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Address Formatting for International Mailing?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the not-every-country-is-the-same dept.

Data Storage 84

linuxbaby asks: "Anyone have any advice or wisdom from experience about address formatting for international shipping? I'm starting to doubt the process of asking individual questions of 'name, company, address, city, state, postalcode, country' because of complaints or misunderstandings from places like Ireland (no postalcodes), Germany (postalcode goes before city), Japan and England (many lines of address info needed). Maybe the best approach is to just get the country as a option-select list of 2-character country codes, but leave the other lines wide open ('address1', 'address2', 'address3', 'address4') for the person to fill in as they see fit. The point here is not data mining, but shipping packages as accurately as possible, anywhere in the world. Thoughts?"

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wrong place to ask (2, Insightful)

datazone (5048) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985035)

you need to speak with your shipping company.
They do this for a living. They should be able to give you all the information you need.

Re:wrong place to ask (1)

Red Moose (31712) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985295)

Judging from your UID, I'm surprised you even posted that as it's so customary on SLashdot for people to ask thigns that they could find out in 5 mins starting with a phonebook.

Use a multiline input box (1)

keesh (202812) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985038)

Use a multiline input box and don't try to manually split it up into various fields. Let the user do that. Maybe stick with a dropdown box for Country is all.

Re:Use a multiline input box (1)

ivano (584883) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985096)

but then they forget to add their country or postalcode and you can't ship the product. No the author is stuck in a hard place. He has to make sure that the address is good enough for a shipment to the country without pissing off the user forcing them to, say, enter there US state when they live Japan like so many forms are (well it's a lot better in the last 5 years I admit)

Re:Use a multiline input box (1)

Mage Powers (607708) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985313)

I'd hope a person wanting something shipped to them would know how to format an address to themselves, but what the author of this could do is link to a site thats shows/explains different ways to format an address. Wikipedia might be a good place to start, if it's not there, just start one and then people can throw stuff in, Like I'd mention canada post's postal code finder.

Re:Use a multiline input box (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985605)


I'd hope a person wanting something shipped to them would know how to format an address to themselves ...
You keep on hoping.

I ship at least a dozen packages a week to customers, and get maybe a couple ambiguous addresses a month. That's about a 5% failure rate. The usual one is leaving off street/lane/place/avenue/court in a ZIP code area where there are several similarly-named (and numbered) streets. The next most common is leaving out east/west/north/south in the street designation.

Heck, *I* get mail for somone on the other side of High Street whenever the "West" is left off, even though our names are nothing alike.

Use a multiline input PAGES (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985358)

...because of complaints or misunderstandings from places like Ireland (no postalcodes), Germany (postalcode goes before city), Japan and England (many lines of address info needed)...

How about localized input pages? No one says you have to use the same input page for every country (and it's unlikely you send to more than a 6 or 8 that use different formats), you know that is is possible to tell where visitors come from. How you combine that data into one table is up to you, but shouldn't be a problem.

Re:Use a multiline input PAGES (1)

yuri benjamin (222127) | more than 9 years ago | (#11994688)

Saeed read my mind.
I would do it slighlty diffently - instead of the input page being presented based on IP_based_guess, I would suggest A dropdown box for country to start with, and that takes them to a form based on that country.
You can get the prefered format from each country's post office's website, eg www.nzpost.co.nz - just search the site for something like "addressing guidelines".

thanks for asking (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985070)

you probably realise how many non-american users get pissed off when the compulsory field of state has to be filled in! I mean are americans that stupid? An what is it with zip code? My advice (I make web sites in belgium so lots of languages) is that don't call it zip code call it postal code (the french are happier with this). And don't make things like postal code only 5 characters long etc. Some country addresses require a box number too. The address 1 and address 2 is good but you are relying to much on the users filling it in correctly - imagine posting to England without a post-code. I guess the answer is there is no answer.

ciao

Re:thanks for asking (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985795)

Even in America you shouldn't have zip codes be five characters...zip codes can have route numbers after them that make the post office happy, like 30001-3284. They're like sub-zip codes that tell the post office 'what part of the zip code' should be getting it, and is much easier than sorting based on the street, like they normally have to do.

Granted, you don't need those, and almost no one has their code memorized, but you shouldn't disallow them.

Effective Addressing for International Mail (5, Informative)

TRS-80 (15569) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985099)

FRANK'S COMPULSIVE GUIDE TO POSTAL ADDRESSES [columbia.edu] is probably the best resource you're going to find on the topic - it covers every continent and most countries, with details on postcodes, street addresses and more. Very geeky, but also highly useful.

