Friday, October 26, 2012

More Focus on Addressing and Address Systems at UPU Congress

 tags:  An Address for Everyone, Univeral Postal Union (UPU), address formats, address hygiene, S42, Global Address Data Association (GADA), address systems

The 2012 Universal Postal Union (UPU) Doha Congress ended last week.  What set this Congress apart from past Congresses was the increase in attention to addressing.  More emphasis on addressing and address systems is beneficial to all of us doing business internationally.  Better addressing systems make maintaining a database of current and potential clients and customers easier because the formats of the addresses in each country are more consistent and better understood.  As countries create systematic address systems, they may also increase the number of individual with addresses, providing those people with a new link to the global economy.

This emphasis on addressing led to the passage of two resolutions on addressing and a special session chaired by Minister Anna Tibaijuka of Tanzania.  The half-day session led to the adoption of a declaration on addressing.  Minister Tibaijuka, who is the Special Ambassador to the Addressing the World-An Address for Everyone initiative, is the Tanzanian Minister of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development and formerly Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)

The UPU initiative "Addressing the world, an address for everyone", was launched in 2009.  That initiative has emphasized and highlighted the importance of making addresses and address systems available to everyone.  It is creating alliances and collaborations between international organizations, non-profit groups, academia, regional groups and national governments to further this goal.  Having an address provides many social and governmental benefits.  An interesting and informative white paper was issued in conjunction with the Congress and the special session.
The resolutions passed at the Doha Congress set the stage for more and important developments in addressing.  Governments are urged to create national address databases and to provide access to them, a development which would allow address hygiene for many more countries.  (I have written often of the importance of international address hygiene.)  In addition to promoting addressing systems, they propose an international change-of-address system and international address verification before mailing.  These would be major steps forward to reducing the costs of non-deliverable international mail.  The Global Address Data Association's executive director has written more extensive report on the Doha Congress's work on addressing.
The details on how and when all of this will have an effect on the real world of international business mailers remains to be seen but there are encouraging signs.  The UPU's white paper mentioned above covers some of them.  The continuing work on the Standard S42: International postal address components and templates is also improving international addressing information availability.  And, of course, WorldVu publishes the Guide to Worldwide Address Formats and Best Practices for International Mailings: A Guide for Business Mailers.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Geolocation and Postal Addresses

tags: address systems, Univeral Postal Union (UPU),  GPS, GIS, geolocation
"Geolocation is the identification of the real-world geographic location of an object… Geolocation may refer to the practice of assessing the location, or to the actual assessed location."  Many sources cite this definition from Wikipedia or a close variation.  Some add in elevation or may specify latitude and longitude.  Some reference GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates, which are expressed in latitude and longitude.  The related term GIS stands for Geographic Information System.  GIS includes the software, hardware and data that allow for analysis and mapping of the GPS coordinates. 

While the more publicly available GPS information is frequently only given as a city or section of a city or a postal code, the more precise location provided by longitude and latitude can be determined.  The information with greater specificity may be more costly to ascertain and can raise privacy and other legal concerns.  However, the more specific locations can provide greater advantages, when planning most central or best locations for facilities, for determining service needs in a geographic area, for mapping delivery routes and many other uses. 

The Wikipedia and other definitions say nothing about postal addresses.  Many of them are focused on computer applications, such as ISP locations.  Obviously, postal addresses and geolocational systems are related, as we know from the mapping function available in cars, on smart phones and other applications.  While postal addresses provide a physical location, at least as close as the post office for post box addresses, they are not geolocational in the exacting way that is often meant by the current use of the term.  For that more exacting use of the information requires the ability to map addresses in more sophisticated ways. 

Like most people, I know my home and office postal addresses but I do not know their GPS coordinates.  Right now, a company with my postal address needs to take additional and often usually costly, steps to append the GPS coordinates.   Relating the two items more easily and inexpensively would open all those advantages – ability to plan locations, determining service needs, mapping delivery routes, etc. – to more organizations. 

Providing more exact geolocation is receiving increasing attention among postal operators and government agencies maintaining and designing postal address systems.  The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is encouraging geolocational mapping of the addresses, some countries' new address systems are geolocational, and some older systems are mapping geolocations to current postal addresses.  In addition to the other rewards from having all postal addresses matched to exact geolocations, it could also provide much needed new revenue opportunities for postal operators.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Addressing the World: the UPU Initiative, the Report and Proposals

tags:  An Address for Everyone, Doha Congress, Univeral Postal Union (UPU), address systems

The quadrennial Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress is now taking place in Doha, Qatar.  The Congress sets policy for the UPU, as well as the regulations and rules that govern the movement of mail between countries around the world. 

