WHAT IS THE US POSTAL SERVICES’ “Informed Delivery” PROGRAM?
Informed Delivery by USPS™ is a relatively new service that few people know about, and yet apparently as of August 2018, over 11 million people have signed up for it, a near-national service rolled out by the US Postal Service in April 2016. It’s available in most of the United States, but not yet everywhere. And, after a lot of initial buzz (at least in the mailing world) about the launch of Informed Delivery, for the average American, this service is still something of an unknown novelty. To follow is our first-hand (we signed up), mid/late 2018 comprehensive assessment, providing you with an in-depth review of how it works and why (and if) you should use Informed Delivery.
Nutshell Description: each morning, you receive via email (or online account or app) with black & white/gray scale photo images of your mail and/or packages expected to arrive at your house or business that day.
When we first signed up for the Informed Delivery by USPS™ service, we were hoping that we would simply get Informed Delivery emails right away letting me know what would be coming this week (maybe for Monday even). No immediate luck – you need to log into your USPS.com online account for Informed Delivery to change settings to receive email notification. Well, we didn’t get any letter-rate mail on Monday anyway, but we did receive both historical and current information on packages received and awaiting return. No package label images appeared on the online account, and I didn’t even get the actual source of some packages – just the name of the company that provided postage (e.g. “Pitney Bowes”). This got us thinking…who really needs this?
First, let me give you a Zagat.com style overview of some of the better, less bot-like or robo-esque online reviews:
“Chuck”, paid-contributor at DoctorofCredit.com, noted that Informed Delivery is “only marginally interesting”, yet correctly noted that if you have a PO Box or travel a lot, or even have multiple addresses, “it’s a game-changer”. Since Chuck does seem to have an active PO Box for his mailing address, he reports that “it’s super helpful to know what came and whether I need to stop by the post office.” Receiving daily images via email (based upon your settings set-up), is also very helpful because he doesn’t have to log into his USPS.com Informed Delivery account to get these notices.
Nick Reyes at FrequentMiler.com found the service both “innovative and useful”, appreciated the cost (it’s free) and recommended it to his audience of frequent travelers. However, Nick also reminds us that newspapers and packages don’t get scanned images – only letters and postcards get snapshots (addressed mailing face only, and not both sides of the mail piece) which may be sent directly to your email. Nick was further kind enough to reference a Reddit.com thread wherein other users of the Informed Delivery services noted accurately that permitted mail (no meter stamp) can now be date-stamped the day you receive it, and, that you can see if the mail that was supposed to show up (e.g. credit card bills) actually did show up.
Michelle Toivoen of Midwest Direct authored a Pros and Cons assessment worth reading. The biggest pro is that, for people who cannot immediately get their mail, the 7:45 am emails provided “ample time to review and respond” to senders regarding important and anticipated mail. The online zoom feature worked well, and a user could even note when expectant mail didn’t arrive. For marketing mailers, Michelle restates the big USPS statistic that 70% of Informed Delivery subscribers are opening their email each day, meaning that you, the marketer, are getting additional (and electronic) brand awareness time – at not extra cost – with the intended snail mail recipient. In other words, the “chances of [the recipient’s] paying attention [have gone up for] a mail piece that… would otherwise [have been] throw[n] away”. Another big plus for her was the Ride-along Image option. However, the B/W image scans are not necessarily kind on “creative design elements”, although there are alternative marketing options here. Additionally, one-sided previews meant that mailers, if using the Informed Delivery service, will really need to design their mail to consider what trackable detail needs to be on the mailing face of the card or letter. Her overall assessment is that this product is a win-win for “both advertisers and recipients”.
Not everyone is super-stoked… Brian Krebs of KrebsonSercurity.com feels that there are potentially significant security flaws arising from Informed Delivery, and cautions his blog readers to have thoughtful consideration prior to a head-first plunge into the adoption pool. Indeed, one early adopter in NYC stated in a blog comments that she began seeing images of other people’s mail from within her apartment building. Brian’s well-written review, which naturally focuses on privacy and security, was one of the few to include pro/con input from multiple media angles. Some of the raised eyebrow points, however, might be addressed by now given the 2017 blog posting. Apparently the USPS is aware of such issues and has been making on-going fixes to the service.
[From the USPS.com itself, there is a USPS 2018.pdf that’s actually pretty useful, although we found much of the other USPS descriptive and marketing material to be confusing and quickly out-of-date.]
Please explain once more “how informed delivery works?”
Essentially, you may sign up at USPS.com to receive email notifications of impending or actual package and letter deliveries, but not catalogs (flats) and some small packages, at your home or business. Your account settings can be modified to receive B/W picture images of the arriving letters.
Ok, tell me again why I need to do this?
