Does your customer postal address data look like this?
|Customer A||1828 Joy Lane, California,|
|Customer B||4070 Emily Renzelli Boulevard, CA|
|Customer C||sycamore StREET, San Antonio Valley|
|Customer D||1606 sycamore street, San Antonio Valley, California|
If the city, state, street number and lanes are not correct, your address cannot be validated. But what exactly is address validation, why it matters and how do you do it? Read along as we help you understand the basics of address validation.
What is Address Validation?
Address validation is the process of checking a physical address to ensure it exists in official postal records for a given area. Most of the time addresses will not validate because the address data is either:
Incomplete: Like in the example above, some fields don’t have state data.
Inaccurate: A misspelled area name can make it difficult to validate an address.
Non-Existent/Vacant: An address that is marked vacant or one that is unregistered.
Unfortunately, address data is one of the most complex data problems that cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in return mails, loss of goods, customer dissatisfaction & brand reputation.
That said, it’s not impossible to resolve address data. It can be done in three steps, and the good thing is you can perform all three steps using an address validation software like DataMatch Enterprise.
- Address Scrubbing: Clean messy address data.
- Dedupe Data: Remove duplicates from your data records.
- USPS Validation: Match the clean data with the USPS or any other authority postal record.
Let’s discuss this in detail.
What is Address Scrubbing?
A simple analogy to this would be a surgeon scrubbing their hands clean before performing a surgery. When you prepare address data for a mailing list, you need to scrub it – meaning, all the errors, inconsistencies and formatting issues need to be taken care of.
Address scrubbing is a tedious process that cannot be taken lightly. It cannot be done manually, so you’ll have to use a powerful address scrubbing tool that can allow you to:
Profile Your Address Data: Most address data issues are underlying – meaning, they are not easily detected. For example, an unnecessary punctuation mark between alphabets are a common occurrence but they are not picked up by spreadsheets or CRMs. This is why you need data profiling, a feature that allows you to identify the errors in your address data.
Take a look at the image below.
You can profile your address data to determine rows of invalid data such as incorrect city names, or to find out the number of rows with letters in the Zip code. This level of detail profiling helps you assess the quality of your data and lets you make informed fixes.
There are 20 more patterns and business rules that you can use to deep dive into your address data and get details that you would not have been able to see.
Clean Your Data: Now that you can see the problems with your data, you can start cleaning it. This part is easy. You can clean data by fixing formatting issues, removing spaces, adjusting letters and numbers. You can even replace all incorrect spellings with the right ones using a location dictionary.
Dedupe the Data: Chances are your data is duplicated. You’ve got multiple addresses of the same entity and it has been years since this data is updated. Before you begin the validation process, it’s important to dedupe your overall data to ensure that you’re not validating obsolete addresses – it’s just a waste of time and effort.
When you’re done with this scrubbing of data, you can then proceed to validate your mailing list.
How to Validate a Mailing Address with USPS
Validating the address is just the last step and it’s the easiest. The most challenging part was cleaning the data, ensuring you don’t have to deal with messy, duplicate data.
If you’re using an address validation software, you’ll be accessing a module that will match your address data with the USPS or any other authority standard postal address. There are just two steps in this process:
Match Your Data: As your data is cleansed, it can now be validated with a government database. DataMatch Enterprise has a special Address Verification and Standardization module that lets you match your data with the USPS database. With over 50 fields, you can match right down to the Zip+5 code.
Get a Return Value: When you validate address data, it must return a value based on the status of the address provided by the government record. Some of these values are:
- Invalid Address: The address is not validated because it’s false or the address doesn’t exist.
- Invalid ZIP code: ZIP code does not match the region. This often happens when people type in fake or wrong ZIP codes.
- Invalid State Code: Same problem as the ZIP Code.
- Invalid City: If you have severe spelling issues like in the data given above, you will get an invalid city as a result when matched with the USPS.
