Lists and Prospecting: When the Zip Code Isn’t Enough

Most catalogers say they capture the zip + 4 codes for at least 90% of their customer and prospect names, thanks to postal programs such as National Change of Address (NCOA) and Address Change Service (ACS). But that’s still one out of 10 names for which the catalogers don’t have the complete nine-digit codes.

The lack of zip + 4 codes on those names can cost catalogers a pretty penny. Mailing a catalog with only a five-digit zip code can cost up to 40% more than mailing one with a zip + 4.

And Cynthia Johnson, president of Conway, NH-based consulting firm Profitable Marketing, says that many catalogs without zip + 4 codes don’t even get delivered. Mark Ryan, sales director for Plainfield, IL-based list firm Quality Mailing List Services, agrees: “The real issue for now is deliverability, especially for rented lists.”

For its part, U.S. Postal Service sources insist that if a catalog contains a complete and accurate address, it will be delivered, even if it lacks the zip + 4. The USPS doesn’t deny, however, that the lack of a zip + 4 code will delay delivery.

To mail or not to mail?

Some catalogers have given up mailing to addresses that lack the complete nine-digit zip code. “We don’t mail to those names, due to the additional postage combined with deliverability issues,” says David Hochberg, spokesperson for Rye, NY-based gifts cataloger Lillian Vernon Corp. “For those two reasons, these names perform poorly for us.”

When renting lists, many larger mailers, including the $258.7 million Lillian Vernon, ask list owners to provide only names that contain zip + 4 codes. “If they don’t, we just delete them and deduct them from our payment,” Hochberg says. “With list rentals, we select more names than we really need so we can compensate for the ones that we drop that don’t have zip + 4 codes.”

But other catalogers, particularly those within a specialized market, don’t want to risk missing out on a prospect who otherwise fits all of their criteria. Liberty Hill, TX-based Super Circuits, a business-to-business cataloger of security systems with annual sales of less than $100 million, is one such company.

“Since we’re a niche b-to-b marketer, we mail them anyway, because there’s a limited universe of people we can mail to,” says owner/general manager/president Steve Klindworth.

And oddly enough, mailing catalogs to addresses with only the five-digit zip codes can sometimes help you collect zip + 4 codes. Some postal facilities will return the catalogs to sender with the complete nine-digit codes stamped or written on them, says Stewart Abowitz, marketing analyst for Barrington, NJ-based science tools cataloger Edmund Optics.

If that’s what it takes to obtain the information, so be it. Quality Mailing List Services’ Ryan, for one, encourages catalogers to collect the zip + 4 codes by whatever means necessary.

“We go as far as to provide clients with electronic records of their customers who, for whatever reason, cannot be coded with a correct zip + 4,” Ryan says. “Our customers then use different hygiene services, such as timely NCOA and delivery sequence file (DSF) matching, to contact these customers and uncover any missing address components that have been confounding the address parsing process. One way to contact them, for instance, can be a postcard mailing with a return device for address verification or correction.”

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