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How to avoid Return To Sender (RtS) Heartbreak

“Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.”

Although the catchy refrain of this classic rock n’roll hit is about the heartbreak of unrequited love in a pre-internet era, the words are just as heartbreaking for a modern-day internet retailer.

Deliverability is a critical and costly business issue for online retailers. In the U.S. alone, Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail costs USPS $1.5 billion, and its costs senders over $20 billion annually. E-commerce businesses, in particular, face significant financial costs that due to UAA. They also spend a significant amount of operational and customer support staff time dealing with these issues.

The best way to avoid a Return to Sender (RtS) heartbreak is to know what outcome you want and choose the best solution to make it happen. If you work for or own an online retail store that wants:

  • customers’ packages delivered on-time to the right place the first time,
  • to use time wisely, eliminating hours, days or even weeks a month that some stores spend manually reviewing orders for errors and responding to related customer issues, or
  • to make it easier for your customers to enter the correct shipping address before you have their order,

…read on. You’ll learn how to prevent RtS heartbreak, while reducing associated costs and risks.

Address Autocomplete: Not Enough for Online Businesses

Autocomplete is a user-friendly add-on that helps internet-users enter addresses more quickly and accurately. As users begin to type a street address – often for shipping or billing – optional address suggestions appear in a dropdown box. If the user selects one of these options, the remaining address fields are populated automatically.

Google, Mapquest and others offer autocomplete plugins. E-commerce platforms like Shopify use autocomplete as well to help customers submit their addresses with less friction and errors.

While autocomplete is a useful feature for online shoppers, online stores need more than just autocomplete to manage the risks and costs of address errors and undeliverable packages.

Autocomplete databases rely on geocoding, which is the process of converting an address location into to geographical coordinates (aka, latitudinal/longitudinal or GPS coordinates). The red balloon marker on Google maps is the result of geocoding. Google Maps, Mapquest and other map providers often use algorithms to estimate where a building, home or business should be with geolocation information.

Geocoding works well for step-by-step driving directions, particularly in populated areas with well-developed infrastructure and roads, but it can fall short when it comes to the accuracy of an address for postal delivery. Geocoding data does not match postal services’ databases. Online retailers who need to ship their goods accurately can’t rely solely on geocoding, since it can generate an approximation of where addresses should or could be but doesn’t verify that the addresses exist in postal service databases.

Also, geocoding doesn’t put addresses in the standard format accepted or preferred by postal services. Postal format can be as simple and benign as changing the word “Street” to its abbreviation “St.” or putting the street name before the address for certain countries, such as Brazil.  While postal format may seem like a minor formality, it helps reduce the risk of postal processing error and facilitates quicker delivery.

Address Verification: The Solution for RtS Heartbreak

Online retail businesses need a tool that’s more powerful than autocomplete to manage the risks and costs of the RtS phenomenon; they need to verify addresses with postal service data.

Address verification is often confused with autocomplete, but it is something else entirely.  Verification compares the address that internet-users enter – or, select from the autocomplete options - with addresses in postal databases. Depending on the verification service, this could include the United States Postal Service (USPS), Canada Post, the UK’s Royal Mail or a collection of international postal services.

If verification determines that an address is valid, according to a postal service, it’s deliverable. If the address doesn’t exist, or a better, more accurate address exists, a suggestion will be provided. Verification catches issues such as accidentally inputting an extra digit on a street address or leaving a digit off an apartment number.

Verification can also prevent customers from entering addresses that aren’t deliverable because of store or local postal reasons. For example, some e-commerce stores cannot deliver to P.O. boxes and use verification to prevent customers from entering them as shipping addresses. Or some e-retailers may have restrictions on which post codes they will deliver to and limit these with a verification plug-in.

Beyond deliverability, verification can also directly help manage shipping costs.

Overall, verification is different from autocomplete because it lets users know if an address is recognized by the local postal delivery service, confirming address deliverability. While verification is complimentary to autocomplete, it is a more robust tool because it helps e-commerce businesses manage the costs and risks of shipping address errors.

On a Mission to End to RtS Heartbreak

Streety is on a mission to minimize – and eventually eliminate – RtS heartbreak for e-commerce businesses. We want to make UAA a distant memory. Check out our integration at streety.io.

RtS heartbreak is a two-way street that affects both retailers and customers. Retailers that don’t verify addresses before they ship, have higher risks and potentially higher costs When customer’s online purchases fail to arrive, they are less satisfied and become less loyal to the businesses they buy from. Ultimately, it’s a lose-lose when retailers eventually lose out on repeat business.

Verifying shipping addresses helps avoid RtS heartbreak all around.

If you sell online, put Streety to work for your business. We’ll take Elvis’ Return to Sender soundtrack off repeat, and replace it with a song that delivers.