CONSUMERS: Yes, you probably don’t need to do this regularly, but for some people – especially those who travel often (or are simply away frequently) or have misdirected packages – it can help to know what’s happening with home direct mail delivery. Such verification, especially with actual black and white snapshots, might be very helpful in short-term situational uses, such as verifying if a neighbor picked up a package in your apartment building as courtesy (and forgot to tell you). If you don’t have a specific need, it could just add more clutter to your inbox… do you really need a black/white image of a saturation ValPak mail piece? Probably not, so consider short-term uses instead.
BUSINESSES: Here again, this likely isn’t essential, but here are two possible uses along with the BIG TAKEAWAY that the USPS wants Marketers to get:
- landlords & property management: confirm without fail when tenants actually sent you their rent checks (e.g. checks had to be received by the 5th of the month);
- home-based businesses, sole proprietorships & consulting: you might really appreciate knowing when packages are coming because you might be an “army of one” and not around all the time, if not actually out of state or out of the country. Or that matter, you could also sign up for other, similar services from FedEx, UPS MyChoice or Amazon Logistics Amazon Logistics Photo on Delivery service; and,
- “Interactive Marketing” Directly to Informed Delivery Consumers: the USPS gives advertisers the option to allow consumers to receive “supplemental content” in viewing their to-be-arriving hardcopy mail in electronic color, and not just black and white, along with hyperlink to the advertiser’s (mailer’s) URL or website. This is said by one reviewer to be the “primary benefit” for marketers since the consumer is already checking his/her Informed Delivery email. And, with stated 70% national open rates by active subscribers, why not hit them up to visit your website (or other URL) for promotional or “Learn More” purposes? (or so goes in the world of PostalLogic and PostalSpeak) here is an online USPS Informed Delivery for Businesses Interactive Campaign Guide although the Guide is not up-to-date and also has failed URL links contained (you were warned).
US GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: It should not go without mention that the U.S. Census Bureau has partnered with the U.S. Postal Service to help with the 2020 Census. From our point of view, we can envision this sort of service to be expanded for municipalities wishing to conduct town wide or countywide surveys and the like. Certainly, this is a welcome development and for all that is said about government waste and abuse, perhaps the Postal Service initiative here is worthy of some applause.
What is the coverage area? Is it available everywhere?
The US Postal Service states that Informed Delivery is “available for most ZIP Codes” – a fairly unhelpful statement. Even where it is available, the adoption is still in its infancy in many places. The highest adoptions seem to be in major cities (especially on the coasts, such as San Francisco and New York), south-central Florida, northern Georgia, Chicago, Seattle, Northeast Seaboard, Hawaii, St. Paul MN, Oklahoma City, etc.
How much does it cost?
CONSUMERS: The USPS Informed Delivery service is free-of-charge for “residential consumers”. So, that solves that.
COMMERCIAL MAILERS: For mailer advertisers (e.g. large retailers, public relations firms, advertising firms, mail houses), the marketing value proposition is that the sender of the mail could sign up for an “interactive campaign” with a “ride-along image” which relays on knowing consumers’ Intelligent Mail Barcode™ as per of availing interactive features. The costs to mailer advertisers are, frankly, less clear, although we were able to discern the point-of-entry for knowing more here. If you have time on your hands, there is an embedded interactive video that could take you over an hour to view in full. We suffered through much of it (there is no fast-forwarding), for half an hour, and got no closer on what actual costs would be for marketers. For those super advanced mailers already adept in using the USPS PostalOne software, there is the heightened value of creating personalized campaigns with provided customer lists.
What if I’m away and have “mail hold” for my mail delivery?
You may know that you can sign up online with the USPS for the Mail Hold Service, although there is no immediate reference here for the stackable service of Informed Delivery. According to USAToday.com’s online Travel Tips section, you can apparently use the Informed Delivery service easily while you are away.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Everyone within the existing service area who gets mail, and, has email to access an online account. he USPS states that eligibility is determined at time of sign-up.
IS THERE A MOBILE APP AVAILABLE?
Yes, and it may be found here on the Apple iTunes website, although Apple.com user views were none-too-kind in their assessment.
WHY THE PERSONAL QUESTIONS IN SIGNING UP? HOW DO THEY KNOW ALL THIS?
The USPS has a lot of information, indeed. When we (rather, I, Sean Griffin) signed up, I was quite surprised that they were able to have at hand a very clear history of so many places at which I lived, including other “lifestyle” info. I wasn’t surprised about the addresses (I probably did file USPS Change of Address notices in the past – this is my world after all), but I am honestly unclear how they seemed to know about cars that I drove in the past.
WHAT DOES THE USPS GET OUT OF THIS?
It’s really quite simple: The USPS has a lot at stake in getting people to continue to value direct mail. Informed Delivery is a natural outgrowth of the USPS need, and perhaps obvious realization, that it must innovate to survive (we are in the 21st century after all), and, that its virtual monopoly and vast network of consumers could be optimized slightly (within the bounds of its Congressional charter).