We’ve received a large number of phone calls and emails about a letter from the USPS. Apparently, they’ve sent this to holders of Business Reply Mail (BRM) permits. To paraphrase, the letter states that you may have to change your reply label to include an Intelligent Mail Package Barcode (IMpb) before January 26, 2014, but there is a grace period until July 2014. The versions of the letter I’ve seen don’t offer much more information than that.

First, the really good news. If you’re only using BRM to receive letters and flats, and you’ve already changed to the IMB (not IMpb), this letter doesn’t apply to you. The changes only effect permit holders that receive parcels (packages). ┬áIt wouldn’t be a bad idea to show the letter to your postmaster or Bulk Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) clerk, but you should be fine.

Second, the fairly good news. If you are using BRM to receive packages, the deadlines don’t apply to you. You actually have until January 2015 to comply with the new rules. The dates in the letter apply to persons already using Merchandise Return Services (MRS) or Parcel Return Services (PRS). They have to be in compliance by July.

Now for the not so good news. If you are using BRM, for packages, you will have to change to or add a MRS or PRS permit. As part of that, you will have to use an IMpb on your label. Unlike the old BRM label, the IMpb return labels are not generic. Each IMpb barcode is unique and cannot be repeated for 180 days. Also, there is a certification process. You have to apply for certification and send printed samples to Memphis, TN. There, they will be inspected for format, print quality, and barcode content. It usually takes about a week per inspection cycle, and they are very thorough. I advise customers to allow at least a month for IMpb certification.

This is not quite as bad as it sounds at first glance. The unique bar codes don’t have to be tied to a particular customer. Once you’ve printed a supply, you can still treat them as generic. Alternately, you can print them as needed and perhaps pre-fill the return address, or add other information that will be useful to you or your customer. You will likely have somewhat higher expenses. Variable printed labels cannot be as cheap as generic ones. If you need to receive both letters and packages, you’ll have to keep your BRM permit (and pay the permit and accounting fees), and add a MRS or PRS permit (and pay those, similar fees).

The postage side of things can be similar to what is being paid now. For Merchandise Returns Services, there are options for First Class (lightweight packages), Ground Return Services (Standard Post, previously Parcel Post, 6-10 days), or Priority Mail (Faster, possibly more expensive). The class of mail selected is part of the bar code, so you would have to print separate labels for different services, but this gives you the opportunity to provide the appropriate label for the application. You might have heavy items that could be returned slowly, and other items you wanted to receive more quickly. You can control that by the way you print the label.

So to sum it all up. If your receiving packages by Business Reply Mail (BRM), you need to change your label before January 2015. You should plan on the change taking at least a month. You can change before that, and you can be certified to make the change at any time, even before you open the new permit.

As always, call or write with any questions, and we’ll be happy to help you figure it all out.