Re:Effective Addressing for International Mail (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985744)

Useful, perhaps, but Frank seems easily sidetracked. He wastes a lot of his time (and yours) explaining things you don't really need to know, like why he calls a section "Britain and Ireland" and not "United Kingdom and Ireland" or how the UK can be a country that contains other country.

Re:Effective Addressing for International Mail (3, Informative)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986087)

Add to that, his description of address formats for the United Kingdom are a load of rubbish, and don't remotely follow the correct addresses for properties laid out by the Royal Mail. Then again must people in the United Kingdon don't either, but that is still no excues for not following the proper Royal Mail approved address format.

Re:Effective Addressing for International Mail (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986512)

Frank probably just "reversed-engineered" addresses he'd seen. Like most geeks, he prefers learning by doing, not by reading the documentation.

Freeform! (3, Informative)

pv2b (231846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985110)

There's nothing more annoying than forms that require you to enter your address in a specific way that doesn't fit for that particular company. If you're shipping to only one country, that's fine, but otherwise:

What's wrong with just letting the user enter the address in a freeform text field? The user probably knows what his own address is, and can write it in a form that the local post office can deliver to. Just include a dropdown box for the country, and that should be all there's to it.

Re:Freeform! (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985150)

I'd second that.
give them a free space to slap the address into.

however, I suspect that companies like the postal code and other boxes as seperate.. and then requiring something valid seeming into each box because that way more people will actually fill out the REAL address.

but for stuff that the user actually wants to provide a valid address for freeform should do nicely.

But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (2, Informative)

bluGill (862) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985249)

Zip codes, in countries that use them, are checksums. You need them in a separate field because you should check with the post office of that country to make sure it matches with the city. If the zip code and city/state do not match up you should make me verify the address. If the two match up odds are the address is good enough to get things to the right person.

If you can get someone's mail to the right zip code the post office doesn't really need the rest of the address, just the name. (Though it is much easier to deal with full addresses, so only try this when other options fail) This doesn't work so well if you name is common, but if you name is slightly obscure (which is most names, since obscure only means nobody else in town shares it) you are probably the only one in town with that name, and they can figure out where you live.

In short, the name and street address are checksums to each other, the local post office will notice a mismatch and try to correct them if they can. City/state, and zip are checksums to each other, and you should check them to be sure you get to the right town.

Now of course each country is different, but for most there is some variation of the above that you should use to verify the address is likely to be correct.

Of course checksum isn't the right term. There is math involved. However the concept is the same.

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985454)


If you can get someone's mail to the right zip code the post office doesn't really need the rest of the address, just the name. (Though it is much easier to deal with full addresses, so only try this when other options fail) This doesn't work so well if you name is common, but if you name is slightly obscure (which is most names, since obscure only means nobody else in town shares it) you are probably the only one in town with that name, and they can figure out where you live.
You've never lived in rural America, have you? With some variability based on population size, most American small towns have about a dozen *extremely* common surnames in addition to the more "obscure", as you put it, ones. Typically the common last names will be between 10 and 30 percent of the population, but I've seen some places where fewer about ten last names made up almost *half* the population. Combine that with number of juniors, IIIs, etc. that may be truncated or mangled in mailing information (my mother-in-law gets mail for "Mrs. Iv" all the time) and your advice starts risking a not-insignificant failure rate.

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (2, Interesting)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986141)

Yeah, each town has a people who lived here before this was a town, and possibly still own half the place. They also have families that are amazingly fertile, where greatgranddad had 5 kids and now the ones with that name number in a hundreds and half the damn town has someone with that last name as their second cousin. Sometimes these are even the same family.

OTOH, I know someone with a unique three letter first name, and he lives in a small town where everyone knows him. He has great fun telling people to addess mail to his first name and zip and leave off everything else. He's even gotten an international letter that was:

{three letter name} {zip code}
USA

I.e., using six letters and five numbers, he is uniquely identified in the world. ;)

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 9 years ago | (#11990785)

"amazingly fertile, where greatgranddad had 5 kids"

That's not fertile at all. Haven't you ever met a Catholic family? My great-great-grandfather had 17 kids. One of my wife's friends has 10 kids, and another one has 8 at age 26. My granddad (and his wife too, sheesh! It takes two!) had 7. My great grandparents had 8.

Now, a small family would be me. I'm already 30, and I only have a 4th on the way. But hey, the wife's good for another 20 years. I can surely get another 10, no problem.

