Bulk Mail: what it means to direct marketers
by Bob Carter, Technical Director of BBS (Border Business Systems)
13 Apr 2012: Mailsort has long been due for an overhaul, especially in the light of decreasing direct mail volumes, which contribute to Royal Mail’s deteriorating financial situation. Just over a week ago, a replacement range of Bulk Mail services cameinto effect. This article discusses the implications.
Bulk Mail Services
The names Mailsort and Presstream are being discontinued, and are replaced by three types of discounted bulk mail services:
- Advertising Mail: for direct mail advertising communications, with Sustainable options.
- Publishing Mail: for periodicals etc that meet the current Presstream specification.
- Business Mail: for all other types of bulk mail.
Each of the three types of Bulk Mail has its own set of pricing parameters, each with their own idiosyncratic rules.
Sorted Bulk Mail
There are two levels of sorted service – High Sort and Low Sort – and also some Unsorted services.Low Sort unifies the three levels of sortation used in Mailsort 2010 (70, 120 and 700). It is used for machine sorting of Letters and Large Letters to 88 3-digit SSC selections, for OCR and CBC Letters, and now for OCR Large Letters.
High Sort replaces Mailsort 1400, and also Presstream. High Sort is used for manual sorting of all formats (except OCR and CBC variants), to around 1500 Direct and 88 Residue Selections. For both sorts, simplified parameters have been specified:
- Minimum Number of Items: reduced to 4,000 for Letters; 1,000 for all other formats.
- Minimum Selection Size: increased to 50 for Letters, 10 for other formats.
- Volume Related Discount: a small discount is available on Residue items, to compensate partially for the increased Minimum Selection Size.
- A new requirement has been introduced for trayed mailings. If you are using trays, then the number of items per selection must be at least 100 (Letters) or 25 (Large Letters) when averaged across all the selections used.
The third class (Economy) service has a delivery aim of four days after collection rather than seven.
These replace the old Cleanmail options in an obvious way, e.g. Machine-readable Unsorted Plus OCR is equivalent to Cleanmail Plus OCR. However there are two significant differences:
- Minimum quantity is now only 500 Letters (1,000 for Advertising Mail) or 250 Large Letters.
- Items must be presented in Trays (unless they are Thick Large Letters – see later for details of this).
These are available for Advertising and Business Mail only, and the price differs by service. As an alternative, there is also a service for unsorted non-machineable items for Advertising Mail only, which offers a Volume Related Discount.
The biggest casualty is Walksort. This is withdrawn with immediate effect at the end of the changeover period. This includes Presstream Walksort and Presstream Profile Walksort. It effectively includes Access Walksort, because its price is now the same as High Sort. There is no alternative service provided.
The other big change concerns Business Mail Packets and A3 Packets. These will no longer be supported. Users will have to use Packetsort 8 instead, if they can find any software supplier who is prepared to implement the somewhat arcane rules required to use this service, which bears little resemblance to the High and Low Sort products.
Downstream access products
There has been no change to these. But you are strongly discouraged from continued use of the Access 70, 700 and Walksort products, because there is no financial advantage. There is an incentive for using trays instead of bags. A Large Letter OCR option is available.
There will be a variant available for Large Letters, known as OCR Large Letters.
- When sending Large Letters using the Manual (non-OCR) service, then the dimensions of a Large Letter can be up to the existing maximum size of 353 x 250 x 25, but if they are to be sent via OCR, they maximum is 345 x 245 x 25.
- When sending Large Letters via Trays, they must meet be a maximum of 345 x 245 x 10.
- There are no restrictions on sending Large Letters in Bags.
- Letter format items have the following variants: OCR, CBC, Mech or Manual. Large Letters can be Manual or OCR. A3 or Packet format can only be Manual.
Trays and Bags
Unsorted products must use trays. A3, Packets and Thick Large Letters must use bags. Otherwise either can be used. Trays are subject to the Average Items per Selection limit.
There is currently no financial incentive to use Trays, although we expect that this will come soon. This incentive is already available for Downstream Access at around 0.1p per item.
New Mailsort Database
As part of the rebranding exercise, the Mailsort Database will become known as the Royal Mail Selection Files, although the content and format of most of the files is unchanged.
The four digit Mailsort 700 codes, and the two digit Mailsort 70 codes will no longer exist. All Low Sort sortation is done on the first three digits of the Selection Code, to approximately 88 selection codes and about 55 Inward Mail Centres.
Normally, Royal Mail would expect users to change to the new database 02/04/2012 with no official overlap period. This time, they are allowing a six week grace period to 12/05/12.During this period, you can mail with the new database on the old Mailsort services or the new Bulk Mail services. You can also mail with the old database on the old Mailsort services.
Evaluating different options
Advanced mailing software has the ability to find the optimum price for a mailing, by evaluating lots of different options. Several new issues arise with the new rules:
- Average selection sizes for trays currently actively discourages the use of trays, but we understand that eventually Royal Mail will implement a difference in price between bags and trays. When this occurs, software should be able to evaluate the alternative scenarios.
- The pricing of Large Letter OCR looks odd. The cheapest way to send them is as Direct High Sort, then as OCR Low Sort, and finally as Residue High Sort. So some tricky calculations are needed to find out the optimal method.
As ever, there is scope for comparing retail prices against the prices charged by DSA operators for both their zonal and national contracts, and even for End to End operators such as Citipost and DX to see whether the cost saving gained from using them outweighs the additional handling costs involved.
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