Despite focusing on heartbreak, the Elvis Presley song "Return to Sender" actually presents several valid reasons the post office may return a package or letter to your business. An incorrect address, including street number or zip code, could send a bill or order back. A lack of forwarding address for an intended recipient or insufficient postage are also prime reasons for rejection.
Sorry, We Moved
For businesses with monthly billing programs, an address change for the customer can send a bill back. Ideally, a person who moves addresses contacts each of their key account holders individually to report a new address and files a change of address form with the United States Postal Service (USPS). The post office then flags mail intended for the recipient and puts a self-adhesive address label on the front, forwarding it to the new address.
When this doesn't happen, your business is left holding the bill, literally and figuratively. If a customer leaves town owing your business a large sum of money, continue to send statements for a period of time in case a forwarding request is put in later. After three to six months pass, consider placing the account with a debt collection service or using a skip-tracing service to locate new contact information.
P.O. Box Only, Please
Many situations exist where the physical address of a person may not match their mailing address through the USPS. In some instances, door-to-door postal delivery may not be offered, but a community mailbox, such as those utilized at an apartment complex, or a post office box is used. This would only impact items shipped through the USPS as both FedEx and UPS deliver to street addresses or predesignated package drop-off points – the office of an apartment complex, for instance. Your customer may not realize the distinction when providing the shipping address for an item. To prevent problems when shipping in the future, specify in the address collection process that you ship via USPS and need to be notified if a customer cannot receive home delivery through the service.
Reach out to a customer or client when a mail piece is sent back for a wrong address to determine the problem. If it is a postal box/street address issue, the problem can be corrected by shipping through an alternate service. In other instances, a serious error on an order form or blank may be causing the problem. USPS sorting machinery relies on addresses conforming to a standard of name, street address and a last line consisting of the city, state and zip code. When a letter does not feature a portion of this information, it can cause sorting problems, delays or returns.
A small post office may receive a letter addressed to John Smith on Elm Street without a zip code and know where to deliver the letter due to the street address portion and the inclusion of their town name. However, the same letter sent to a large city with multiple streets featuring the word "Elm" and multiple John Smiths would be harder to pin down. If the post office cannot determine that the item will be delivered to the proper person, it will be returned to the sender. Before shipping official business documents, always check your mailing labels for address errors or blemishes on the label, such as smeared ink, that could cause delivery problems.
Packages and letters are also returned to the sender for insufficient postage. With Express Mail, the return is mandatory. With other classes of mail, the item may be sent to the recipient with postage due or returned. However, the recipient retains the right to refuse delivery and not pay the additional cost. Invest in a quality digital scale if your business ships items regularly and purchases postage through an online service, such as Click-N-Ship, that allows for independent input of package weight.
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.