By now, you’re surely familiar with the Postal Service’s Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb). At the very least, you’ve heard of it and know that compliance with the barcode format means postage savings.
Here at Lane, we were an early adopter of IMb, starting with the “Basic” program in 2010 and achieving “Full Service” status in 2012. This means that, by now, all of our customers are using the barcode format and receiving the savings associated with it.
Still, a number of common questions pop up about IMb – in part because the setup and maintenance of the barcode happens on our end and is therefore transparent to you. And, because the benefits and perks associated with IMb are constantly evolving as the Postal Service offers more programs to fully compliant mailers.
For your reference, we’ve pulled together your most common questions here. If there are any on your mind that we missed, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to answer those, too.
(For Review…) What is Intelligent Mail barcode?
The Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb), formerly called the “4-State Customer barcode,” is a USPS barcode that mailers print on letters, flats, and packages.
Why did the USPS upgrade the barcode system?
IMb combines the data in the old POSTNET™ and PLANET barcodes, as well as additional data, into one barcode. IMb is a more robust code than previous versions because it contains more information while still using a small space on the mailpiece.
What are the benefits of IMb?
The USPS continues to offer more benefits through full-service IMb mailers. That is, you can’t take advantage of these benefits unless you’re mailing with a full-service-compliant IMb mailer. These benefits include:
- Postage Discounts
The USPS rewards those who make mailing easy. Specifically, it gives “Automation Discounts” to IMb-compliant mailers provided all eligible* addresses in a given mailing include “Zip+4” zip codes. This refers to a zip code appended with a 4-digit code indicating postal “delivery point” information, which improves sorting. Our mailing software assigns Zip+4 to all addresses possible in your mail file. (*A small percentage of addresses will not match a postal directory and therefore not be assigned a Zip+4.)
Discounts vary, but they can be significant. For example, we recently ran a job for about 20,000 pieces wherein the difference between non-automation and automation rates was $1,500.
There are also discounts available through the USPS’s Seasonal Promotions and Incentives. These have included incentives for integrating augmented reality, QR codes, and mobile commerce (among others) into your printed pieces. This is one of the IMb benefits that requires you, the publisher, to register with the USPS (see ‘Can I – and should I – access my postal information online?,’ below).
- Address Correction
While OneCode ACS is not new, it is now enabled through IMb. With OneCode ACS, you can access a list of returned mail pieces in your USPS account on the Business Customer Gateway (more on this below) along with updated address information.
Unfortunately, the list the Postal Service provides is not readily decipherable and therefore not all that useful when it comes to updating your mail file. On request, we can supply you with a file that will help you connect the dots and make better use of this address correction tool.
- Streamlining of Mailing Permits
Mail Anywhere is the newest benefit available through the use of IMb, and it’s exciting (as far as postal perks go).
Dealing with mailing permits can be both costly (mailing standard from multiple locations) and cumbersome (paying for periodical postage at additional entry points).
Mail Anywhere makes all of this much easier. With it, standard mailers no longer need to purchase a permit for each mailing location. So if you’re based in Philadelphia, you can use your Philly permit to mail from any location, including our facility in South Burlington, Vermont.
Periodical mailers no longer need to send their postage check to the entry point of their mail – a process that can hold up the release of jobs into the postal stream. Instead, these customers can deposit their postage check into their home permit account, eliminating hassle and speeding up the release of their mail into the mail stream.
Lane is proud to be an early adopter of this as well, currently among a small number of mailers in the country approved for the program.
- Mail Tracing
Contrary to popular belief, IMb does not include free and automatic tracking. However, it does include free and automatic tracing. This means being able to trace a mailing (by pallet) to the last USPS destination where it was scanned (so, not to individual doorsteps). As a mailer, Lane is required to gain specific approval from the USPS to offer tracing to our customers. We’re currently working on this approval and expect to be able to offer this feature to you very soon.
What do I need to do in order to use Intelligent Mail Barcode? (… if you’re a new customer and didn’t previously use it)
In short, nothing. The Lane Press mailing department proactively contacts you to complete the minimal preliminary setup, and from there, we take care of everything.
The longer version: Every publisher needs to have a “Mailer ID” and a “Customer Reference ID” in order to utilize IMb. We contact you to obtain your mailing “Permit Number,” and then we use this to both establish your Mailer ID and retrieve your Customer Reference ID. Once we have these bits of information, we start mailing your publication(s) using IMb.
How do I know if I’m getting all available discounts?
We analyze each and every mailing that goes out our door to make sure you are taking advantage of all available discounts.
Can I – and should I – access my postal information online?
Yes you can, and we highly recommend that you do.
The USPS has an online user interface called the Business Customer Gateway (BCG).
We recommend that you sign up as a registered user because the tools available in the Gateway (including PostalOne) provide you with knowledge and control – including enabling you to keep tabs on your mailing permit, get your mail into the mail stream faster (with electronic payment), manage your address corrections, and access your postal statements.
Our mailing experts are always available to help you get set up and acquainted with the Gateway.