- Address not found: It may not be invalid, but it may no longer be in use. For example, a building or house that may have been demolished.
- Multiple responses: Multiple possibilities to one address. This rarely happens, but if it does, chances are your address data is duplicated.
- Default response (Missing information – Ste #, or Invalid Ste #): If there’s no information provided for example, rows that don’t have ZIP codes, an invalid or missing information response is returned.
With this classification, you’re now in a better position to discard fake or non-existent addresses and create a mailing list that does not contain any errors. Goal accomplished!
Understanding the Complex Challenges of Address Validation
There’s only as much an address validation tool can do. You will need to ensure the integrity of your mailing list by practicing some best data quality practices. These would include:
1. Reducing Input Error: Most of the mistakes you see in the example above are a result of human errors. If customers are filling in the address data form, you will have to place controls such as letting them select from a list of cities instead of manually writing it. If your team members or third-party vendors are filling this data, you will need to train them on the basics of data entry. The more you focus on reducing input error, the easier it will be to manage the cleansing part later.
Incorrect Information: This is perhaps the trickiest part of the address data. There’s only so much you can do with software. While it can fix structural issues, it cannot fix context issues. So if the address is correct, but the user put in the wrong street name or house name, the software cannot detect that. Some companies check this data against a truth set of real addresses – meaning they either connect with a local data provider specializing in fraud mitigation. These companies check data against utility bills, bank statements, ID cards or driving license. Then again, the USPS verification weeds out a significant of these addresses, so you don’t really need an additional service.
Prioritizing Data Quality: Data quality is an on-going activity. It cannot be accomplished in one go or in one sitting. You will always be requiring mailing lists and as long as your business is functional, you’ll always be getting new data every day. It doesn’t really make sense then to keep data quality as a one-time goal. You’ll also need a real-time implementation of data cleansing and deduping if you’re dealing with transactional data.
Why You Have to Care About the Integrity of Address Data & Mailing Lists?
Address data is not just for sending out monthly newsletters or promotional magazines. It has to do with a lot more. It plays a crucial role in:
Business Intelligence: Want to expand the business? Open a new store or launch a new service? Or how about creating targeted local campaigns? You’ll need accurate address data. Without this data, you’ll be aiming in the dark. Today, with the ability to gain social and behavioral data, this could give you a very clear idea of your customer demographics, their preferences and their expectations from a brand.
Logistics: Need to send out deliveries? Quite obvious, this business model relies on accurate data.
E-commerce: Retailers have the most to do with address data and mailing lists. They also suffer the most as they are unable to get an accurate picture of their customer demographics when they have poor address data. If you’re in the online business, sending out shipment across the globe, physical address data is literally a lifeline.
Cost Cutting: Fix your address data and cut down costs of return mails & restocking fees. Industry experts have shown that just the operational cost of undeliverable mail ranges from $1 to $3.
Regulations: Yep. Poor address data can also cause regulation problems. When a piece of mail is returned, the mailer is required to take these actions:
- The mailer has a one-time option to re-mail before flagging the security-holder as “lost;”
- if the record cannot be updated within a specified timeframe (from a few days up to three months), the company is required to send the recipient’s name and SSN to a third party to try and obtain address updates.
All this takes up a significant amount of time and effort, considering that in the modern age, you cannot afford to lose customers, suffer unnecessary expenses & get in trouble with the law. To save yourself from all this, it’s better to clean your data and prioritize its integrity above all else.
Address validation is not an easy task and will require a quality strategy. You will need to invest in a solution that can help you clean, dedupe, and fix bad data. While there are challenges with address validation, there are also viable solutions that you can use. The only question, you need to ask yourself is whether your organization is willing to prioritize address validation as part of a data management goal?
If you’re interested in address standardization and validation, check out Data Ladder’s Address Standardization Solution that lets business users clean, dedupe, and validate address data. Our platform follows a complete data preparation framework where you can integrate data from 150+ applications and match against a CASS Certified module.