Conducting a United States Postal Service (USPS) valid address check protects your customer data. Accurate customer data ensures that your customers and leads receive your mailers and products. You benefit from accurate customer data as well by saving yourself time and money by avoiding undeliverable mail and chargebacks (we’ll go into detail on this later).
The rise in online shopping makes a USPS valid address check more important than ever. Therefore, it’s important to make sure customers enter valid addresses on web forms, to validate addresses to correct potential errors, and to clean your list regularly to catch address changes.
Not only do you want to make sure your products get delivered seamlessly, but you also want your mailers to be delivered if you use direct mail marketing. Contrary to what you may believe, direct mail marketing is not dead. In fact, its rarity actually makes it a very viable marketing channel.
In this article we cover
- How consumers can have their mail forwarded to a new address
- What happens when addresses are not updated with the USPS
- The National Do Not Mail List and refused mail
- PO Boxes vs. street addresses
- How disputes and chargebacks can affect your business
- and finally how to do a USPS valid address check
The USPS records and stores all valid US addresses in a standard format. Adhering to this format ensures quick, accurate delivery. Keep reading and we’ll show you how to make sure all of the addresses on your list are valid and formatted correctly according to USPS standards.
How Mail Forwarding Works
When people move to new addresses, they can update their address with the USPS to have their mail forwarded from their old address to their new address. What this means is that mail sent from friends, family, colleagues, businesses, etc. that don’t have the updated address on hand will make its way to the new address even if the mail is addressed to the old one.
To do this, consumers can submit a change of address (COA) form online for a fee of about $1.05 or they can complete a PS Form 3575 for free at their local post office. Consumers have three change of address options: temporary, permanent, and premium forwarding service (PFS) residential service.
Temporary Address Changes
A temporary address change is for people who expect to be away from their permanent address for at least 15 days up to a year and temporarily want their mail forwarded to an alternate address. Temporary address changes increased by 27% this year over last year. This is likely due to the onset of COVID-19.
Some people are staying away from home to quarantine and to escape the risks associated with densely populated cities. Others are moving in with friends and family that need extra care. With the increased ability to work and study from home, temporary moves to wait out the virus have resulted in an increase of address change requests.
Permanent Address Changes
Permanent address changes have increased as well. With more people working from home and the ability to do so from anywhere, some people have opted to move out of large cities and into the suburbs.
While temporary and permanent address forwarding requests result in piece-by-piece forwarding, PFS-residential service delivers all mail collected once weekly. There is an enrollment fee ($20.10 if submitted online; $21.90 if requested in person) for this service and a weekly service fee of about $21.90.
PFS-residential service is for those who want more control over their mail delivery. One main benefit of this service is knowing when to expect your mail (typically every Wednesday). This is especially beneficial if you share a mailbox or address with other people. Having your mail delivered in batches on the same day every week can help you to make sure your mail does not get lost or misplaced.
Additionally, with PFS-residential service, all mail will be shipped which is not necessarily the case with the free temporary or permanent address change.
What Mail Gets Forwarded
Now, you might think that even if you have an outdated or permanent instead of temporary mailing address on file that your mailers and packages will automatically be forwarded to the customer’s preferred address with the USPS. That’s not necessarily true.
First-Class Mail and Periodicals will be forwarded to temporary addresses for the specified period of time, but USPS Marketing Mail or Package Services Mail generally will not. For permanent address changes, First-Class Mail service will be forwarded for 12 months and Periodicals for 60 days. But again, generally USPS Marketing Mail and Package Services Mail will not be forwarded.
This means that without updated address information for your customers and leads, you could be sending mailers to empty homes. If your customers expect packages from you, having them sent to a location they do not have easy access to is inconvenient and could reflect poorly on you.
Direct mail campaigns can be affected as well if you have promotions that are time sensitive. By the time the recipient gets your ad, it could be too late for them to act. And that reflects poorly on you too. All because you didn’t verify the address.
Forwarded Mail Timeframe
Imagine receiving a mailer for a Christmas special in January. Or a coupon that expired a week ago. Or a promotion that’s no longer valid. It immediately becomes trash. One of the benefits of direct mail campaigns is that the mail lies around for a while. The lead sees it daily. It’s a constant reminder.
The longer it takes your leads to receive your mailer, depending on its nature, the longer it takes for them to take action and the less likely they will if the offer is time-sensitive or irrelevant. Not only does this skew the results of your response data, but it also hurts your sales and reputation.
Once a request for an address change is submitted, it takes about 10 business days, 2 weeks, for mail to be forwarded. Can you afford this long of a delay? And this is the best case scenario. This timeframe applies to those consumers who remember and take the time to update their address with the USPS. What about those who don’t?
What Happens When No Forwarding Request is Submitted
Moving is a crazy, stressful process. Updating your address might not be a number one priority. It’s a simple and easy thing to forget. Some people might not even know how. Others might see it as a chance to start fresh and avoid the flood of junk mail they had been receiving at their previous address.
There are even scam sites that charge outrageous amounts for promised address changes that never go into effect. Consumers could have the right idea to change their address online, but if they don’t make it to the legitimate website, the change is never really made.
What Happens to Mail Sent to an Old Address
Without notifying the USPS of an address change, one of four things could happen to the mail sent to the old address: (1) The post office will collect and hold the mail for up to 10 business days for pick up. (2) If the mail is not picked up after the 10 business days, it will be forwarded if there is a forward to address or (3) it will be returned to the sender if possible. (4) If the mail is not able to be forwarded or returned, it will be discarded.
