Intelligent Mail

Since at least 1999, the Postal Service has worked to provide customers with more information on each mailpiece as it travels through the system. The goal is to have an “intelligent mail” system in place by 2009. The system would operate like a Global Positioning System for mail, using a standardized barcode on each piece of mail and mail container that will enable customers to see where their mail is at every step.

Intelligent Mail refers to the capture and sharing of information about each mailpiece throughout the system, from its point of origin to its destination. Realizing that today’s customers want to know more about their mail, in the last seven years the Postal Service has increased the transparency of its mailstream.

In March 1999, the Postal Service launched Delivery Confirmation service to provide customers with the date, time, and ZIP Code of delivery for Priority Mail and parcels. Customers call a toll-free number or visit www.usps.com. More than 300,000 handheld scanners were deployed to letter carriers to support Delivery Confirmation service. In 2001, the Postal Service added Signature Confirmation, allowing customers to request a copy of the signature of the individual who received the mailpiece. In 2006, the Postal Service began deploying new handheld scanners that can take a digital image of the signature, allowing customers to see it the same day.

In 2002, the Postal Service officially launched Confirm service, which provides tracking information to participating letter and flat mailers. Mailers print an identifying barcode, known as a PLANET Code, on their mail. Automated equipment reads the barcode and makes information available to the mailer via the Internet on the time, place, and operation that handled the mail.

In January 2003, the Postal Service created the Intelligent Mail and Address Quality group, to focus its efforts towards developing information-rich mail. The group’s intelligent mail plan is based on adopting one information-rich code for each type of mail. These will uniquely identify each mailpiece, provide distribution information, and point to services such as address change, special services, tracking, and delivery confirmation.

In 2003, the Postal Service began experimenting with new barcoding systems to expand data encoding capacity and, at the same time, reduce space occupied on a piece of mail by multiple barcodes. The solution, finalized in 2005, was a barcode that uses four vertical bar types rather than two. It encodes almost three times more information than the current codes. It also can consolidate information from both the POSTNET and PLANET barcodes and has the ability to incorporate many other services in the future. The new barcode was tested by Confirm service users in 2005. Beginning September 1, 2006, Confirm service subscribers and address change service users were given the option of using the new barcode, with other services to follow as technology evolves.