Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Needed: International Change of Address Services

tags:  address verification, data hygiene, NCOA, international addresses

Quick definitions for address processing:
Address standardization is the computer processing of a file to place the elements of each address in the proper positions.  Standardization is within each country, since different countries have different formats.  Address verification matches the addresses in a business’s database to a file of valid addresses from the postal authority.  National Change of Address (NCOA) processing provides updates to addresses for recently moved individuals or businesses.  In the few countries where it is available, national change-of-address services are often separate from address standardization services.  (In the U.S., a file must pass through address standardization prior to the NCOA process.)

The current situation on NCOA:
About a dozen countries have an NCOA consumer service.  About half of those have a business NCOA system and the file of address changes is typically not large.  In many countries, the NCOA services are opt-in, meaning the addressee must agree in advance to provide the address change information.  Some countries require that the addressee pay a fee for filing a change of address or for each piece of forwarded mail.  (Obviously, fees decrease the number of addressees who use of the service.)

The charges imposed by the postal authorities and some service bureaus typically include a charge on a "per hit" basis and may also include a passing charge (a fee to process the information).  The charges vary, and may vary depending on the mailer's usage intent.  For example, if a mailer is running the service and will in turn update their house file with the NCOA data, the costs will be higher "per hit" than if they are running the service on a promotional mailing which would be considered a "one-time" usage of the data.

For the EU countries, the data protection regulations apply to NCOA files.  Some countries may only make the actual change of address files available to countries with equivalent privacy protection or companies that have registered under the Safe Harbor Agreement.  In Germany, for example, they have a very strict processing acknowledgment form that customers must sign prior to running the service.  Part of the agreement stipulates that all companies associated with the handling of the data must be Safe Harbor members and the agreement holds the mailer responsible.

One of our sources said, “Overall, my experience is that most of the postal authorities have made their COA services difficult to access and very costly -- so cost prohibitive that it is outside the budgets of most mailers.”

It is time for change:
It is time for international change of address services that are meaningful at a reasonable cost.  NCOA systems that encourage corrections of business address files save money – for the mailer and for the postal service.  Given the higher costs of international mailings and the involvement of more postal operators in the delivery, it stands to reason that we would all benefit.

A change of address service free to the addressee, for both businesses and individuals moving to a new address.  Mail forwarded at no charge.  Businesses encouraged, through postage discounts or in other ways, to use the change of address system.

If change of address service raises too many privacy considerations, notify a business that a particular address is no longer valid for the specified addressee.