Protestants, athiests, and homosexuals would quickly go extinct without straight Catholics to produce them. (remember, birth control is a sin)

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (1)

compwizrd (166184) | more than 9 years ago | (#11999122)

friend of mine has done the same thing, and his name isn't even all that unique.. but he works in a mail sorting facility at a university.. and he's probably the only one named that there.

i've gotten mail for me that only had a city/postal code on it, no name.

they used the return address to figure out who it was most likely to go to..a slight advantage of living in a rural area for almost 20 years and the post office people knowing who everyone is.

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 9 years ago | (#11998386)

You'd be suprised what gets through.

I once received a letter from an elderly relative in Ireland addressed to:

<my name>
<my town>
NY
USA

Re:But zip is a "checksum" they should check! (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 9 years ago | (#12007651)

It still works though for your example. If everyone with the same last name is probably related, then you can probably just figure out a likely candidate and they'll pass it on to the correct person anyway.

A few 'probablys' in that paragraph, but it's the postal service. what do you expect :)

Re:Freeform! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985467)

What's wrong with it??? OMG, nothing really eh, oh, except it's tragically wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Sure, use a single unparsable text field. At the same time, say good-bye to proper design, data integrity and manipulation.

You really need to rethink this. Oh, and by the way, yes, I am an MMI designer.

You know, questions, and answers such as I've seen here, really leave me shaking my head. Is this really the best we're capable of? If so, dear Lord, please, help us all ...

Re:Freeform! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985489)

"a MMI" ~ sry

Re:Freeform! (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986167)

No, 'MMI' is presumably pronounced 'em-em-eye', and thus 'an' is correct.

Unless it's prounounced 'Mmmy' or something, which I rather doubt.

Re:Freeform! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985623)

Sure, use a single unparsable text field. At the same time, say good-bye to proper design, data integrity and manipulation.

Under what circumstances would you want to parse or manipulate individual components of multinational addresses? I've worked on dozens of online ordering systems, and never needed to do this once.

Re:Freeform! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985680)

Sigh ... howabout data aggregation, validation, verification, inter-operability with vendors EDI requirements, etc...

So, you've worked on dozens of transactional systems, eh? Pity ..

Re:Freeform! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985908)

data aggregation, validation, verification, inter-operability with vendors EDI requirements, etc...

If you are doing any of those things, you already know what format you want the data in. This guy just wants to post stuff to people.

So, you've worked on dozens of transactional systems, eh? Pity ..

Why? I think you are overestimating the necessity of all that for the average business.

Re:Freeform! (1)

mindstormpt (728974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986482)

I agree it is the best way, but are you certain everyone would write a complete address? I suspect a lot of them would forget the postcode, some others would forget the city, etc...

Re:Freeform! (1)

Bitsy Boffin (110334) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988974)

Freeform is all very well, until you have to use the address programatically.

The classic example would be calculating accurate shipping costs, in that case typically you would want to know country, region, and maybe even city.

In a freeform field, it wouldn't be possible to distinguish these.

google for prior art (2, Informative)

hankaholic (32239) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985111)

Google is your friend. I found a good example quickly, about the fourth entry (one of the first three is the result of the submitter having asked this exact question on oreillynet.com):

There's an example of what looks like a good solution used at https://www.theperlreview.com/cgi-bin/subscribe.cg i/up

They make some fields required (name and country would make sense) and others (such as state) are marked "required for some countries", with a big freeform text area marked "Mailing label" with the text "International subscribers: You can tell us what your mailing label should be, following your country's address format".

This seems a fair way of doing so, and that which fails your parser's ability to determine (ie, countries for which you don't know the convention) can be checked manually, with an additional contact-the-customer-and-verify step if you are really unsure.

As you contact customers and learn more about their specific formatting needs, update your parser -- use it to check the freeform address format, and perhaps warn the user if it doesn't seem to be valid (but allow them to continue anyways).

Universal Postal Union (4, Informative)

eyeball (17206) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985120)

Try the Universal Postal Union [upu.int] , specifically documents they have on properly addressing international addresses.

Also, this looks interesting: International Address Standard UPU S42-1 [coverpages.org]

(BTW, I know nothing about this stuff, but I found it via Wikipedia, which these days is proving itself more useful than Google.)

The UPS Store (1)

moonboy (2512) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985188)

Try a UPS Store if you have one near you. The have software that takes the guesswork out of shipping Internationally. Also, you're not necessarily limited to shipping with UPS. Some stores also ship DHL and FedEx.

Re:The UPS Store (1)

Larry Lightbulb (781175) | more than 9 years ago | (#12003982)

The last time we tried to use a UPS store for sending anything to England they wouldn't believe the address didn't have a house number.

Universal Postal Union (2, Interesting)

200_success (623160) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985212)

You can get the addressing standard [upu.int] and the worldwide database [upu.int] from the Universal Postal Union.

