Track Down Those Unaccounted Movers

Each year, companies that rely on direct mail campaigns lose millions of dollars on a seemingly uncontrollable problem: unaccounted for movers and inaccurate mailing lists. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) reports that 14.2% of the public moves to a new address each year. Of these movers, approximately 10 to 20% never report their new address to the USPS.

Unaccounted for movers cause inaccuracies in mailing lists and result in large-scale losses for direct mail campaigns. An inaccurate mailing list will cost companies the expense of printing and mailing an undeliverable piece, as well as losing sales revenue from the potential buyer. For example, for a mailing of 1 million pieces that cost a modest $0.55 each and net $2.50 in revenue per piece, the losses can total more than $365,000.

Although it is nearly impossible to locate all unaccounted for movers and maintain a 100% accurate mailing list, there are actions a company can take to increase its list accuracy.

The first step to finding movers is matching customer files against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. The full NCOA database contains about 160 million customer-reported change of address records dating back 48 months. It is important to note that NCOALink security dictates a very strict matching process, so movers can be even harder to find if the submitted list is not very clean according to USPS standards.

Another useful tool is Postal Endorsements – the USPS’ Address Correction System (ACS). This involves using special wording and coding on mail pieces instructing the USPS to compare the mail address to the mover database and notify the mailer if any changes are found.

The downside of ACS is that it is more expensive than NCOALink and involves more work for the mailer. Also, companies using ACS have to make sure they understand the specific USPS format and apply the data correctly.

If used in addition to NCOALink, ACS tends to provide more information about undeliverable addresses than new addresses, since the information is still primarily based on what the USPS knows. Using ACS can be valuable to finding movers because it provides timely information, and the matching can be less strict than NCOALink. ACS will identify 75% to 100% more undeliverable addresses than NCOALink, saving wasted mailing costs and point out where data needs cleansing.

Due to the fact that not all movers tell the USPS where they are moving, and the strict matching limitations of USPS data, some change of address records can still be missed. Another useful option would be to employ an independent service provider for non-USPS mover information.

Companies like Acxiom, Experian, InfoUSA Catalog Vision, and Harte-Hanks compile change of address information from sources like utility companies, catalogers, publishers, retailers, continuity clubs, and financial institutions into what are called third-party change of address databases. By using these databases after NCOALink matching, mailers can find movers who either do not file changes with the USPS, or obtain address changes that NCOA does not accept or cannot match.

Although third-party change-of-address databases can be useful and effective, mailers should be more cautious when accepting new addresses from them. On occasion, a similarity in names can link two customers who are not really the same person. For example, this can happen when family members are living in the same city and one person moves while others stay, such as when a young adult leaves the family residence.

To avoid these types of problems, companies can compare the move date supplied by an outside source to the customer’s most recent activity date. If the company has had contact with the customer since the date of the purported move, they should not apply the address change.

As a helpful practice, companies should keep track of where they obtain change of address information – whether it is from the customer directly, NCOALink, ACS or a non-USPS source. Customer-supplied data is the most reliable, so companies should ensure the current address is verified every time contact (via call center, bill payment, etc.) is made. NCOA matches fall next in line in terms of reliability, then ACS, and finally third-party sources.

No matter what external tools for locating unaccounted for movers mailers use, you need to have a process in place to apply the corrected information quickly and consistently. By not having a working system to correctly apply the new information, companies end up paying for move information that may show benefits for one or two mailings, but does not improve their list in the long run leading to duplications, wasted mailings, and lost revenue.

Sharon Neuenfeldt is a vice president with Minnetonka, MN-based database solutions consultancy Decision Intelligence. For a copy of the white paper, please e-mail her at