Cover Story

USPS Uses Innovative Ideas to Enhance the Value of Mail

Alternate Postage presents an easy and convenient way to send Single-Piece First-Class Mail® letters and postcards without affixing a stamp. To use the new price category, participating businesses produce and distribute pre-approved envelopes and postcards according to specific design requirements established by the Postal Service™. Businesses may also enhance the value of their pre-approved envelopes by applying a Picture Permit Imprint indicia at no additional charge. After purchasing Alternate Postage items, individual consumers can mail those items without the extra steps associated with using regular postage (e.g., determining the price, going to a Post Office to purchase stamps, and affixing postage).

Rather, in order to collect the necessary payment, Alternate Postage relies on Intelligent Mail barcode® (IMb) technology to identify and count each pre-approved mailpiece as it moves through the postal system. Once a mailpiece is scanned and counted, the participating company’s Centralized Automated Processing System is debited the appropriate amount. The participating company will pay postage in two stages: (1) they will pay the agreed upon prefunded portion of the total postage at the time they produce or distribute the Alternate Postage mailpiece and (2) they will pay the remaining portion when the IMb on the Alternate Postage mailpiece is scanned during normal mail processing.

The mailpieces may have handwritten addresses, or be pre-addressed to a single destination within the United States. Alternate Postage mailpieces may be deposited into the mailstream in the same way as other Single-Piece First-Class Mail. The mailpieces follow First-Class Mail handling procedures, and will be processed and delivered according to Single-Piece First-Class Mail standards.

In summary, the key features of Alternate Postage are:

n Added ease and convenience when sending Single-Piece First-Class Mail letters and postcards (no need to affix postage);

n IMb Technology to identify, scan, and count each unique mailpiece;

n Ability to send mailpieces from multiple locations to multiple destinations using a convenient postage payment feature, and;

n Offer Picture Permit Imprint indicia at no additional charge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is this a test or a new product?

A. After a successful market test, the Postal Regulatory Commission agreed to make Alternate Postage a new product.

Q. Is the revenue reallocated to the Post Office (ZIP Code™) where the postcards and letters are sold?

A. No. The revenue is recorded as “commercial” and is assigned to AIC 114, Postage Due, in the office where the permit is held, similar to a Business Reply Mail (BRM) account.

Q. What are the mailing elements on the Alternate Postage postcards and letters?

A. The mailing elements consist of:

1. Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb): The IMb will enable the recording of piece-level information for volume and revenue reporting.

2. Facing Identification Mark (FIM): A new FIM E has been introduced for this product to separate and orient the mailpiece, and to allow separate identification of this mail.

3. Indicia: Mailers may use a Picture Permit indica (at no extra charge) or print the following in lieu of postage:

First-Class Mail U.S. Postage Paid
Company Name

Q. What happens if the letter exceeds 1 ounce?

A. The postage price of Alternate Postage letters and postcards is a premium price that factors in the possibility that some customers may add photos and other items to their letters. There is no need to weigh or measure those letters and postcards.

Q. What happens if the card enters the mail but doesn’t get a scan?

A. Our preproduction tests revealed a very low “no scan” risk, which was factored into the premium price for Alternate Postage letters and postcards.

Q. What happens if the cards are deposited in “Local Mail” slots?

A. This program relies on Intelligent Mail barcodes to detect Alternate Postage Payment postcards and letters as they travel through the postal system. Although the possibility of “no scan” was factored into the premium prices, Post Offices are to follow nationally established procedures for mail preparation and dispatch.

Q. What happens when the First-Class Mail prices change?

A. The pricing during the test is established through a contractual agreement and is not subject to normal price changes.

Q. Can these greeting cards be sent to international addresses?

A. No. Alternate Postage postcards and letters can be mailed only to domestic addresses and APO/FPO locations within the United States.

Q. Will Alternate Postage postcards and letters take longer to be delivered?

A. No. The postcards and letters are processed and delivered like First-Class Mail items with stamps or other postage.

Q. Are there any special instructions for Postal Service employees?

A. Handle them as First-Class Mail, and do not obliterate the barcode.

Q. Will Alternate Postage postcards and letters get forwarded?

A. Yes. They will be forwarded if the U.S. Postal Service® has a change-of-address notice on file that has not expired.

For more information, contact Jenny Kalthoff, Marketing Specialist, Mailing Services, at