ZIP codes (2, Insightful)

Dark$ide (732508) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985297)

Here in the UK we have a mishmash of numbers and letters for our post codes. So whatever you do, don't try to validate it. RG21 7EJ WC1P 1AA E22 3NL EH22 3NL are all valid. There is nothing that pisses me off more than when an internet site tries to validate post code as 5digits or 5digits hyphen 4dgits. Give me a freeform text box, I'll give you my address in the form that MY post office will understand.

Re:ZIP codes (1)

Random832 (694525) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985582)

you can't even validate it as "2 groups of 3-4 alphanumeric"? it doesn't look very freeform to me.

Re:ZIP codes (2, Informative)

welshie (796807) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986406)

UK Postcodes CAN be validated - without an address lookup database.

There is a limited character set : Not all letters are valid in all positions (C, I, K, M, O, V, are not valid in the last two characters), the last three characters are ALWAYS in the form digit letter letter, a UK postcode ALWAYS begins with at least one letter, and ALWAYS contains at least two digits. The recommended layout is to put a space before the last three characters.

[A-Z]{1,2}\d[A-Z\d]? \d[ABD-HJLNP-UW-Z]{2}

Within the UK, most sensible address forms will ask for a postcode and a building number or name, and look up on a database sold by Royal Mail (known as PAF, or Postal Address File).

The Netherlands postcode scheme is really much more clever. It includes check digit algorithms that will tell you if the building number should be odd, even, neither, either)

Re:ZIP codes (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988069)

The Netherlands postcode scheme is really much more clever. It includes check digit algorithms that will tell you if the building number should be odd, even, neither, either)

So two houses next to each other (or facing each other) typically have a different postal code?

Re:ZIP codes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11990412)

No, but the opposite side of the street does. Houses are typically numberes 1,3,5,7,... on one side of the street, and 2,4,6,... on the other.
Even better, numbering in a street starts on the side closest to the center of the city. And odd numbers are on the left.
Easy, eh?

Re:ZIP codes (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11990908)

No, but the opposite side of the street does.

Yes, that's what I meant when I said "facing each other". I'm in Germany; we don't have seperate postal codes per side of the street - TBH that still sounds kind of odd ;) - but our house numbering scheme is identical, down to the rule to start closest to the city center.

Re:ZIP codes (1)

markxz (669696) | more than 9 years ago | (#11997942)

So two houses next to each other (or facing each other) typically have a different postal code?

This is the case in the UK as well (although I don't think you would have to look up the computer to find out the side of the street)
It is confused by some high volume customers having a dedicated box and postcode rather that share a code with their neighbours.

Universal Postal Union (1)

wintermute1974 (596184) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985301)

The Universal Postal Union [upu.int] has been around since 1874, ensuring that post can be mailed around the world without issue.

The UPU has 190 member countries, and those countries submit mailing information to the UPU, making it the most extensive repository of postal information on earth.

If you are looking for information on addresses [upu.int] , I would start (and probably stop) with the UPU.

Addressing in England (2, Interesting)

DjReagan (143826) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985305)

Actually while it's customary to have many lines of address in England, all that is actually required is the house number, and the post-code. Everything else can be derived from those two. Having all the extra info just makes sure if you get the post-code wrong, it will still get to the destination.

Re:Addressing in England (1)

soliptic (665417) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985626)

You are absolutely correct - in theory.

On the otherhand it rather overestimates the Royal Mail to actually work this way. I remember hearing about someone once who sent 50 or 60 letters addressed in this fashion. Something like 3 arrived! :o

Re:Addressing in England (1)

DjReagan (143826) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986108)

Then again, delivering a fully addressed envelope is overestimating the Royal Mail these days.

Re:Addressing in England (1)

qcope (116433) | more than 8 years ago | (#12022822)

A popular view of British postcodes, but not quite correct. Sad that I know this but do a "postcode lookup" DT10 1NA, with a house number of 1 and you'll find that there are 3 distinct properties.... Its this sort of thing that makes software almost work!

duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985335)

This has to be the most worthless topic I have every seen.
"Hey, I'm too much of a moron to go to the UPS, Fedex, or USPS (etc) to figure this out..."

When in doubt, (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985349)

I ask them to send me an email with their name and address formatted exactly as is their custom.

don't sweat it *too* much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985366)

Hey, it's the CDBaby dude! Rock on.

I ship CDs and other things overseas, not a LOT but maybe 2-3 pieces per week.