The particular Congress is paying more attention to addressing than in many past Congresses.  This is driven by the UPU's initiative on Addressing the World.  Shortly before the Congress began the UPU issued "Addressing the world – An address for everyone".  This paper offers a broad perspective of the topic of addressing around the world, from historical and regional perspectives to case studies of current initiatives.  I would recommend that anyone interested in international addressing read this paper. 

I welcome this attention on addressing and encouraging the expansion of consistent address systems to countries, offering addresses to groups and individuals without them.  This provides both access to the postal system and to the larger economic system.  Addresses allow for better governmental services, as well as more access to new potential customers and clients for private business. 

In addition to the presentation of this report, there are various proposals on addressing being considered at the UPU Congress.  If passed, these will encourage the expansion of modern, systematic address systems and may enhance other efforts that can reduce poor addressing.  This Congress will end on October 15.   

In the weeks following the end of the Doha Congress, this blog will cover some of the issues that affect international mail and addressing that were raised in Doha.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Customs Enforcement and Your Mail

tags:  customs, customs forms, international mail, intellectual property, World Customs Organization (WCO)

The European Union has released an interesting report on customs enforcement of intellectual property rights in the EU.  (Intellectual property rights or IPR encompasses primarily infringements of copyright, trademark, patent, and proprietary processes or technologies.)  In 2011 there were 91,245 cases that involved 114,772,812 articles with a total value of € 1,272,354,795 (approximately US$ 1,635,230,400).  This was an increase of slightly more than 14.5% in value and over 11% in the number of articles from 2010, while the number of cases increased by more than 15%. 

In general, a greater increase in the number of cases than in articles indicates an increase in smaller shipments.  There has been an increase for the second year in a row in the number of cases related to postal shipments, which tend to be small shipments.  In 2009, 34.43% of the cases were attributed to postal transport.  In 2011, that had increased to 62.91% of the cases. 

While medicines account for a major proportion of the articles, shoes, clothing, personal accessories, electrical household goods, and mobile phone accessories each make up a significant portion of the total.   "All other categories" is 28.79% of the articles and 32.58% of the cases.   

More problems with IPR at customs mean more enforcement efforts and more inspections.  Postal operators are also changing their requirements to conform to the World Customs Organization (WCO) requirements.  (More information is being passed electronically.)  This has lead to the recent changes in customs documentation requirements by the USPS and other postal operators. 

All of this can in turn lead to delays for customs inspections.  You can help ensure smooth and timely transport of your items by making sure your shipments have proper documentation.  Check with any shipping service you use to verify that the customs information is correct and the forms are up-to-date.  The postal regulations for many postal operators are available on their web sites – search for customs or the local equivalent. 

If you ship or mail any kind of goods, you should take a look at the EU report, available at

The press release for the report can be read at




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Undelivered Letter: To London and Back in 5.5 Months

tags:  delivery problems, undeliverable mail, returned mail, United States Postal Service (USPS), Royal Mail

A letter WorldVu sent by airmail and postmarked in Richmond, VA, on March 17 was returned as undeliverable on September 5.  (Richmond, VA is 110 miles – 177 km. south of Washington, DC on the east coast of the U.S.)   

The USPS and the Royal Mail handled the letter.  Both of these postal operators handle millions of letters annually.  Both are highly automated and (normally) efficient. 

There is no indication of what the delay may have been in returning this undeliverable envelope.  Why did it take so long?  What caused this delay?  Where was it delayed?  I have no way of finding out the answers.   

But this kind of delay has two lessons.  (1) Unfortunately, we cannot depend on the international mails for timely deliveries and returns.  We need to accept that some items will go missing or be delayed. 
(2) Depending on returned items to eliminate undeliverable addresses or to correct addresses is not enough.  Regular address data hygiene processing is needed to keep address files up-to-date. 

A few days after the above envelope arrived, we received a domestic undeliverable return.  A first-class letter to San Francisco, CA (on the west coast) came back in to us on the east coast in 3.5 months.  This is an unusually long time for an undeliverable return through the USPS.  I hope these two items are unusual occurrences and not an indication of a trend. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Little Mistakes, Big Consequences

tags:  correct address, database, database address fields, international destinations

A little mistake in database entries can create major problems down the line.  I reviewed a file for a company that had a number of entries with no country entered.  These normally would be U.S. addresses in their system – but they clearly were not in the U.S.  As I reviewed these, they discovered entries that clearly had the wrong country name, mainly due to confusion between similarly named countries.  Their internal project grew to include a review of all foreign entries in their database. 

