive for comailing is postage discounts.

The second method is co-palletization. This is the combining of containers (sacks and trays) onto a common pallet. The mail pieces within the container are all from the same mailing, but thanks to co-palletization destination entry and service levels can be improved. Those serve as the primary incentives of this form of commingling, though additional postage discounts can be obtained through destination entry of the mail.

Effective commingling is dependent on both software and hardware. The hardware to perform this has been available for over a decade; however, software has only recently emerged with the capability of strategically determining the optimal mix of mailings. This is largely due to the evolution of the Mail.dat specification and commercially available software.

Mail.dat is the industry standard (developed by the IDEAlliance association) for electronically communicating mail preparation and postage payment. It consists of a set of files containing varying levels of detail to generate postage statements and qualification reports, which virtually eliminates hardcopy statements. Mail.dat works directly with the USPS PostalOne! system to facilitate electronic postage payment – a requirement for Full Service Intelligent Mail barcode discounts.

One of the more difficult challenges with commingled mailings is how to manage postage payments: Keeping track of each contributing mailing, the individual permit accounts, and sufficient funds can be significant barriers. Fortunately, Mail.dat and PostalOne! provide the ability to determine the contributing mailings to the overall pool.

Within the Mail.dat each contributing permit, publication, and even CAPS account can be tracked for proper postage payment. Mail.dat also provides the important relationship between these accounts, as well as the mailer identification (MID) numbers. This is often referred to as the “cast-of-characters” and facilitates electronic distribution of information such as Full Service ACS (Address Change Service) data.

Presently, PostalOne! only supports a very limited aspect of commingled mailings. Due to Sarbanes-Oxley requirements for the USPS this year (2010) (effectively suspending any major PostalOne! enhancements between April and October), it is uncertain when PostalOne! will be able to support some of the more complicated commingled mailings. However, despite these potential delays, advancements in Mail.dat and software are coming—and with them, newfound opportunities for astute mailers to use commingling to improve the quality of their mail delivery while reduce postage.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2010 edition of Mailing Systems Technology.