I've discovered that the foreign post offices don't really care that much. Not as much as the foreign buyers would have you believe (I've never had a problem shipping to Germany for instance using the "american" address layout). The mail goes through as long as all the info is there, somewhere. Some Asian post offices like to see the address in both English and the native language though (good luck with that one).

Just have a country pull-down then 3 address lines (folks with more lines can combine). At least one address line should be filled out. Also have City, State, Postal Code, and make them all optional. Yeah, what does city/state mean for some folks, but they can manage.

I know, you're a business and you don't want to have people complaining all the time, or force people to jam their address into the wrong box. But honestly I don't know how you could please everybody without customizing the address form for different countries (and adding a "please choose your country" step or using dynamic HTML or otherwise cluttering up the checkout process).

I think just having free-form address fields will actually confuse people, who are used to having labeled fields.

Re:don't sweat it *too* much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985612)

I think just having free-form address fields will actually confuse people

Wow, your faith in humanity is even less than mine!

Seriously, people can manage to write their address down on a piece of paper without fields and drop-downs, what makes you think that they can't type their address into a box the same way?

Re:don't sweat it *too* much (1)

yuri benjamin (222127) | more than 9 years ago | (#11994850)

Seriously, people can manage to write their address down on a piece of paper without fields and drop-downs, what makes you think that they can't type their address into a box the same way?

Heh! I work in a contact centre. about 20% of my customers can't spell the name of their street. About 10% can't even pronounce it.
And yet these people order stuff on "Teh Intarweb" all the time.

In Auckland, New Zealands largest city (Actually a collection of four cities and a dozen towns that grew and merged into one sprawling metropolis) there are people who put down an address like "123 Streetname, Auckland" with no suburb or postal code. There are often several streets with the same name due to Auckland having been separate cities once upon a time (Auckland proper, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere).
These end up "Return to sender".

Re:don't sweat it *too* much (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986350)

I think you should provide US address fields, (Or whatever country you ship the most to.) but you should also have a 'freeform' area that says 'If you are international and your address doesn't fit above, please put the entire address in this field instead.'. And gray out the other fields when anything gets typed in there, except the country field. Let them either jam it into the US fields, or they can type it out how it's supposed to look. (Hopefully they know what their address looks like.)

And make sure you can accept non-latin characters in there. Just try pasting in some cyrillic characters and see if you get them. If you get them and can get them onto your address label, you can get any unicode.

There are places where it looks like the address will fit, but their post office wants the address the other way around. With area at the top, street in the middle, and name at the bottom.

And then, if you're mailing international from the US, you have to put the country below that, on its own line, no matter what. Don't forget to stick that line in if they forgot it on their address, or put it in the wrong place. Just because their know their address doesn't mean they remembered to put their country in the right place for the US.

Support International Character Sets (1)

ddewey (774337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985435)

I ordered a Firefox T-shirt from the Mozilla Store with international shipping to China. I filled out the shipping address in Chinese characters, but a few days later they sent me an email that said the address just showed up as a bunch of question marks in their software. Thankfully they agreed to let me email them the address as a gif image and they printed out the gif and stuck it on the package. I received the shipment about ten days later.

If you provide the option of international shipping you should really make sure your software works with international character sets.

Re:Support International Character Sets (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11995577)

China Post understands pinyin just fine, thankyouverymuch. Freakin' showoff.

Re:Support International Character Sets (1)

ddewey (774337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11996641)

You're probably correct if you're sending it to a part of China like Beijing where Mandarin is their first language, but where I live Mandarin is not most people's first language and the people that deliver the mail typically don't understand pinyin. China Post does employ people that read the pinyin and write in the characters next to it, but they usually do a pretty sloppy job and I frequently have problems with such mail being misdirected or delayed.

I have a friend at a school here who frequently gets mail from foreign countries. Now when any mail addressed in English or pinyin is sent to someone at the school it ends up in her box, because the mail room just assumes it must be for her. It's a pretty annoying situation for her.

Re:Support International Character Sets (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11997343)

That's why someone hand-scribbles the address in Chinese during processing. I live in a smaller city outside Hangzhou, so don't tell me it doesn't happen.

As for your friend...Chinese efficiency. What can I say?

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11985451)

England (many lines of address info needed).

What? You need:

Name
House number
Post code

To get something to somebody. It's usually a good idea to include a bit of redundancy, most people use:

Name
House number Road Name
City
Post Code

They Know Best, Not Your Database (4, Informative)

soliptic (665417) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985459)

I work at an educational institution, as part of the student support team for some Distance Learning programmes. We have somewhere over 1000 students in somewhere over 90 countries.

