Intelligent Mail Tracking

The era of offering mail tracking services has started. Mailing service providers (MSPs) are building revenue by making it easy for customers to leverage information gathered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as it tracks mailpieces from induction to delivery. By 2014, MSPs that don’t have that ability will put themselves at a serious disadvantage.

The catalyst for the growth of mail tracking came years ago when USPS announced it would mandate the use of the Intelligent Mail barcode to maintain automation discounts. Savvy MSPs began helping customers transition to the Full Service and Basic Service IMb well before last January’s eventual deadline. The Full Service IMb, in addition to giving customers a small additional discount and no charge Address Correction Service (ACS), requires a unique barcode on each mailpiece to facilitate tracking by USPS.† † Knowing there was expense to create and manage the unique codes, USPS made the tracking data available at no charge to encourage the use of the Full-Service IMb. Next January the USPS will complete a seven year IMb implementation process (the IMb was introduced in 2006) by making only mailpieces with the Full Service IMb eligible for automation discounts.

What FedEx revolutionized in package tracking in 1986 has now come to bulk mail. IMb Tracing allows mailers to uniquely identify and receive mail processing data for outgoing and incoming mailpieces. By coding the appropriate Service Type ID and a unique serial number in the 65-digit IMb, mailers will receive scan data containing the data, time, location, and sort operation as mailpieces are processed on Postal sorting equipment.

Two types of services are offered: Destination IMb Tracing and Origin IMb Tracing. The processing data of Destination IMb Tracing gives mailers the data to determine delivery, while Origin IMb Tracing determine when and where customers have mailed incoming reply mailpieces, normally containing payments and/or orders. Of the two types, the Destination IMb Tracing is a greater business opportunity for MSPs.

Being able to track the length of time pieces are in the mail, by processing facility, and to know when mailpieces will be delivered (“in home” dates) provides mailers with these and other benefits:

  • Understanding delivery patterns so drop dates can be adjusted to ensure communications arrive at the desired time. This added intelligence may also give some mailers the confidence to mail at Standard (vs. First Class) rates.
  • Synchronizing multi-channel messaging by using expected delivery dates to trigger pre-arrival or follow-up email/mobile messages.  
  • Reducing fraud by spotting high-value mail that hasn’t reached its destination.
  • Verifying delivery to avoid customer disputes and unnecessary remails when a mailer’s customer says he or she hasn’t received a mailpiece. Mailing can quickly check the tracking information and provide the expected delivery date. 
  • Spotting problems in the mailstream and working with USPS to resolve it. Tracking data makes it obvious when mail sits in a processing plant for extra days, for example.

Tracking is offered as an add-on service by mailing service providers (MSPs) by giving customers access to a mail tracking portal. The service or software is available from third party service providers or software companies and commonly branded to the MSP. Some of the service /software providers:

IMb Tracing may be offered as a stand-alone service through a third party provider, or as an add-on service to the provider’s core mailing software. In general, tracking services  typically provide  either cloud or web based  access to performance reports, with tables and maps, so users can look at delivery of a campaign by state, 3 and 5-digit ZIP Codes, processing facility, and individual mailpieces. Reports can be created on demand or on a standard frequency (daily, weekly, etc.) and output as common file formats (Excel, CSV, PDF, etc.).

Usage fees are based on an annual commitment for a maximum number of mailpieces tracked. Fees vary by provider from $1.00 to $3.50 per thousand pieces for lowest commitment of several hundred thousand pieces. Fees drop as volumes climb to higher thresholds, such as 1 million pieces. MSPs mark-up the fees accordingly.

Depending on the vendor, the MSP may have several options regarding the MID assigned to the IMb. In some cases, the tracking vendor will supply the MID as part of the IMb assignment.  If the mailer wishes to use their own MID on the mailpiece, they will need to subscribe to the IMb Tracing program and provide the USPS direction as to where to provision the scan data. Subscription details can be obtained by visiting USPS’s Mail Tracking and Reporting website at or by downloading the IMb Tracing User Guide from MSPs help interested customers get signed up.

Larger mailers can also be direct customers of the software providers. Even then, an MSP might choose to track the mail at its own expense to have proof that a mailing was delivered to USPS on time and to spot delivery issues that require intervention.

If you’re a MSP and haven’t been providing tracking services to your customers, now is the time to consider adding the service and providing the option of mailstream visibility. Learn how to sell the benefits of mail tracking as they apply to different corporate departments, from Marketing and Customer Service to Legal and Finance. It won’t be long before knowing the real-time status of mail delivery will be a routine customer expectation.

Mail tracking was previously possible by using the Planet and POSTNET barcodes on a mailing. The percentage of mailings tracked by mailers is rising now that the scanning information is free from USPS and a single barcode simplifies the process.

††The Full-Service IMb also requires postal paperwork to be submitted electronically, IMb tray labels be included on trays and sacks, and IMb placards be included on pallets.

Published on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 (updated 05/31/2014)