They were interested enough to track the problems back to the source.  They want to prevent these problems in the future because their internal audit showed that the expense was greater much greater than previously estimated.  They were kind enough to share the results with me. 

It's not a U.S. state:
  • The source said the country was Georgia (ISO 3166-1 code GE in Asia).  It was entered as the state of Georgia in the U.S. (abbreviation GA).
  • No country was listed and the state was WA, which is the postal abbreviation for Washington state in the U.S. and Western Australia in Australia.  This one was in Australia.
There is plenty of opportunity for these kinds of errors.  Italy and the U.S. both use MI (Milan or Michigan), VA (Varese or Virginia), VI (Vincenza and U.S. Virgin Islands, and VT (Viterbo or Vermont).  India, Italy, and the U.S. all use TN.  Brazil and Italy share TO, Switzerland and Italy share VS, and many more. 

Which country:
  • The country was Virgin Islands.  However, that could be either the U.S. Virgin Islands (addressed through the U.S.) or the British Virgin Islands (a separate international destination).
  • The Congo was listed, with no indication of whether it was the Republic of the Congo or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • There was confusion between St. Maarten and St. Martin and between Dominica and the Dominican Republic.
Again, there is plenty of opportunity for these kinds of errors.  Sudan and South Sudan; Samoa and American Samoa; Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Guyana are among them. 

There were other entries with no country, simply because one was not entered at the source.  

What's in your database?  The cost of bad addresses can be high:  staff time correcting entries, undeliverable mail, lost sales…  


Monday, August 27, 2012

Universal Postal Union's 2012 Doha Congress: Setting the Rules for International Mail

tags:  Univeral Postal Union (UPU), Doha Congress, postal regulations, postal services

The member countries of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) will meet at Congress, in Doha, Qatar, from 24 September to 15 October 2012to discuss and define the postal strategy for the next four years, to define the standards and regulations for the international exchange of mail, and parcels and to discuss the other services provided by designated postal operators in the member countries. 

There are over 450 proposals offered for consideration at the Doha Congress.  They cover all aspects of the services offered by postal operators and the logistics of providing those services.  These meeting affect all of those who use international mail.  Among the issue that affect mailers are
·    security of postal networks and postal matter: how this will be handled for the next four years,
·    customs issues: what the requirements will be,
·    documentation: what paperwork will be needed by postal operators and between postal operators,
·    tracking: how will mailed items by traced and tracked through the international system,
·    postal financial services:  postal savings banks, insurance services and money order policies, and
·    payment settlements between the countries:  affecting international postage rates for the next four years or more 

In addition to the issues immediately and directly affecting postal operators and mailers, the UPU Congress will set the policy guidelines for the UPU staff in the next four years.  This covers the UPU's overall direction and the day-to-day work at the UPU.  It affects what initiatives will continue or be started, what postal issues will be examined and studied (potentially setting future policy), and the on-going projects of the Union. 

The representative of the 192 UPU member countries will include heads of state, government ministers, and heads of the postal services.  Heads of other United Nations agencies, other international organizations, and postal sector stakeholders will join the country delegations to discuss and debate the future of the world's postal services. 

Any major developments will be covered in future blogs.



Monday, August 20, 2012

Address Standards and Address Standardization

tags: address formats, address standards, address hygiene, international addresses, Universal Postal Union (UPU), S42

There is continuing confusion and misunderstandings about address standardization and address standards and how they differ.

Address standards, for purposes of this discussion, is the correct definition of the address formats used on postal mail.  They are developed by individual countries and each country may have a number of different formats for different types of addresses (building delivery, post office box delivery, military mail, etc.)  To define the addresses for the standards, the address elements are assigned terms and those terms are used to describe a correct address.  (See Address Standards: What they are and What’s happening.)   

(Address standards is a term that is used in more than one way.  The term might, for example, refer to how a particular company defines what is acceptable practice for its database entries.  XYZ Co. may require an entry in the city name field for all database address records or may require an entry in the state field only for U.S. and Canadian address records, using the correct 2-character abbreviations.)  

Address standardization is the process of confirming address to a particular set of fields so that the identical elements in each address are in the same place.  All the postal codes in the postal code field, all the states in the state field and so forth.  If a particular country has no postal code, that field would be blank for address in that country.  If each item is in the proper field in every address, the addresses can be more easily checked for errors and inconsistencies.  The addresses can then be compared and deduplicated, selected by various criteria, and properly sorted or printed.  The advantages of standardized addresses are many. 

