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Why do my direct mail postcards get returned as “undeliverable”? What the heck happened?

November 7, 2013

Return to Sender

Great question. I hope the information below helps and puts your mind at ease. For starters, the most common reason why First-Class mailed postcards get returned is what the U.S. Postal Service refers to as "Addressee not at address – unknown, moved, or deceased." First-Class Mail® comes with free forwarding and return service (one of the perks of this class of mail), so the undeliverable pieces are then returned to sender. Standard postage does not have this feature, therefore, your undelivered postcards will not be returned to you.

Change of address move forms - ground zero

According to the Postal Service, only fifty percent of residents who move complete a National Change of Address (NCOA) form. With over 50 million Americans moving each year, only half (25 million) take the time to actually fill out the right postal paperwork. That shocks me…but I guess many folks just plain forget or don’t really care. This is really the ground zero for why your postcards are returned. Despite the best efforts of the USPS to enter all the NCOA forms into their database on a weekly basis—doing everything they can to perform regular consumer name and address list maintenance and cleansing—there is still going to be a modest percentage of undeliverable addresses. The USPS tells us that a five-to-ten percent return rate is normal and to be expected. If the returns for a particular postcard mailing hit fifteen percent or higher, something is wrong. They recommend at that point you contact your list provider and ask them to investigate why the return rate is so high.

Good list providers have your back

To ensure that returns stay within the five-to-ten percent tolerance, good list providers will deploy a number of additional list services. These include a multi-stage address validation process to improve postcard deliverability (making sure the address information is good before it hits the mail stream).

  1. Addresses are standardized according to USPS standards, correcting any misspelled street names and ensuring correct abbreviations are used. 
  2. Addresses are matched to a list of actual deliverable addresses and non-matches are eliminated. The previous two steps are also referred to as CASS™/DPV® processing. (CASS = Coding Accuracy Support System, DPV = Delivery Point Validation). 
  3. Addresses are matched against the NCOA database to update addresses for those recipients that have completed the USPS change of address process. 

When doing your postcard mailings, look for list providers that do everything feasible to keep their consumer or business mailing lists clean. Keep an eye out for providers that provide a full NCOA service. As stated earlier, NCOA will help reduce your undeliverable custom postcards by correcting the input addresses prior to mail moving through the USPS system. This will not only help reduce the amount of your undeliverable mail, but ultimately save you wasted postage.