The Beginning of the End for MERLIN
Many in the mailing industry are familiar with MERLIN® (Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup INstrument). It’s the machine used by acceptance clerks to test and verify mailings. Those that have been in the mailing industry for 10 years or more probably remember when MERLIN was first being rolled out and the amount of industry concern that it generated around measuring mail quality at the point of mail acceptance. Two events have recently occurred that are sending a pretty clear signal that MERLIN will soon be relegated to the list of relics that include the buggy whip.
The first was the announcement in May by the U.S. Postal Service® that Seamless Acceptance is now ready to continue adding new mailers to this system. In an Industry Alert that was sent on May 12th, one of the benefits was noted as: “Standardized acceptance and verification processes”. Without saying it explicitly, this means that Full-Service mailers that have moved to Seamless Acceptance no longer have to have mailings tested on MERLIN.
The second was the announcement in July by the Postal Service that the Move Update compliance testing is going to be changing. The current process is a sampling method performed by MERLIN. This “MERLIN method” has a 30% error threshold. Any mailing that is sampled and exceeds this threshold is subject to a 7 cent per piece penalty for the quantity of pieces that exceed the 30% limit.
Move Update compliance applies to commercial First-Class® letter and flats, and USPS Marketing Mail® letters and flats. MERLIN is used to ensure that addresses that were used for mailing have been updated within 95 days of the mailing date with customer filed Change of Address (COA) orders. This requirement applies to both automation and presorted rates.
The Postal Service has announced that on January 21, 2018, they intend to change the method for ensuring compliance with the Move Update requirement. Move Update will be changing from the “MERLIN Method” of sampling to a new “Census Method”. There are several key differences with the new census method:
- Instead of sampling, every eligible mail piece will be checked for compliance.
- Instead of evaluating each mailing individually, the new census method will evaluate compliance on a calendar month basis.
- Instead of a 30% sampling threshold, the census method will have a 0.5% threshold. (No, this not a typo…) The new threshold only allows 5 pieces in every 1000 pieces to fail to comply with Move Update.
- The Postal Service is also proposing to increase the penalty for the pieces that exceed the threshold from 7 cents per piece to 8 cents per piece.
As an additional incentive or benefit, the Postal Service is planning to extend the current free Full-Service Address Correction Service to non-Full-Service mailpieces if you are a Full-Service Mailer. One of the key requirements to qualify as a Full-Service Mailer is to have 95% or more of all your mail being mailed as Full-Service mail.
The Postal Service has noted that roughly 7 years after the Commission approved the MERLIN method of Move Update compliance, both the software and the hardware have reached end-of-life. As MERLIN starts heading down the same path as the buggy whip, it will be critical for mailers to use the time between now and January 21, 2018, to ensure they are meeting the new census method criteria. You can review your results from the new census method on the Mailer Scorecard on the Business Customer Gateway. The Postal Service updates the results every day so you can monitor your results throughout the month and ensure you are staying under the threshold and avoiding any penalties.