In short, address standards describe addresses using consistent names for the elements in addresses.  Address standardization places address elements in their proper fields within a database.  Both help in the process of maintaining correct, deliverable addresses.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Address Verification, Deliverability and Cost/Benefit

tags:  address verification, data hygiene, mail deliverability

In most of the more developed countries, address verification means checking the complete address – building number and street name or post office box number along with the locality (city, town, etc.), postal code and, perhaps, the province or state – is correct and deliverable.  The addresses are compared to a database provided by the postal operator, a government agency, or other authoritative source in each country.  This is frequently done by a service bureau providing international address hygiene services.  (More on that last below.) 

But address verification takes on different meaning depending on the country where the address is located.  Unfortunately, does not always mean that the complete address is checked.  In some countries, address verification may only mean that the postal code matches the locality or the district.  Less developed countries might simply verify the locality exists within the country. 

Except in the more developed countries, address verification does not guarantee that the address is deliverable.  The process in less developed countries will still identify some incorrect and undeliverable addresses. 

Address verification is often one component of the address hygiene process offered by service bureaus.  Some reformatting of the file containing the addresses and standardization of the addresses may be required prior to verification.  Not doing so will reduce the accuracy of the verification results, so it is not practical to compare files in differing formats.  (Other services are also available from address hygiene service bureaus but those are outside the scope of this discussion.) 

Whether the process of address hygiene and address verification is cost effective will depend on the cost to mail each item, any other perceived benefit of corrected addresses, and the price of the processing.  Since there are likely to be minimum charges, the number of addresses will matter.  Separate, and higher, charges will apply to some countries, further affecting the cost/benefit analysis.  A mailer should have a close estimate of how many addresses are to be processed and the count for each country. 

A discussion with the service bureau in advance of sending any files will allow for a determination for each country of the benefits and the costs.  Deciding that some countries should be eliminated from processing may be counter-intuitive but indicated when comparing costs and benefits.  Each company will need to weight that decision.  The analysis will need to be repeated as the number of addresses and processing enhancements change over time. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Defining a List of Countries and Provinces

tags:  country list, destination countries, international destinations, territories, provinces

WorldVu recently compared the countries and provinces in ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Codes (formerly FIPS PUB 10-4) at the request of a client.  (“Provinces” as used here covers provinces, states, territories, districts, and all the other names for countries’ internal administrative units.)   Our client is in the process of redefining and upgrading their international customer and prospect database.  They want to capture client information, track client locations accurately, and be able to mail to them.  This is certainly not an unusual or esoteric combination of requirements.

But ISO and the U.S. have different lists for both countries and for provinces. 

I have written about the country lists before.  The problem is that both contain geographic entities that are not countries.  These non-countries on both lists range from continents to overseas territories to military bases to uninhabited islands.  It is not difficult to review them, since there is a total of 273 entities listed.  Each company needs to decide the criteria and what is important for choosing among those listed. 

I recommend listing some of those non-countries, since some of the territories are separate mail destinations, such as Aruba or Bermuda.  On the other hand, a few independent countries receive mail using another country’s name, most notably the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of Palau.  All are addressed as through the United States and have 2-character abbreviations like the U.S. states.  Whether these are listed as countries or as units of the U.S. in a database depends on the decisions and requirements of each individual company. 

The province lists present a more complex set of problems.  The “provinces” listed are administrative units in most countries and the ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Code lists do not match.  Reviewing them is more difficult because the quantity is much greater with almost 5,000 listings and reliable and authoritative information is hard to find for some countries.  Again, what is needed and why must be considered.  A company might very reasonably want to track where purchasers, sales prospects or donors are located with more precision than just by country.   

If you do use provinces to better locate your customers, you may also need to add additional districts that are used for mail.  Some countries use mailing designations, such as islands that are not administrative units and not covered by the ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Codes lists.  (Most countries don’t use provinces in addresses.) 

Our client needed mail destinations.  It didn’t matter if that international destination was a territory of another country or not.  They also needed an accurate list of provinces when they were used in addresses for in each of those destination “countries”.  Their definition of their requirements, and their willingness to share their requirements, made the comparing and refining the lists much simpler.  And we could give them lists that were tailored to their requirements. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mail Delays and Disruptions

tags:  international destinations, international mail, delivery problems

I am not paying much attention to my mail recently if it’s not of immediate importance.  I live and work in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States, about 40 miles (65 km.) north of Washington, DC.  We are in yet another record-setting heat wave.  The temperature in the central business district reached 107° F. (42° C.) on July 18.   (Normal high temperatures are 87° F. or 31° C.) 

