Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zumbox Offers Virtual Postal Service

In a virtual challenge to the USPS monopoly on mail delivery, newcomer Zumbox in Westlake Village, California, is offering a Web-based electronic mailbox for every physical street address in the United States.

Individuals, companies, organizations -- any mailer -- can sign up with Zumbox and send any digitally rendered document (postcards, letters, invoices, statements, brochures, catalogs, even video clips, games, and movie trailers) in any format (PDF, Word, Illustrator, InDesign, QuarkXPress, Photoshop, GIF, JPG, TIFF, PostScript, HTML, Flash, video, audio and other media), for five cents per address (volume discounts are available, and mailers may send postcards, letters, and other mailings to 50 street addresses each month at no cost). The Zumbox API also provides an extensive set of tools to integrate your proprietary and internal software directly with Zumbox.

The mailing list can be in database format, CSV, or selected by geography for blanket mailings (within a given radius of a store, for instance, or in specified ZIP Codes). For your nickel, you can track the performance of your mailings with statistics from to see how many pieces were opened, discarded, or printed. You can also integrate your Zumbox account with Omniture, Coremetrics, Google Analytics and other reporting packages, or have Zumbox Reporting Specialists develop custom reports on your key mailing performance metrics.

Recipients can request that their senders stop sending them paper/hardcopy versions of their mailings, and they have the option to "block" any sender to eliminate that mailer's access to the recipient's virtual mailbox. This is currently a simple Yes/No, with no granularity (such as "send me invoices, statements, etc., but not promotional mail"). There is currently no "opt-in" option to request promotions on specified subjects, topics, products, etc. -- which would add a powerful dimension to this service.

When customers view bills at and click the "Pay Now" button, they can be directed to pay the bill using any payment system that you choose. For example, you may direct your customer to your web site. Alternatively, you may direct your customer to or any other popular consumer payment system.

The key to Zumbox’s success, of course, is getting a critical mass of mailers and consumers to adopt it. So Zumbox is initially offering its virtual mailing service free to billers, government organizations and non-profits. The company is in talks with various municipalities and non-profits whose representatives see the service as a way to trim paper, printing and mailing costs at a time when they most need the savings. The service also allows address holders to request that marketers or businesses stop sending them paper mail.

Consumers and businesses receive their mail by registering with Zumbox (free of charge), and logging on with a PIN number sent by USPS physical mail, to confirm that they belong to that address. Security is handled via SSL with 128 bit encryption. The SSL security certificate is issued by Verisign, with sensitive information in their databases, including usernames and passwords, stored in a 256-bit encrypted format at all times. Zumbox conducts a series of daily, weekly, and quarterly security scans and penetration tests.

It will be interesting to see which mailers sign up for this service, and how many recipients choose to take advantage of it. There is also some chance that the Postal Service will see this virtual service as a violation of its physical monopoly...but they certainly can't be thrilled by it, that's for sure. If it becomes successful, it will be a major "green" initiative, saving millions of trees each year.

Zumbox has announced its first all-digital newspaper distribution partnership with 22nd Century Media. In parallel with the print editions currently delivered, the digital editions of 22nd Century Media’s six local newspapers will be sent directly to each of the 10,000 street address they mail to now.

An unresolved problem with Zumbox in general: there could be a potential for conflicts with the timing of changes of address. That issue has not been addressed yet (pun intended), as far as I know.

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