I think frankly your best bet here is to be freeform. They know best how their addresses are written. So long as the country goes last, to get the parcel from your country out to the appropriate country, the rest of the address should be written to their custom so that their postal service will be most likely to deliver it.

I've seen all the things you describe - stuff like "90167 Bucharest" where the postcode precedes the city - and you're just not going to cope with all that if you try and enforce a complex system of validation.

Our database just has Address1-Address5 (use as many or as few as you want), Postcode (this can be blank), Country (this can't be).

When we tried entering a lot of addresses into the address book software of a certain well-known courier company, we ran into all sorts of problems. It would keep insisting on postcodes where they weren't appropriate, and so on. It's just more hassle than it's worth, and creates more problems (with literally not being able to enter what you know is correct) than it solves (stopping accidental bad data entry).

Coordinates (1)

degraeve (780907) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985495)

I can't wait until we just give our coordinates as an address.

beam pkg via UPS to 42.3750 N, 71.1060 W -THX

Re:Coordinates (1)

ibennetch (521581) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986380)

beam pkg via UPS to 42.3750 N, 71.1060 W -THX
Hmm, I suppose that would be a useful feature for a hospital* to have.

*at least, that's what I see there when I look at the map... ;-)

To try to keep this on-topic, I seem to remember something about a proposed system (I think I read about it here) to come up with a decent coordinat-based world-wide grid system for addresses. But I completely forget any details of it other than that it was supposed to be rather precise and short (I think two groups of three charachters, something like A3B FD4 or something along those lines).

Re:Coordinates (1)

Blackeagle_Falcon (784253) | more than 9 years ago | (#11996169)

I laugh at your pathetic degrees, minutes, and seconds! Real geeks use UTM. 12 N 413400 3698000

Re:Coordinates (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 9 years ago | (#11998739)

Amateur radio operators (among others) use Maidenhead Locator Squares [arrl.org] for general location specification. You can add as many digits as necessary to get the desired precision. For HF work, it's sufficient for me to specify "FM17". For VHF work, I use FM17fr.

Ireland & Postcodes (1)

Celt (125318) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985521)

As someone that born/lives in Ireland its extremnely annoying when I order stuff on-line and even when I select Ireland I am still prompted to enter a postcode.
This generally ends up being N/A or 12345, surely forms should forgo the postcode once Ireland is selected?

The nearest thing Ireland has to a postcode is Dublin 4 or Dublin 1.

The more general question (4, Insightful)

Ankh (19084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985722)

I see this question as a special case of, how should I constrain data supplied by a user?

Other good examples are telephone numbers (not all countries use ten digits, and sometimes you need to add a note like ask for extension 36914 or ask the receptionist to page me, I don't have a direct line), gender (it may surprise you to know that not everyone identifies as male or female, and not everyone is happy with saying which label they want to apply, so make it optional) and even country (is Taiwan a country? It depends who you ask).

You need always to be aware that when a computer model of the external physical world disagrees with the external physical world, it's the model that's inaccurate or wrong, not the external physical world. This sounds pretty obvious, but look at the replies to this article and you'll see suggestions that might make me unable to give me my address.

I've had Web forms ask for my Canadian postal code (by the way, spaces are significant in UK postal codes, and are not in Canadian ones), and then tell me (because they re-used some JacaScript) that a postal code must be five digits. When I tried 00000, the server-side software tried matching that to the billing address of my credit card. As a result I was unable to buy an airline ticket!

In that case I used the 'phone. It took an hour on hold on an 800 number to place the order, because they had to process my credit card by hand, since their computer system didn't allow Canadian customers to fly from US destinations; I wonder how many millions of dollars they had lost before someone took the time to fight this? In the end I got a letter from support saying I should have used the Canadian and not the US Web page, and when I wrote back saying that's what I had done in fact, and please forward this to the programmers, I got a reply saying the bug was fixed.

It's still pretty common to find Web sites whose programmers don't have the concept Some people live outside the US. let alone Some people live in the US but have foreign credit cards, as they are temporary residents.

So when you use the billing address as a "checksum" against the credit card, and find they are different, the right thing to do is to ask the customer for confirmation and then believe the customer.

Keep a record of the information, so that if they complain later you can work out where they asked things to be shipped, and maybe recover. Obviously, your goal is to deliver the package, so you want clear text that is written to be easily understood, not a legal disclaimer in all-caps that's there so you can slither out of the clutches of a disgruntled customer!

