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    There is much buzz these days within the mailing industry about the new Intelligent Mail Barcode, yet its effective implementation date still seems a bit hazy. Recently, the postal service announced that it would be pushing back the date for requiring the IMB to May 2009, from its previous Jan. 2009 date. However, the IMB is up and running, available to mailers right now for use on letters and automation-rate flats, and mail using the old Postnet barcode will continue to be accepted until May 2010. (now updated to May 2011) Confused? You’re not alone.

    The IMB is essentially an effort to further automate the mailstream by placing more information in the barcode. The current Postnet barcode is a 2-stage system that allows machines to read routing information from a mail piece. The IMB is a 4-stage system that adds information identifying the mailer, the class of mail, and any special services for the piece. It also includes a unique number to identify each piece of mail, which will allow mailers to track them.

    This tracking service is already available, however there is a catch: it is not included in the cost of postage. Mailers will have to pay for the tracking service, and that charge will be assessed by the number of tracking points the piece passes through. A mailer may have to pay several times just to track one piece of mail. Still, this tracking option may prove useful to mailers who want to coordinate a mailing campaign with other marketing tactics, such as telephone follow-ups or online advertising.

    Though the IMB is operational now in a trial phase, there are still specifics the postal service is working out before the system will replace Postnet barcodes. One of these is the issue of the size of the barcode itself. Some mailers expressed concerns over the increased size of the IMB over Postnet codes. A taller code could make existing stocks of window envelopes unusable once the new system is in place, and the postal service has already reacted to this by shortening the original design by 16.3 percent in September 2006. The current IMB height is between 0.125 and 0.165 inches.

    For more information on the Intelligent Mail Barcode, visit this link to the U.S.P.S. http://ribbs.usps.gov/index.cfm?page=intelligentmail

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