The Importance of Validated Addressing

What effect does “poor” addressing have on Mail and Parcel Quality of Service?

Surprisingly current tracking systems are failing to identify and rectify the problems of bad addressing and there is no accurate assessment of what effect poor addressing is having on Quality of Service results. My guess is probably 5-10% degradation in delivery performance.

A good example is the UNEX mail measurement system. “In 2011 93% of international priority and first class letter mail was delivered within three days of posting and 98.1% within five days. Average delivery time was 2.2 days. These results cover a total of 35 countries: the 27 EU Member States together with Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and lastly Serbia”.  This sounds extremely good until you understand how the measurement works – badly addressed mail is completely excluded from the measurement.

The UNEX measurement is based on a panel of market researchers posting test letters (covertly) to each other.  Given that this is a highly professional exercise the addresses of all the panellists are thoroughly verified by the panel management company.  Of course a system designed to measure the performance of a “delivery organisation” doesn’t want the results contaminated by bad addressing.

Poor addressing standards for Cross Border mail and parcels can have fairly dramatic effects on delivery performance in the destination country.  Independent measurement systems like EMS and EPG show dramatic differences in delivery performance for different origin countries which must be directly related to poor mail preparation and addressing.

The current convention in most Parcel Tracking systems is that address validation is only carried out on parcels that could not be delivered for some reason.  “Address Validation” requires that the printed address complies with the addressing conventions of a given country and that there is some form of “Cross Check” between different parts of the address.  In the UK for instance a “house number” + “A full post code” can be used to generate (or check) a full format unique postal address.

Domestic Addressing Systems are reasonably well established.  The UK has a “Postal Address File” which has been around for quite a long time but does have some shortcomings.  There is nothing on an address label to prove that the address has been verified against the PAF standard.

Internationally, the whole situation becomes a lot harder.  Address formats and Postcoding conventions are normally different in each country and there are still a large number of Countries without any Postcodes.  The UK system can resolve down to a unique and individual delivery address – but this is not always the case in other countries.

The UPU has an addressing programme but in general destination country “address verification” software and databases are not made available to origin postal administration or their posting customers.  Professional International mailing companies generally understand that “address quality” can have a significant effect on delivery quality and costs.

We need a significant international collaborative effort to improve global addressing standards. The mandatory inclusion of a “Fully Validated” postal address within parcel and mail tracking systems would be a really good idea. Perhaps even a printed symbol (√) to indicate validated addresses.  There also needs to be a convention that makes each country’s Postal Addressing Databases freely available and accessible in other countries.

Some fairly simple independent field trials can be conducted in one destination country to accurately quantify the full extent of the cross-border problem.

I foresee a situation where a simple Smart-phone app can be used to scan and validate any printed destination address in any country.  The same core databases should be able to be called and used by parcel and letter sorting machines.  Perhaps even a price reduction for correctly addressed mail that properly recognises the remedial activities and costs that can be avoided.


Richard Wishart

15 Apr 2012

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