International address validation

When building an e-commerce solution it is important to have the correct delivery details of your customers. By doing so you ensure the orders are being sent to the correct address, decreasing the number of lost parcels and returns.

Your customers will be happy and in turn, you will be happier.

There are a number of service providers that can help you complete and validate your customers details. The most typical application is to lookup an address from a partial entry, helping a user complete their details, speeding up the process of registration.

For the UK market, this process is pretty standard: You ask for the customer’s postcode and/or house number and in return you get a list of suggestions, which are usually pretty accurate.

A sample search on the Royal Mail website:

royal-mail-1

royal-mail-2

For other countries things are not so simple. The lack of postal standards and varying degree of coverage between countries makes address validation a very complicated task.

Things to look out for when you’re picking a solutions:

Country coverage

Make sure that the provider you pick has data for the countries your customers are based. For e-commerce this would be the countries you are shipping your goods.

Data accuracy

The data from your providers needs to have the maximum degree of accuracy. Premise level is the highest data accuracy level for addresses. It has all the details for a delivery point, including house name/number and company name, where applicable.

Street (or thoroughfare) is a lower accuracy level where you get street level data. The customer will need to supply house name/number in addition to the results from your provider in order to get a full delivery point.

Postal certifications

Some countries’ postal organisations offer a database certification for an address validation service provider. This means that the service and its data provides the highest coverage and accuracy levels for a country.

There are only five organisations that have this certification programme:

USA – CASS: https://www.usps.com/business/certification-programs.htm

Canada – SERP: http://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/business/productsservices/atoz/addressingsoftware.jsf

AMAS – Australia: http://auspost.com.au/parcels-mail/address-matching-approval-system.html

SNA – France: http://www.laposte.fr/sna/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=11

Send Right – New Zealand: http://www.nzpost.co.nz/business/sending-within-nz/over-300-letters-documents/address-certification/sendright

If your customers are based in these countries, pick a service provider that has these certifications.

Update frequency

New streets and building are constantly being built, as well as companies moving into new locations. To ensure you always have top quality data for your customers, pick a provider that updates your database frequently.

Internationalisation and transliteration

For your international customers is it important to have a system that can translate the address between English and a local representation.

This can be as simple as translating “Munich” to “München”, or at the other end of the scale, translate “Japan” to “日本”.

This ensures your service can recognise partial address entries in any language, they are not limited to the English language or to a western alphabet.

Remote or local service

Address validation software typically comes in two flavours. You can use these services as a remote service call, where you invoke a web service, hosed by your provider; or by installing a database in your local infrastructure where you interact with it directly and are responsible for the maintenance and database updates.

When using a remote service you offload the responsibility of the infrastructure to your provider. They are responsible for the database updates and the service uptime. With this model you have one less service to update and maintain. You can use a “pay-per-click” model where you pay a fee for each lookup your customers perform or you can “pay-as-you-go” where you buy a package of x credits and you can use them for the period of a year (a similar model to pre-paid phones).

When using a local database, you are responsible for the maintenance and updates and you pay a yearly license fee.

The model you choose depends on the usage you will have on this service as well as the type of service you require.

A local database installation is more suited to large enterprises who require a large amount of lookups (>100k/year). The initial licensing cost of the database will be more cost effective in the long term.

Another factor is the type of operation required over the postal dataset. In addition to online address validation, you may also wish to perform a data cleansing activity on your existing customer data, task that is simplified if you have direct access to the address data.

A hosted service model is better suited to small/medium enterprises that don’t require a large amount of lookups, due to licensing costs.

For online lookups on an e-commerce shop you should consider the remote “pay-per-click” model; for more data-driven activities with large data sets, you should consider the local database model.

Development cost

Another factor to consider are the development costs. Evaluate the service API and select the one that fits best your development team and environment. Also, some services’ API require multiple integrations when querying international datasets, which will increase development and maintenance costs

One service in particular that can be of interest is Capture+, from Postcode Anywhere:

http://www.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/address-capture-software/

With this service you can have a form that will complete your address as you type, allowing quick entry of addresses. It is better suited to the “value” segment as there is limited customisation to the look and feel of the entry form, but if you are looking for a quick solution, this can be of interest.

Conclusion

In summary, when picking an address validation solution you have to consider what is important for your customers, e.g. county coverage, accuracy and translations. Also important are your non-functional requirement, such as the logical and physical architecture of the solution.

There is not a single answer to the question “which address validation solutions is the best?”, it all depends on your requirements and the service’s cost.

Appendix

Some of the providers you can consider are:

Informatica Address Doctor

http://www.addressdoctor.com/en/international-address-validation/software/postal-correction.html

Capscan

http://www.capscan.co.uk/matchcode_international.aspx

QAS

http://www.qas.co.uk/products/capture-name-and-address-data/pro-web.htm

Postcode Anywhere

http://www.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/address-validation/international-addresses/

AFD Postcode Everywhere

https://www.afd.co.uk/tryit/international/Lookup.asp?Process=Lookup