Foreman control loading Containers box from Cargo freight ship for import export, foreman control Industrial Container Cargo freight ship. Logistic concept.

Every time a package cannot be delivered to the correct address, it costs you more than a few extra fees

It costs you the trust of your customer and negatively affects your reputation.

Globally distributed supply chains and distribution points make getting the delivery right the first time even more challenging. International address validation is an investment that can help streamline international shipping and shorten delivery times so that you can build positive customer relationships. Let’s see how it works.

International shipping and automation

UK businesses using Royal Mail international shipping must comply with numerous customs regulations and address formats, transfer address data and complete the necessary documentation, all of which make international shipping a challenge.

The Royal Mail international shipping guide1 lists the proper format for over 40 countries, but they ship to over 240 countries. Some countries, such as Germany, have strict rules on the address format. For instance, this is one of few cases where you must put the house number after the street name and the postcode before the town. Also, the town must be in capital letters.

In the Netherlands, you must have a double space between the postcode and town. If you do not use the proper format, your package will be sent back to you with no attempt at delivery, even if it is clear where the package should go. Some countries are a little more lenient, but others are even stricter.

Every country has its own standards for addressing your package. These standards are a result of the automated systems and differences in bulk mail processing software and sorters. If the address is incorrectly formatted, the machine cannot read it. Mail that cannot be read by the machine must be sorted by hand, which takes time and money, and also slows the process.

With increased automation, many countries are getting stricter about refusing to deliver packages that do not follow the rules. When you add the factor of transferring addresses from one database system to another that needs a different address format, the chances for error and rejection of your package increase exponentially. At best, your package will be delayed; at worst, it might not arrive at all.

That begs the question: What should you do if you plan to increase your global reach and want to maintain the reputation of your brand for on-time delivery?

Data quality and the challenges of international shipping from the UK

The first bottleneck that could delay the delivery of your package is one of data quality and data management as it relates to mail processing software. The need for accuracy and correct formatting raises questions when shipping to countries that use different formats for addresses:

  • Do you use the format of the country that you are shipping from and risk rejection by the receiving country?
  • Do you use the receiving country’s format and risk rejection by your local mail service?

Making the wrong decision could mean lost or delayed deliveries. International shipping from the UK by Royal Mail can take anywhere from three days to two weeks—and that is if everything goes right. A delay could double this time or might result in a complete delivery failure.

The regulations and guidelines for sending Royal Mail internationally are 48 pages long, making getting everything correct even more challenging. Let’s say your delivery address is not formatted correctly because the receiving shipping database uses a different address format. It would have to be shipped to your return address, and it might not arrive back to you if the two regulations and formats do not match.

For time-sensitive packages, this can create returns, cancellations, and angry customers. If you did not give the delivery service the correct address, most will charge you a fee for address correction. These costs add up; most businesses just see them as a regular expense. In today’s competitive world, it is critical to make sure a package gets delivered successfully the first time. This not only saves you on address correction fees, but it keeps your customers happy and gives you a competitive edge.

Customer checking address on delivery driver's documents

Different district name systems

International address validation has several components that must be synced. The first is that some countries, like the United States, have clear boundaries that they call “states.” This makes things easier as far as addresses are concerned. Other countries have territories or regional areas that are less clearly defined. Countries might call their geographic divisions “provinces” or “administrative areas.” Your address validation service must be able to reconcile these differences to route the package to the correct geographic area.

Latin vs. non-Latin characters

Now, let’s explore another data quality and consistency challenge. Much of the world uses Latin characters, but not all of it. This is a key challenge for address validation. The address of the sender might use Latin characters, but the receiving database might be written in Chinese or Arabic. Databases get around this by using ASCII or Unicode characters, but they need software that can convert and translate characters into this format.

Challenges of shipping to developing nations and remote areas

As a business owner, the main thing you want to know is if address data is valid and deliverable, regardless of where it is located around the globe. Unfortunately, not all local postal services have address resolution down to the delivery point. This means that you cannot simply contact them to see if an address is correct and deliverable.

Some postal services have delivery point information down to the house, apartment, or exact business address. Some only have it down to a street level, and others only have it down to the community level. This means that, in some cases, the postal service can only tell you if the neighbourhood or small town exists but can’t confirm whether a street or a particular address exists. This is especially true in developing nations and remote areas.

You might wonder how the postal service can deliver a package if they do not even know if the street exists. The answer is that they rely on postal employees who personally know where to take the package, even if the local postal service does not have a record of that address. This becomes difficult in a system that is becoming increasingly data-driven.
What happens to undeliverable packages?

Royal Mail tries to return undeliverable packages to the sender whenever possible, but if that is not possible, the package is caught in limbo. It cannot be delivered to the original recipient, and it cannot be returned to the sender. According to the BBC, 20 million items per year, worth over a million pounds of postal revenue, cannot be returned to sender. Businesses face the need to refund or replace items at their own cost without being able to recover the original delivery. It’s easy to see how the losses from poor quality address data add up.

The good news is that global address validation software exists that can help businesses navigate the complex world of Royal Mail international shipping.

Experian Address Validation is an easy to integrate, user friendly solution that helps businesses navigate the complexities of international shipping in multiple ways:

  • Validate your data against official, authoritative postal sources to confirm an address exists and is deliverable
  • Format international addresses correctly according to local postal authority regulations
  • Correct mistakes made at point of entry
  • Complete missing address information
  • Support for non-latin character sets
  • Works across 245 countries and territories, in real-time to ensure only accurate data enters you system first time, every time
  • Plus enrich your addresses with geolocation and property data for greater location accuracy and deliverability

Data validation solutions

Experian has data validation solutions that can help you improve the efficiency of international shipping and avoid the expenses associated with delivery failures.

Contact us to find out more

Experienced and efficient global address validation

In a perfect world, there would be an internationally standardised way to address packages. Fortunately, Experian Address Validation is on hand to help. With 99.5% service uptime guaranteed, modern cloud-based, secure technology and 24/7 customer support, our solution can reduce unnecessary operational costs due to data management issues with international shipping. If you’d like to find out more, please contact us to start a conversation.


[1] How to write addresses for 40 countries, Royal Mail