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This 41 message thread spans 2 pages: 41 ( [1] 2 > >     
Do Americans Know Their ZIP + 4?
ZIP codes aren't specific enough for Local Search

 10:19 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

In my opinion, the ZIP code system in the US does not work well for local search. With less than 50,000 unique 5 digit codes in use representing such a huge (and populous) country it's clear that a ZIP code just isn't local enough for some searches.

The UK is a tiny island in comparison to the US but uses 1.7 Million Postcodes that pinpoint locations quite well. The US has an extension to the ZIP code that, if adopted widely, could solve the problem of codes covering too large an area.

Not being from the US, I'd like to know if people tend to know their ZIP + 4. From what I read about ZIP + 4 it appears to be mostly companies that will use them rather than the general population. It seems to me that knowing your own ZIP + 4 would be handy if local search sites supported them as it would give you more accurate geographic results (without having to type in your entire address - which admittedly would be better still for geolocation services).

Do you know yours?

Do you think the general public know theirs?

Is there something better than ZIP + 4 for a quick, accurate lookup?



 10:25 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

highly doubt it.
and no.


 10:26 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

I only know mine because I am staring at a piece of mail that has it as I'm writing this. :)

Seriously though, I think the answer is "No". Most of us don't know the +4 at all. It is simply not used for residential mail.

The only time you see the +4 is either on a piece of mail sent from a business or a piece of mail being sent to a business in a pre-addressed envelope.


 10:31 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

I doubt most people know theirs. (My guess is that a lot of people don't even know there IS a +4 component.) I recognize mine when I see it, but I haven't committed it to memory. I have found that a lot of sites where I enter an address (e.g., for shipping or registration for online bill paying) automatically add the +4 component.

I agree that in some cases just the 5-digit zip code many not be sufficient for local search, but in many cases it should be.


 10:52 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is simply not used for residential mail.

Ah, but it is. It's used everyday for residential mail, check. There is most likely a bar code sprayed on the face of the mail piece and it contains your zip+4 plus other information. Depending on the type of mail, there may be carrier route codes. There's a lot of information in that one line of bar code. :)

It's been like this for many years and it still hasn't caught on. So, the Post Office takes care of it from their end. All mail is scanned, regurgitated and sprayed. It is then delivered from there.

I know my zip+4. I know all my clients zip+4. I probably visit the zip+4 interface at least once a week to verify an individual address.

All mail that is mailed in bulk is required to follow certain guidelines. Zip+4 is one of those. Personal mail is exempt at this time but the Post Office is going to spray it prior to arriving in your mailbox.

Just search Google for zip+4 (or bookmark the site). Enter your address, city, state, it will return the proper zip+4 for your address. You will need to enter Suite numbers in most instances to further refine the zip+4 and the interface will let you know that.

I've been writing my zip+4 for many years. And then again, I write my dates like 2008-01-10. ;)


 11:11 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone, it looks as though ZIP+4 isn't in common public use.

Maybe we can look at the wider issue of the problem this causes. In the UK we can pop in a postcode that's up to 8 alphanumerics in length and know that, generally, local search reults will be very local. That's not as simple in the US.

How do you see this changing in the future? (WIll ZIP+4 be adopted or some other system)

Will GPS solve some of the issues?(OK for mobile but not good when searching for a different location from where you are)

Are people bothered about results not being centered on their location, do people accept it?


 11:13 pm on Jan 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

I guess I should have been a bit more precise. ;)

yes, it is used for virtually every piece of mail, but you will almost never see a person writing the +4 when addressing something. What the post office does with it once they receive it is another story all-together.

[edited by: Philosopher at 11:14 pm (utc) on Jan. 10, 2008]


 5:06 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

The average user has no clue what their ZIP+4 is. I agree its a shame in a way - each UK postal code covers an (average) of 16 houses, and I believe each Canadian postal code covers the equivalent of 2 blocks (that one I might be slightly off in).

Until we have location-aware applications, honestly the best solution for pinpoint is their full address (and then remember it so they do not have to re-enter it).

Still - even ZIP itself is not very popular. More people use neighborhoods as their location than a ZIP code itself.


 5:15 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Interesting.. Here in Canada our postal code tells you what street you're on plus whether it's an even or odd number (i.e. which side of the street). But I guess when you use three letters and three characters you can have a lot more granularity.

I guess the US won't have much choice but to add some digits. It's probably too late to add characters, but characters give you a lot more possible options (26 vs 10).


 5:37 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

History of the United States Postal Service

ZIP+4 - Introduced in 1983, the ZIP+4 code added a hyphen and four digits to the existing five-digit ZIP Code. The first five numbers continued to identify an area of the country and delivery office to which mail is directed. The sixth and seventh numbers denote a delivery sector, which may be several blocks, a group of streets, a group of post office boxes, several office buildings, a single high-rise office building, a large apartment building, or a small geographic area. The last two numbers denote a delivery segment, which might be one floor of an office building, one side of a street between intersecting streets, specific departments in a firm, or a group of post office boxes.

