Friday, January 30, 2015

Partial address validation can be easy, cheap and effective!

I was surprised to receive a package today (late ...) from a company in the UK which included in my address the province as NIERDEROSTERREICH (sic), a province of Austria, instead of NIEDERSACHSEN, the province of Germany where I live.

There's no purpose to including a province in a German (or Austrian) address - I'm flummoxed as to why so many German websites ask for it - but the UK company concerned has my province name (correctly) stored in their records. To me this looked like a software error, where the sender had been allowed to choose a province outside the country to which the package was being sent when entering details for the courier service. Parcelforce, though, let me know via Twitter that their software allows free form entry of addresses outside the UK, so the error lies with the sender; and I suppose it's not completely out of the question that somebody in the UK with an unusually high knowledge of European province names had typed the name in incorrectly.

To give them their due, Parcelforce answered all my tweets.When I suggested that they introduce basic validation into their address capture software, they suggested that the expense for validating every address in the world would be prohibitive.

It wouldn't even be possible. But you don't have to go the whole hog, from no validation to full validation. Too many businesses think that way. There is a lot that you can do to test an address which is very easy and very cheap and very effective.  You could, for example, test the basic validity of a postal code - length, allowed digits and characters, format.  You could only allow the entry of a province which is in the country of the addressee.  All this information is easy to obtain online, and easy to program. Partial validation is easy, cheap and effective - no organisation should be scared of trying it.

Parcelforce's parting shot was that responsibility for the collection of the correct address lies with the sender, not with them.  Very likely. But Parcelforce is owned by Royal Mail, a national postal authority, who must understand the importance and value of address validation. Fobbing the blame off onto each small business using their service is a bit lame.

The package arrived (late, as I said, because GLS claimed not to have been able to find my address first attempt and didn't want to bother contacting me to help them - I suppose if you're in a van with eyes front and not wanting to slow down to check building numbers it's as good an excuse as any), but it did highlight again how simple actions to verify basic address elements can be in everybody's interest and not the great drag on resources too many people imagine it to be.

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