The principles are

early quality
It's cheaper and more effective to get good data early on than to correct data later. Using input fields like house number, street name, postal region, county and so forth can help, as can parsing what they type, identifying the various parts, and asking the uer if they are correct.
allow the user to insist
If the user says their postal code is BEWARE OF THE DOG, the Post Office might not agree, but maybe it's the only way they can work out how to get an extra line of text onto the address label. It's probably better to let them do this than to lose them as a customer.
Don't over-model
If you are not going to need the individual address fields later, why are you making the customer type them in a form? Identify the mininum you know you'll need and ask yourself if it's really enough. Large forms aer intimidating, and people may be discouraged or complete them incorrectly because they are overwhelemed. Your database may only have twenty customers today, but when it has half a million addresses, consider the cost of storing an extra dozen fields per customer when you don't need them.
The Real World is Right
Sometimes when the customer says their telephone number is Prickly Hollow 14 they are actually correct. One good way to deal with this is to allow free-form notes alongside each entry or account. A bad way to deal with this is to forbid it. In XML I often use a constrained list of values but make one be if.other and have a corresponding when.other element or attribute to hold the value. You can do similar things with XForms.


The boundary between the computer and the external world is often the most complex part of computer programming and the hardest, because it involves accommodating the flexibility of the world and yet constraining input sufficiently the the computer can process it

Associative not relational databases (2, Interesting)

jbolden (176878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11990177)

Which you are discussion is very difficult to do using relational databases. The whole theory of associative databases is to allow data usually in a particular form but to allow for exceptions. Its an entirely different theory of datamodeling and needs to be introduced at the earliest stages of design.

That's a lot to ask for a small percentage of the market. It may not be the case for most business that, "'better to let them do this than to lose them as a customer" it might just be better to lose them as a customer in terms of profits.

OTOH for people who just need to have flexability associative rather than relational models give one most of the advantages of a rigid relational system with requiring rigidity.

Re:Associative not relational databases (1)

Ankh (19084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11991959)

Thanks for the reply - you make a good point.

The relational model is an approximation, of course, and where it doesn't quite fit, you have to decide whether to lose a few customers or to tweak your model.

In the case of addresses, "use alternative address for this customer" is just fine for most purposes, especially if the final printed package will be checked by a human when the label is fastened, and fits within a relational database.

Liam

Re:Associative not relational databases (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11992124)

That BTW depends on how you do your shipping. Most people don't ship like the person who started this thread. They automated address correction software, automated customer tracking, for small packages they send the stuff to a presort house, use intellegent inserters... There may not be a human fastening the label at all.

Re:Associative not relational databases (1)

Ankh (19084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11992876)

True, I was trying to reply in the context of the original question. If you subcontract to a fulfillment house, for example, you may well have to supply fields provided by their Web service API or whatever. But if you design some flexibility into your system from the beginning, the extra customer service can help you grow, and even if you have to deal with a small percentage of orders by hand or weed them out and send them to a separate agent it might still be worth it, as long as you can do the filtering automatically.

Liam

fraud (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 9 years ago | (#11991631)

No, we will be checking that your billing address
matches the shipping address. Sorry. Shipping to
Romania or Nigeria is also a no-go.

Re:fraud (1)

Ankh (19084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11991974)

Maybe you are shipping things that your country doesn't allow to be sent to those places, I don't know. I don't see anything wrong with sending things to Romania or Nigeria, as long as you get paid.

If you require that my billing address match the shipping address, you had beeter not be in the gift business. I have many times sent people christmas or birthday presents that I ordered online. I paid, and the item was shipped elsewhere. Even Amazon manages this.

Liam

Address Format (1)

austinnichols101 (802241) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985791)

I work with Microsoft Axapta (http://www.microsoft.com/BusinessSolutions/Axapta /default.aspx) and the product has a bit more than just the standard address fields (although the approach could probably be expanded upon.

One table keeps track of countries (3-Digit/2-Digit/2-Character ISO 3166 code, country name) along with a code for address format. I tend to set up a 1 address format per country even if multiple countries use the same format.

The address format is displayed as a series of rows in a grid and lets you build an ordered list of fields that make up the address. Here are the choices:

Address
Postal (Zip) Code
City
County
State
Country
Street Name

Once you've selected you can select a separator and a newline (flag). Here's the format for a US address:

Address[Newline=Y]
City[Newline=N][Separator=", "]
State[Newline=N][Separator=" "]
Zip[ ][NewLine=Y]
Country[NewLine=N]

What I like about this setup is that the data model is consistent. What I don't expecially like but can live with is that you need a supporting code routine to read/write addresses - you can't just grab them from the table and expect them to look perfect.

From the UI, the application lets you enter the first two lines of the address then tab to the zip field and enter a postal code. There's a supporting postal code that has the city/state/county/country info that will populate the rest of the fields (so it's less typing) along with a textarea that displays the entire address as it will print.