Keep in mind our ZIP+4 system has been in place now for 25 years! It's been pretty much transparent to the residential customer. But, when it comes to businesses, that +4 will determine the efficiency of deliverability.

I used to do quite a few commercial mailings. The savings by providing a list that was sorted to the nth degree could equate to quite a large sum when mailing 500,000 pieces. There could be a savings upwards of $.05 per piece!

So, ZIP+4 is important for business use. The U.S. Post Office have implemented technology that makes it transparent to the residential customer unless of course you look at all of your mail. The USPS is going to spray your ZIP+4 on every piece, or almost every piece. ;)


 6:30 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thinking about this a bit I don't think ZIP+4 would actually help that much for local search. Even though I'm near the Eastern edge of my 5-digit Manhattan ZIP, it's only about a 10-minute walk to any place within it. (And actually, my ZIP+4 pinpoints my building, a bit too local).

Just too a quick look at Los Angeles ZIPs and they appear to be fairly compact, also.

Now, out in someplace like North Dakota where a 5-digit ZIP might encompass a county, maybe two, well, there's not much out there and folks are used to longer drives.


 7:23 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Here in Canada our postal code tells you what street you're on plus whether it's an even or odd number (i.e. which side of the street). But I guess when you use three letters and three characters you can have a lot more granularity.

Wow. Every now and again you come across examples of a bureaucracy coming up with a neat and elegant solution to a problem. Doesn't happen often mind, but I think we should celebrate it when it does.

I hope the designer of the Canadian postcode system is a national hero.


 7:57 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

> I hope the designer of the Canadian postcode system is a national hero.

Don't know about that, but I do know that Santa Claus treats him/her rather well. Santa's Canadian postal code is "H0H 0H0"!


 1:54 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I know mine, but only because it is literally 6969


 2:11 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)



 2:34 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I know and use the four-digit "carrier route" code, but a lot of people probably don't. More significantly, a lot of e-forms won't even let you enter more than five digits.


 2:35 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Ditto the above: I've known mine for the last three addresses I've had (including the present one, since '84)... but very few online forms are set up to accept them;)


 2:56 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

No. Almost nobody uses it on personal mail.

But it appears on almost all business mail.

There are incentives for bulk mailers to use zip+4 - cheaper postage. So, almost all businesses that do any significant mailing must use a database to look-up the zip+4. (Anybody can just go to the U.S. Postal Service web site and look up zip+4s. They just don't do it.)

You aren't going to get consumers to type-in their zip+4 code.

Yes, zip codes can be too broad. I live on the edge of the zipcode for downtown San Diego. If I do a local search on my own zipcode, almost everything that comes up is downtown and inconvenient. So, I've learned to type-in the adjoining zip code that is more accessible to me.

This ^ is an easy solution, and one that local search sites should educate consumers on.

Maybe they could allow users to type-in TWO zip codes, if you are near the edge between two of them.

Zip+4, on the other hand, is VERY specific. I know that my zip+4 is for my 40-unit condo complex. Some zip+4's are for a single floor of an office building, a single company, or a single department in a company.

I imagine Bill Gates has his own zip+4 - or a few. ;)


 3:13 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Basically nobody knows or uses the last 4 digits. They may recognize it when they see it as it's on most mail. It has appeared for years that I may have 2 zip+4's, or they're just confused. I get mail with both.

What almost everyone has that is very local is a telephone number. This is how many mass merchants keep track of customers. They tie back to a VERY local address. Well, until the cellphone started to grow so much that many people don't have a real phone anymore.

Bonus: everyone knows their phone number


 7:01 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm not from USA, but each city in my country has 6 digit code. First 3 digits are unique city specific. UK uses alpha-numeric characters.


 11:06 am on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Postcodes have only started seriously hitting public awareness in the UK with the general adoption of internet mapping services and the advent of satnav. All major mapping systems can be accessed by postcode and people now see value in knowing their own, and other people's codes.

UK codes themselves were designed for visual identification not computers with variable lengths and differing alpha/numeric squences.


 1:59 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I do know mine..but that is only because it is the same as our house number. Although it took a couple of years of living there before we saw a piece of mail that had the +4 code on it. Does the USPS have a look up on their website for it? I don't know of an easy way to find out with out having to go down to the Post Office. So that might be a big part of it even though its been around for ever.


 3:00 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I also get mail with different zip+4 codes, so I'm not sure which is correct, nor do I care. I live in a tiny town (less than 1000 people) and if you addressed an envelope with my name, town, state and left off the street address and zip code, it would still make it to my mail box.


