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USPS Address Verification System and Why it’s Important

July 29, 2010

One of the Shipwire company directives is to provide a logistics and fulfillment platform that guarantees the shipment of your order in a timely and accurate manner. When it comes to accuracy in shipping, one of the big requirements is to get the right address on the package. The cost of getting the address wrong ranges from horrible (lost business and angry buyers) to the less horrible (address correction charges on packages). And it is usually avoidable – here is how Shipwire avoids it.

Avoiding incorrect addresses starts before the order ever gets processed for shipment. One of the first steps in our order routing logic is to review the shipping address to ensure it is correct and conforms to the published guidelines of the carriers. We integrate with a lot of carriers – over 12.

For U.S. orders this means the address conforms to comprehensive USPS addressing standards. Shipments that comply with the USPS standards have the highest probability of being delivered – keeping your buyers happy (and our merchants).

Shipwire also assures that the carrier being selected can deliver to the address given. For example, confirming you are not trying to ship to a U.S. Post Office Box via UPS.

We wanted to expose some of our address verification and order routing logic because if you use Shipwire you benefit from it, and may not even realize what it is or how it works.

How Address Verification works:

The Shipwire servers first perform detailed address verification to assure the address given is valid. For example:

  • The city being shipped to should have a ZIP code that matches.
  • The street name should exist in that city.
  • The street number should be valid within a certain range.

USPS maintains an extensive database that cross-references address information making this check possible. USPS has also has developed standards regarding how an address is written. After verification the ship-to address is rewritten to conform to the USPS Postal Addressing standards. You may have noticed that on occasion the address typed into the Shipwire interface might come out looking a bit different than what was originally entered. Shipwire then does a final check to assure that the carriers available to use for shipment can ship to that address.

Keep reading to learn more about Address Verification and how it works with different Shopping Carts, plus Real Time Shipping Rating, Address Verification in Other Countries, and helpful tips.

Address Verification with Shopping Carts

Shipwire plugs into a growing number of e-commerce shopping carts and tools. You should look at your particular shopping cart feature list to find out if address verification is implemented in your shopping cart or may be something you pay a service fee for.   Many self-hosted carts like Zen Cart, or Magento may have some rudimentary address verification or some type of third party module to help do this. Some of the less well known scripted shopping carts probably have a big "goose egg" for this features. More sophisticated hosted solutions have varying levels of verification for some of the shipping methods they have natively integrating. If you are plugging in an additional shipping method, you can bet address verification will miss a lot of the edge cases.Yet a side effect of this is that your customer can place an order on your cart and provide an address that can not be shipped to or is otherwise suspect. When the order is pushed to Shipwire our system performs a default address verification check. Improper or impossible ship-to addresses are automatically put on hold for your review. This let's you contact the customer and correct the order before it ships, saving you and your customer time and money.

On the outside chance your customer insists the address is valid, you can force it past verification and it can be pushed to the warehouse. However, our support team may be notified by our warehouse personnel that they can not create a shipping label or postage for the shipment since it is still not valid.

Real Time Shipping Rating and Address Verification

A powerful Shipwire feature is our Real Time Shipping Rating API. This allows a shopping cart to pass to Shipwire key information about the order, such as the SKU's and quantities as well as the ship-to address.   Shipwire then performs an address verification check to assure it is valid. We then determine the optimal warehouse to ship your goods from. Finally we rate the shipment only with those eligible carriers that can deliver to the address given. This results in a rating that is guaranteed valid, and only with carriers that can deliver it.

When an address is provided that is not valid the API returns a code indicating that the address is not valid. Some carts handle this better than others by letting the customer know the address they are entering is not valid. At worst the cart does not tell the customer what is wrong and simply does not show any carriers or cost. This may be the case for carts written by third-party developers like Uber Cart, or osCommerce. If you have a customer notify you that they can not select a shipping method during checkout then this may very well be the case. Instead, you can manually enter the address into the Shipwire UI to validate it.

Address Verification in Other Countries:

Address verification in other countries can be done but to a limited degree. For Canadian and UK address we can verify that postal cores are properly formed, and that provinces are correct. At the other end of the spectrum some 3rd world countries provide no resources at all to allow reliable address verification.

Tips to verify US addresses:

For U.S. address the USPS database of valid addresses provides a powerful resource to assure addresses are correct.   If you have a customer address you are not sure of, a great resource to verify an address is the USPS.com website.   You can enter your address and press submit. If there is an address issue USPS will tell you.

Some merchants try and use Google Maps or similar services to do verification. Our support team has seen issues relying on these sources.   Even if you can look an address up using an online map services it may still not be valid as far as postal carriers are concerned. For U.S. address the best authority is the USPS site. For addresses in other countries you can consult the local carrier websites for similar tools.

More Resources

USPS addressing standards.

Ingram Micro Commerce & Fulfillment Solutions

Ingram Micro Commerce & Fulfillment Solutions provides order fulfillment and commerce solutions with access to the unique growth opportunities of the world’s largest tech distributor with over 200,000 resellers.