USPS estimates it delivers at least 2.2 billion mail pieces annually that lack complete address information, according to information presented at a session of the recent National Postal Forum.
With intimate knowledge of their routes, letter carriers are often able to deliver mail pieces despite such problems as missing apartment and suite numbers, minor spelling and addressing errors, and changes of address. USPS says such special handling costs it an estimated $160 million annually, according to a recent Post Ops Update (available only to members of the Association for Postal Commerce).
An imperfect process
What carriers learn about problem addresses is supposed to be captured in the Postal Service's address-management database, but it's an imperfect process.
Because of greater use of “transitional” employees instead of career carriers to deliver the mail, it’s becoming increasingly likely that a poorly addressed letter will end up in the hands of a carrier who doesn’t know how to deliver it, a postal official acknowledged. Such recent hires are paid less than career carriers, and their hours can be adjusted more to match the peaks and valleys of mail volume.
Letter carriers point to another reason that “carrier knowledge” often fails to overcome addressing problems: Even career carriers are increasingly delivering mail to unfamiliar addresses, such as when several carriers work overtime to cover a vacant route after their usual deliveries are done.
USPS returned, forwarded, or destroyed nearly 7 billion “UAA” (Undeliverable As Addressed) mail pieces last year at a cost of more than $1.2 billion, not including the cost to mailers. The volume of UAA mail has generally been declining for years, thanks to stricter regulations on business mailers and greater use of address-correction software.
More than three-fourths of that UAA mail results from changes of address. But another surprisingly common issue is that many people don’t know their correct mailing address, especially for office buildings and college campuses.
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