 3:40 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

As others have noted, businesses automatically append the +4 for all mailings. Consumers rarely use it. At one point a few years ago, there was a rumor (probably an urban legend) that manually writing the Zip+4 on a piece of mail could actually slow it down (vs. just the 5-digit zip). I forget the reason - perhaps more difficulty in auto-scanning at the time? Seems unlikely.

Then again, how much consumer-to-consumer mail is being carried these days? I haven't written a letter to an individual and sent it by postal mail in ages. I probably mail dozens of items each month, but not one out of a hundred has a hand-written address.

From a business standpoint, oddly, I see the Zip+4 on a relatively small percentage of the business cards I get. Maybe 10% max - the rest all go with the simple 5 digits. You might expect businesses to be more sensitive to the issue, but that apparently isn't the case.


 5:06 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

From a business standpoint, oddly, I see the Zip+4 on a relatively small percentage of the business cards I get.

In many instances it may be due to space limitations. I plan on having a ZIP+4 when printing client business cards. It's a given.

Maybe 10% max - the rest all go with the simple 5 digits.

In most instances, that is all that is required, the U.S.P.S. will do the rest for you.

You might expect businesses to be more sensitive to the issue, but that apparently isn't the case.

It's habit. And, since the U.S.P.S. do most everything for you, most don't worry about it. Their mail will get delivered with or without it. Without it, you will always pay "full postage" no matter what. In doing mass mailings, using it plus other requirements will help save you BIG MONEY! :)

A tour of the U.S.P.S. Bulk Mail Center is an eye opener. To see how millions of pieces of mail are handled each day is pretty amazing. The U.S.P.S. automates most everything. Billions of ZIP+4 Bar Codes are being sprayed on residential and business mail every day across the nation.


 5:21 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I work a lot with customer mailing lists numbering in the tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of records. The only way you get a ZIP+4 is if the list has been NCOA'ed (National Change of Address). In over five years, I could probably count on my fingers the number of people I've taken orders from who know their +4.

And no, I don't know mine, either.

That said, I can't imagine a situation where a single zip code isn't local enough for local search. Large cities have multiple zip codes. Smaller towns have one, and rural zip codes may cover a fairly large area. But as the zip code covers a larger area, people are more used to traveling further to get to the services they need or want.

I've never been to the UK, but from what I understand from folks who live there, most people are resistant to traveling outside their neighborhoods for their normal needs and wants. But as you pointed out, America is a geographically large country, and most of us don't mind getting in the car and driving half an hour or an hour to get to everyday places.

I live in a farming area of the Midwest. Our city is about 35,000 people and has one zip code. My favorite "local" restaurant is in a small town forty minutes away - and I drive through at least four zip codes to get there. I don't think you'll find many Americans who say a zip code isn't local enough for anything they want to find.


 5:33 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

As an American who is constantly trying to put myself in the lowest common denominator demographic (or the mindset of one), I know I'm lazy as hell and they didn't teach me to use the +4 in school, so I'm not going to bother to learn it.

If they start drilling it into kids' heads at an early age, then the next generation will adapt it. If not, forget it.


 5:49 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I know I'm lazy as hell and they didn't teach me to use the +4 in school, so I'm not going to bother to learn it.

As a Residential Customer, there is no need to worry about it.

As a Business Customer, if you are involved with any type of business mailing, there is a good chance you've been exposed to ZIP+4. It's been out for over 25 years!

And, as a Residential Customer, you won't need to learn anything. The U.S.P.S. does it for you.

P.S. Some of those ZIP+4's can be rather unique. Easy to remember too. ;)


 5:55 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I don't know my zip+4 but I recognize it when I see it. Sort of like my own cell phone number. All my return address stickies have it though.

It can be looked up from the complete address though. Below is a link to a USPS web form that looks it up. It's not too hard to implement a lookup on your own site.

[zip4.usps.com ]


 6:12 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

P.S. Some of those ZIP+4's can be rather unique. Easy to remember too.

I want to expand on the above quote. I've seen many instances where the ZIP+4 was unique enough to look at it from a "soft" branding perspective. Somewhat subliminal in nature. :)

Just imagine the possibilities...

  • -1999
  • -2000
  • -1111 (or other quad matches)
  • -1234
  • -0007

I'll usually add USA after the ZIP+4 too in some marketing materials.

Foo CA 12345-9999 USA

From the U.S.P.S. perspective, this is the perfect address...


Business Name
123 S Null St Ste 100
Foo CA 12345-0000


123 S Null St Apt 1A
Foo CA 12345-0000

The U.S.P.S. prefer everything to be abbreviated and without punctuation. Single spaced exactly as you see it above.

If you are a business, always, always verify your ZIP+4 on a somewhat regular basis. The U.S.P.S. have been known to change them without notice. If you are in an office building that has expanded, there may be a chance that ZIP+4's have been shifted around a bit. I've seen it happen. We went from having a -2000 to a -2044 after a change from the U.S.P.S. We kind of liked the -2000. ;)

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