A major water main broke in the central business district on July 16, with road closures that may last until the middle of August.  Residents in that area may not have water service restored for another week or more.  Businesses are closed because they do not have water service.  On June 30, an unusual wind and rain storm swept through the region bringing down power lines and leaving more than 1,000,000 people without power.  Traffic signals were not working, businesses were closed.  Through all of this, mobile telephone and Internet access has been disrupted for various lengths of time. 

The Baltimore–Washington area is not the only region affected.  The U.S. is suffering under unusually heat and drought.  Wild fires have burned across millions of acres of land and destroyed homes and businesses, primarily in the western U.S.  Although there is a drought here in the U.S., the U.K. has been affected by unusually heavy rains and floods, in addition to the disruptions to everyday life in and around London from the Olympic Games.  Floods in Russia; unusual storms in China; severe rain and strong winds in Australia; very heavy rains in India; unusual hurricane activity in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 

I am fortunate and have been relatively unaffected by all this but I have put off WorldVu’s next international direct mail marketing campaign.  I doubt whether the people affected by any of the above are paying much attention to their mail.  Those most severely affected certainly are not and they may not even be receiving mail.   

The vacation season in the northern hemisphere and other holidays also make this is less advantageous time to market many products.  Ramadan, the month of fasting for Moslems, begins July 20 and ends on August 18.  (Dates may vary slightly.)  WorldVu’s markets have been relatively unaffected by disruptive political events so far but I keep an eye on those, too. 

I am hoping for a calm in September – but planning for potential weather or political disruptions.  WorldVu’s marketing campaign will mail then but we will watch for unusual weather or other events.  As always, we will watch response rates by countries and regions.  I am budgeting more for a potential remailing into areas where something could have distracted potential buyers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Postal Web Site Resources

tags:  international mail, postal operators, postal resources

The postal companies listed below include substantial information on international mail or about direct mail in their country, their region or internationally on their web sites.  Relevant information on international services or large quantities of mail is often in a special business section.

Without exception, these are designated postal operators in the listed country.  Their inclusion is not a recommendation but simply a suggested resource for further information.  Other companies do provide similar and related services in these countries and in others.

Country or Territory
Postal Company
Web Site
Language(s) listed alphabetically
Argentina –
Correo de Argentina
Armenia –
HayPost  CJSC
Armenian, English
Australia –
Australian Postal Corporation
Austria –
Österreichische Post AG
English, German
Belgium –
Flemish (Dutch), French, German
Brazil –
Empresa Brasileira de Correos e Telégrafos
Brazilian (Portuguese)
Canada –
Canada Post
English, French
Colombia –
4-72 La Red Postal de Colombia
English, Spanish (English version has less detail.)
Costa Rica –
Correos de Costa Rica S.A.
Czech Republic –
Česká Pošta
Czech, English
Denmark –
Post Danmark A/S
Danish, English (English version has less detail.)
Estonia –
Eesti Post Ltd
English, Estonian, Russian (English and Russian versions have less detail.)
Finland –
Itella Oyj
English, Finnish, Swedish
France –
La Poste
Germany –
Deutsche Post AG
Greece –
Hellenic Post
English, Greek
Hong Kong –
Hong Kong Post
Chinese, English
Hungary –
Magyar Posta Zrt.
Hungarian (English site is mostly philately.)
Iceland –
ĺslandspóstur hf
English, Icelandic
Ireland –
An Post
Israel –
Israel Postal Company Ltd.
Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish  (Hebrew version has more detail.)
Italy –
Poste Italiane, S.p.A.
English, Italian (English version has less details.)
Japan –
Japan Post
English, Japanese
Lithuania –
AB Lietuvos paštas
English, Lithuanian
Malta –
Maltapost PLC
Netherlands, The –
TNT Post
Dutch, English
New Zealand –
New Zealand Post Ltd.
Norway –
Posten Norge AS
English, Norwegian
Portugal –
CTT - Correios de Portugal
English, Portuguese (English version has less details.)
Romania –
C.N. Poşta Româna S.A.
Singapore –
Singapore Post Limited
Slovenia –
Pošta Slovenije, d.o.o.
English, Slovenian (English version has less details.)
Spain –
Correos y Telégrafos S.A.
Basque, Catalan, English, Galician, Spanish
Sweden –
Posten AB
English, Swedish (English version has less details.)
Switzerland –
Swiss Post
English, French, German, Italian
Tunisia –
La Poste Tunisienne
United Arab Emirates –
Emirates Post
Arabic, English
United Kingdom –
Royal Mail Group PLC
United States –
United States Postal Service