Re:Address Format (1)

adamjaskie (310474) | more than 9 years ago | (#11985956)

Does it let you skip the postal code field?

Re:Address Format (1)

austinnichols101 (802241) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986006)

It does, but the results aren't always what I would like to see. When I saw how they were handling addresses I though to myself that this was an interesting way to deal with the problem but that I could improve upon the implementation.

The correct solution.... (1)

joto (134244) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986892)

...is probably what you've suggested yourself.

(I'm happy to be of any help later too :-)

Foreign Characters (2, Insightful)

packrat0x (798359) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986967)

What if it is easier (for the customer and local Post Office) to use foreign characters in the address label? If you are adding free form text fields, you might want to be prepared for Unicode support of various languages.

Travelocity certainly can't do it (1)

StateOfTheUnion (762194) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988620)

Thank god that someone recongnizes this . . . 6 months ago I bought a airkine ticket from Travelocity and had it shipped to Spain. . . They completely screwed up the address. They have a country field in their delivery address section, but they seem to have no clue what to do with the rest of the information.

They got the region (state) wrong. Barcelona is not just a city, its also a region (equivalent to a state in Spain). Someone decided that it must be my city (It's not). They seem to have no way of handling the neighborhood (subset of a city but bigger than a street) and of course they didn't put the zip in the right place (before the city).

It took two and a half weeks and several calls to FedEx to sort this out. Travelocity's customer service absolutely refused to take ownership of the problem. They seem to think that they know my address better than I do. Kudos to those of you that recoginize that the US doesn't set the standard for international addressing.

Needless to say, I tell most of the expats I meet to avoid Travelocity like the plague . . .

Re:Travelocity certainly can't do it (2, Interesting)

The Cydonian (603441) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988759)

Which, again, is one of the pleasures of ex-pat life in Singapore. See, Singapore is a city, state, region and country all rolled into one, and every building here has a unique postal code, so as long as I get my postal code right, I know my address can handle any mutilation by any shipping company.

The downside, of course, is that postal codes, by extension, become traceable private information, so you'd have to start zealously guarding that as well.

Ditto (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 9 years ago | (#11990816)


I'm working outside the US at the moment, and my offical address is (in the local language) something along the lines of "In this district of this town, take the road to the Monistary, turn left when you see a sign saying such and such, and look for so and so; it's building #1."

--MarkusQ

The way I do it (1)

webhat (558203) | more than 9 years ago | (#12000231)

[Company Name]
[c/o] First & LastName
StreetName Number[-Appartment/Suite]
COUNTRYCODE PostalCode, City
Country

AFAIK the internationally accepted way of putting a country code in is as part of, ie preceding, the postalcode. I just append country for the casual reader, such as the postman.

Which means my PC in Switzerland is:

CH [pc], Zurich

and my PC in The Netherlands is:

NL [pc], Amsterdam

Re:The way I do it (1)

webhat (558203) | more than 9 years ago | (#12000312)


For those thinking I forgot the state, this is part of the postalcode.

Easy. (1)

Electroly (708000) | more than 9 years ago | (#12002849)

Free-form text entry box.

The user knows how to write an address that will end up at their doorstep. You don't need to hold their hands (or step on them) with City, State, Zip, etc. fields.

Incompletely specified from a UI point of view (1)

pocari (32456) | more than 9 years ago | (#12010764)

How cooperative are the users? Are you just being nosy and forcing them to register for something so you can send them junk mail? Then you probably need to check everything and be annoying. But if they're paying money for something that they won't get if they screw up their address, then they are probably motivated to type the information correctly.

Also, will a human being review the label before shipment anyway? Will you get a phone number or e-mail address so you can catch mistakes that slip through? That remains the best way to make sure you get it right.

I find it extremely irritating to pick a country out of a list of all the countries in the world. Instead of a drop-down list, it would be better to let them type the country name and correct the typos and common misspellings. (When you do so, you might want to give the user another chance to check for other problems.) Are your customers really equally likely to be in any of the world's countries?

Finally, the USPS didn't like the format of many of the addresses in my Palm Pilot when I tried out Endicia a few months ago. I am actually pretty careful about these things, and have done bulk mail encoding before. But the post office wants addresses to look as ugly and institutional as possible. So if you used the USPS's pretty extensive checks, you would be irritating your customers who like to get their mail addressed to "One Broadway" instead of 1 BROADWAY ST or "451 Second St., Apartment #31" instead of 451 2ND ST UNIT 31. I would rather address mail to my customers using the way they want to see their addresses, not how the post office computers say they should look.

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