Mail will not be picked up if consumers move out of the footprint of their local post office, if they aren’t expecting anything worth picking up, or if they believe the mail will be forwarded.
There is a chance that it could be forwarded, but it isn’t a guarantee and if it is forwarded, the consumer won’t receive it until at least 10 days after you sent it.
The mail could be sent back to you, in which case you’ve spent time and money sending mail that just made its way back to you. Or it could be discarded completely before it makes its way to the consumer which again would be a waste of time and money.
The National Do Not Mail List and Refused Mail
The National Do Not Mail List
You may or may not be familiar with the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gives consumers the option to register their phone numbers on this list to avoid receiving telemarketing calls. Companies that do not check their leads against this list could face thousands of dollars in fines for calling a number registered on the DNC list. But there’s also a National Do Not Mail list.
By registering online for $2 or mailing a request to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Preference Service with a $3 processing fee, consumers can opt out of receiving any type of mail marketing solicitation by asking to be removed from common mailing lists. This includes credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, retail promotions, etc.
Now, some direct mail campaigns are planned months in advance. That’s okay. Because of this, it can take up to 90 days for the Do Not Mail request to take effect. If after the 90 days, your mailers are still being sent to consumers registered on the National Do Not Mail List, you could be reported to the DMA.
Removal from mailing lists can also be requested with the three major credit-reporting services: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Some mailers can be refused once delivered, too. Consumers can mark a mailer “refused” and return it unopened within a reasonable time for it to be returned to the sender. If the mailer is opened first, it must be put in a new envelope with address and new postage and then can be sent back “refused”.
However, response mail to a sales promotion, solicitation, announcement, or other advertisement that was not refused when offered to the recipient cannot be refused and returned once delivered. For example, if consumers have purchased from, subscribed to, or donated to you or your company in the past, they will need to ask to be removed from your mailing list directly using the contact information included on your website.
While the option for consumers to control what mail they receive protects them from being bombarded by junk, it protects you too. Spend your time and money sending to people who are interested in what you have to offer and avoid giving yourself a bad name by annoying those who aren’t interested. And use the data. Refused mail could help you target a demographic or geographic area that responds more positively to your ads.
What If a Customer Provides a PO Box Address?
If a customer enters a PO Box address on your web form, you can almost guarantee your mailer will make it to that recipient. Mail is delivered to residential or business addresses even if the name on the mailpiece is different from the known residents unless a forwarding address or COA has been submitted with the USPS.
So in instances where people move and forget or fail to update their address with the USPS, you could be sending mailers addressed to one name and they be received by someone else entirely.
PO Boxes, however, receive mail addressed only to recipients identified on the PS Form 1093 that is completed when the box is opened. So as long as your customers’ names are listed on the PO Box addresses they provide, you can guarantee that the mailer you address to them will be received by them.
How Chargebacks Affect Your Business
We mentioned earlier that forwarding service does not always apply to Package Services Mail. So if you send products and merchandise to an outdated address, the customer is unlikely to receive it.
At best, they could track the package and possibly pick it up from the local post office, but that’s inconvenient especially if the customer has moved far out of the area. At worst, customers believe their orders were never shipped or delivered and call their bank to file a dispute.
When customers return a product because it wasn’t to their satisfaction or they changed their mind, you issue a refund. If the product is never received, customers can contact either you for a refund or their bank for a chargeback.
When customers contact their bank to file a dispute for a product they ordered and paid for but never received, the bank can pull the funds from your account to credit the customers’ accounts.
Not only does undelivered merchandise reflect poorly on you, but it’s also very costly. You now have sent out merchandise and had the payment reversed from your account because it wasn’t received by the intended customer. This is why it is so important to have correct, updated addresses on file.
How to Do a USPS Valid Address Check
Correct Invalid Entries
There are a few ways invalid addresses can enter your database. First, typos can occur at the point of entry. To help avoid this, you can enhance your web forms by helping the customer prefill fields and add validation error messages if an entry isn’t formatted correctly.
Second, invalid addresses could be entered intentionally. Customers wanting to receive an online service or product in exchange for an address who don’t want to receive frequent mailers might add a fake address to complete the form and maintain their privacy.
Third, addresses that were once valid could become invalid over time. Housing properties could close, people could move and fail to update their address, or someone could be at a temporary address by the time your next mailer goes out or by the time he or she orders from you again.
Here’s what you can do to make sure your database has the most accurate, up-to-date address information:
You can conduct a USPS valid address check using Searchbug’s USPS address verification tool. The accurate postal mail checker uses the USPS records to verify that an address matches the standard format on file. This verification ensures that mail and packages sent to an address arrives quickly and accurately.
The information you receive from your search includes the complete deliverable USPS mailing address, the address type (business, residential, PO Box, etc.), and address status (valid, non-deliverable, APT missing, etc.). With this much information available to you, you never have to worry about wasting time and money sending undeliverable mail and packages.
Build Your Mailing List
You can even use the tool to generate a list of leads. Using a street name and zip code, street name plus city and state, or house number and zip code you can get a list of all addresses that match the criteria. Then, use a batch data append tool to get names and numbers for those addresses!
We’ve dedicated this article to explaining the ins and outs of USPS mail delivery and all of the factors that can prevent your mail from being delivered. Avoid the consequences of sending undeliverable mail and packages by investing in a USPS valid address check.
Verifying your data against the USPS records is the best way to ensure your data is accurate and up-to-date. Then, check your list a few times a year to catch those entries that have changed and have yet to be updated.
It’s easy and only costs pennies per search. It’s a small price to pay to secure your reputation and to put yourself in your customers’ mailboxes. Try Searchbug’s USPS valid address check today!