PO Boxes versus Private Mail Boxes (PMBs)

Once upon a time, mail was delivered to residences, workplaces, or a Post Office (PO) box that are provided by the United States Postal Service. More recently, there is also a third option: private mail boxes or PMBs, which are provided by commercial mail receiving agencies (CMRAs) like The UPS Store, FedEx Kinkos, and other independent providers.

PMBs are a convenient alternative to PO Boxes for many people, but they also can have implications for people shipping to them. Let’s look at some of the differences between these two options, and how you can know what kind of address you are sending to.

Comparing PO Boxes and PMBs

Some of the main differences between PO Boxes and PMBs:

  • USPS Post Office boxes have a “PO Box” address, while PMBs may have a street address. The latter are often desirable for consumers, particularly small businesses, who wish to have a business “address” while keeping their home address private. This is normally the business address of the PMB provider, often with an additional “suite” or “PMB” number identifying the recipient.
  • Post office boxes are only for USPS mail, packages or parcels. As a result, delivery services such as UPS and FedEx normally cannot deliver to PO Boxes, with rare exceptions.  Conversely, PMBs can accept deliveries from all carriers, including the USPS.
  • Similarly, post offices are unable to sign for mail delivered to a PO Box.
  • PMB providers frequently offer additional services, included or at an extra cost, such as packing, shipping and forwarding. Some even serve as virtual offices where customers can rent an office or conference room as needed to meet with clients.
  • PMB staff can alert you when you have mail or packages waiting.

Private mail boxes are a growing industry, with projected 2019 US revenues of over $2 billion and roughly 20,000 people employed in this sector. In particular, they have become a favorite of small businesses and independent professionals who need inbound and outbound mailing services.

When you need to know the difference

Now, let’s switch gears and look at this from the sender’s standpoint. The difference between a PO Box and a PMB can be huge when it comes to the delivery of products – because, as we mentioned previously, the former often cannot receive or sign for packages. It may also be important to know whether you are delivering to an actual residence or business versus a PMB for certain shipments: for example, time-critical deliveries such as refrigerated products. There are also cases where the actual recipient or an authorized agent must sign for a delivery, such as the USPS’ Certified Mail with Restricted Delivery option.

PO Boxes are easily identified by their address – they normally take the form “PO Box XXXX,” often with a ZIP+4 code tied to the specific PO Box number. PMBs, however, often use a regular street address. But with the aid of a little automation, you can determine these addresses as well.

How we can help

Our flagship DOTS Address Validation – US product has the ability to flag both PO Box and PMB addresses. It can also determine whether an address is a so-called commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA), whether or not it contains a specific PMB number. As a bonus, Address Validation also validates and corrects the addresses in your database, ensuring greater accuracy in determining the address type.

This data and more gets returned as part of Address Validation’s built-in Delivery Point Validation feature, which verifies the deliverability of an address against up-to-date USPS data. A quick look at our developer guide will show how we return this data as part of a DPV Notes code, with specific codes for a PO Box, a PMB that matches a CMRA, or a CMRA with no PMB specified. In addition, DPV Notes can flag addresses such as Rural Route, General Delivery, Military APO/FPO addresses and much more.

The bottom line? The growth of private mail boxes means that you can no longer tell by observation whether the street address you are shipping to is potentially a PMB or not. But if you need to know, for more accurate shipping with fewer problems, the tools to determine this are bundled right inside our regular address validation capabilities.

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