A statement from my British bank arrived recently with a label covering the address window. The label, added by Deutsche Post, explained that the address used by the bank had been formatted in such a way that it could not be machine read and sorted (and, by implication, explaining why it may have been delayed).
I’ve often been a little perplexed by postal services that explain issues like this to the recipient. The recipient knows how to write their address, and doubtless attempted to provide their address in the correct format to their contacts, though this is not always possible given many of the culturally-biased input forms used by companies. In the medium term it is more useful and profitable for the postal authorities to work with business to iron out issues with incorrectly addresses mail being injected into the postal process.
For reference, the correct way (that is, according to Deutsch Post) of writing my address is:
My own preference is not to use abbreviations. The bank sends their statements with the address formatted in a typically British way:
This issue is not new and not uncommon. A company which deals in data quality mangled my addresses when I lived in The Netherlands and have decided to continue the tradition with my German address:
Given that my UK bank has mainly UK customers I can’t imagine them changing their data systems any time soon for my benefit – they would rather I printed the statements myself and not force them to use the mail system at all.
Given that mail volumes are falling, does it matter that companies get address formats wrong?
Human intervention in the mail process is decreasing, and the most basic of errors in address content or format can cause significant delays. In one case a letter to my Dutch address took six months to arrive because the address contained two postal codes, one correct and the other incorrect. The mailpiece looped around the system for those six months until finally a human intervened and crossed out the second, incorrect, postal code.
And whilst mail volumes are falling, online shopping is booming, and customers are nothing if not very impatient to get their hands on the goodies they’ve ordered online. Amazon is a good example of how it can go wrong but be improved. In past years international orders made on from their .co.uk site had the addresses formatted following the UK pattern. The item would take longer than three weeks to arrive in The Netherlands and would often not arrive at all. When Amazon overhauled their systems to start working together with the postal authorities of the countries of destination, and formatted the addresses accordingly, that handful of weeks to deliver the goods was reduced to a handful of days, and the number of lost parcels diminished significantly.
Address formats vary widely throughout the world, and the complexity often discourages companies from attempting to use anything other than their own local address format. But mailpieces containing correctly formatted addresses do get delivered quicker, and with the boom in online shopping, that’s an important consideration.