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USPS Update: What You Need to Know When Sending Direct Mail

Written By Deanna Falkenberg

June 17, 2021

The perfect storm … a once in a century pandemic colliding with the always maniacal holiday season, multiplied by the fervor of a historical election with a newfound emphasis on mail-in voting, combined with the effects of severe budget cuts on a struggling national treasure. This is where the country found itself six months ago.  

At a time when everyone wanted to connect—but from a distance—holiday cards, gifts, and care packages were all destined to be delivered by someone else, rather than in person. And this unexpected influx during an already busy time of the year (and an election year on top of that) overwhelmed the postal system. While all carriers received their share of complaints, the United States Postal Service took the brunt of the criticism and deservedly so.

We all probably received a holiday card or two in February that we laughed off, but this unprecedented time has had far-reaching ramifications, and for businesses in particular. 

While we’ve seen delivery rates improve in recent months, we decided to do some digging on our own to intermittently track direct mail through the mail stream to get a better sense of delivery timelines. While this is by no means an official tracking initiative and results definitely fall in the anecdotal category, we thought it would be useful to share some details of our findings. 

What and why are we tracking?

We tracked 38 mailing jobs starting May 11, 2021 across various postal classes using Informed Visibility® technology, a mail destination tracking tool that provides mailpiece intelligence and reporting. Informed Visibility communicates two critical moments in the post office journey: the initial post office scan to confirm when the piece entered the mail stream and the local sectional center facility (SCF) scan to alert us when the mail reached the local post office. Once scanned at the SCF, mail pieces should arrive in mail boxes, the final destination, 1-2 days later.

One major caveat: the tracking system only works when the USPS destination actually scans the pieces. On occasion, USPS skips the scanning step. From what we can tell, it’s most prevalent for jobs under 1,000 pieces and for flats. Jobs in this range are often manually processed and just don’t get scanned. “Zero” and low percentage results can be alarming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those pieces were not delivered—it may just mean the USPS didn’t scan them. 

We are absorbing the cost of general tracking so we have a better idea how mail originating from DC is traveling through the USPS system. That way, we can guide our clients on the best approaches for direct mail. (For reference, the Informed Visibility tracking service is available for your mail projects at a modest cost.) 

The Results

Unfortunately, we continue to see delays in processing certain segments of mail. For example, Standard/Nonprofit flats are taking 2-3x longer (~21 days) to deliver. According to the USPS, flats are taking longer because there are not as many flat sorters compared to letter sorters, which may be a result of the USPS decommissioning and moving equipment. In any case, USPS management says they are aware of the delays and have pledged to get things running more smoothly.

Of our 38 test pieces, here are the slowest to fastest delivery times for nationwide mailings (local mailings not included).   

*On Time = delivery met USPS service standards

Our Recommendations

Armed with this information, we can make informed decisions on how best to help our clients deliver their message. First-class mail, by and large, is delivered within the normal delivery timelines. Standard mail is and always has been the slower method. However, the 9-13 day timelines have not yet returned to normal. While first-class mail is more expensive, the reliability justifies the expense for qualified audiences. 

When sending direct mail, consider the following:

  • Mail earlier, especially when using Standard/Standard Nonprofit, if you’re sending important dated material, or if you’re mailing a flat.
  • Consider mailing at First-Class/First-Class Presorted rates instead of Standard/Standard Nonprofit. Keep in mind that the minimum quantity for First-Class Presorted is 500.
  • Your project may benefit from dropshipping, trucked direct mail and split-rate methods. While there are extra costs associated with these options, the postage savings will mitigate some costs, and you’ll get more reliable, quicker delivery.
  • Send letter size mail. This type of mail is moving fastest through the system. So where possible design letter rate pieces and try to avoid flat size mailing. And bonus… postage for letter size is much cheaper! For reference, here are letter mail weights and sizes:
    • Enveloped Letters > up to 3.5 oz, max size 6.125×11.5
    • Folded Mailers and Booklets > up to 3.0 oz, max size 6×10.5


We hope you find this information helpful as you plan your marketing projects for the coming months. If you have questions or want to talk through what options work best for your project, your Project Manager or Account Executive is happy to help. Just give us a call!