Many of us remember when 90210 was more than just the ZIP Code for ritzy Beverly Hills. It was the name of a popular TV show, etching itself forever in the annals of American pop culture.
Perhaps, that little piece of Americana helps explain the power of the ZIP Code. It’s more than just five numbers (or nine if you use the plus-four) at the end of the address block.
The U.S. Postal Service created the Zone Improvement Plan in the early 1960s to organize mail operations and delivery throughout our vast nation. ZIP Codes are associated with mail volume, delivery-area size, and geographic location, not necessarily municipal or community boundaries. But Aunt Minnie might not see it that way. For many Americans, their ZIP Code provides not just a community boundary of some kind, but – along with their physical mailing address – an attribute of their identity.
ZIP Codes may mark a place as home or reflect the perceived identity of a town or neighborhood. In some areas, your ZIP Code can be used to determine everything from the value of your property to the school your children attend.
A few years ago, we calculated the socio-economic benefits of the ZIP Code as an organizing and enabling system. Our report determined the ZIP Code is a support structure used by a variety of industries, including utilities and the insurance industry.
All of this might explain why changes to ZIP Codes cause so much community consternation. In our recent Management Advisory, we assessed the Postal Service’s process for managing and evaluating ZIP Code requests. We found that while the Postal Service consistently documented, evaluated, and managed all 56 ZIP Code change requests in the years we reviewed, the survey evaluation methodology it used for one location was different from the others.
In its response to our advisory, the Postal Service said it plans to update its policy on ZIP Code change surveys to require at least 50 percent of affected addresses to respond favorably in order for a ZIP Code change to be considered. This change is intended to help ensure that ZIP Code changes are in the best interests of the entire affected communities and not merely a small segment of the population that responded to the survey.
How important to you is your ZIP Code? How would you react if the Postal Service asked to change your ZIP Code for its internal operational purposes?