Postal Service expands tests of software for its electronic postage sales program

The Postal Service has approved market tests for a second company to provide electronic
stamps under the service’s PC postage project.


The Postal Service last month said it will start testing StampMaster Internet Postage,
a Web postage product from StampMaster Inc. of Westlake, Calif.


E-Stamp Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif., in April was the first vendor to receive Postal
Service approval to test its online E-Stamp software. The company is beta-testing its
product in the Washington area.


The new form of electronic postage, known as information-based indicia, lets customers
buy postage online and print IBI postage onto mail using ink-jet and laser-jet printers.


There is a basic difference in the two products. E-Stamp customers download and store
their postage locally on their PCs; StampMaster stores postage remotely on a server at the
company’s headquarters.


After E-Stamp customers use up the postage stored on their PCs they can order more.
StampMaster users must go online and download postage each time they want to mail
something using the electronic postage.


A Web postage product’s biggest advantage is that it does not require an initial
investment in software, said Jeff Green, StampMaster’s marketing director. First-time
users can download StampMaster’s software free, he said.


E-Stamp will sell its system for about $100 in retail stores, said Nicole Eagan, vice
president for marketing.


The package includes a device the size of a watch battery that plugs into the back of
the computer. The device stores the value of the postage and prevents users from changing
the amount of postage improperly, Eagan said.


E-Stamp is convenient for those who buy a lot of postage because it works with
Microsoft Word and does not require the buyer to reconnect to the Internet, she said.


Green disagreed. Users still have to turn on a computer to use E-Stamp, so it really
isn’t any more convenient, he said.


StampMaster transfers the money from the customer directly to the Postal Service, Green
said. StampMaster then tracks how much postage the buyer uses and lets them know when the
supply is running low.


“We serve as an accounting function for the Post Office,” Green said.


E-Stamp has developed its own Web product and expects to get Postal Service approval
for beta-testing it by the end of the year, Eagan said.


Postage by both methods will cost more than conventional stamps. Eagan said E-Stamp
will charge the same service fee for both Internet and software purchases. StampMaster
will either charge a monthly fee or a premium based on the amount of postage bought, Green
said.


Once in beta testing, a product must complete three phases: operational stability,
financial integrity and architectural security, said Roy Gordon, the Postal Service’s
IBI program manager.    

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