What’s the Point of a Zip Code Point?

The U.S. Postal Service introduced ZIP codes in 1963 as a way to make mail delivery more efficient. The point of the ZIP code was to organize the mail sort and mail delivery processes by zones – to make the postal work-flow more “Zippy.” The Post Office developed four types of ZIP codes:

Standard – what most of us know to be geographic areas assigned to ZIP codes
Post Office Box Only – for delivery to PO Boxes at specific delivery addresses
Military – for routing mail to military installations
Unique – ZIP codes for businesses or facilities that get a high-volume of mail

Here at MapBusinessOnline we break ZIP codes into two categories:
ZIP codes with Boundaries – Standard zip codes
Point ZIP Codes – All other ZIP codes (the other three categories listed above)

Most business mapping software users expect a ZIP code to be a boundary based ZIP code, and most of them are. At last count (May 2020) we list 33,264 boundary based ZIP codes in the MapBusinessOnline Data Window ZIP code layer. We include a complete list of ZIP codes in MapBusinessOnline as a separate dataset (more on this below in this blog) and that list contains 41,016 zips. That means point ZIP codes account for 7,752  ZIP codes across the nation.

Point ZIP codes are typically associated with large businesses, large education facilities, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and other large entities that take bulk deliveries of mail and handle the final delivery process.

What does a map look like with the entire public ZIP code layer loaded up?

All ZIP Codes loaded from MapBusinessOnline’s Public Data

Boundary ZIPs for Sales Territory Mapping
In MapBusinessOnline we use boundary ZIP codes as the geographic base unit for sales territory creation. These same tools are also applied to create market areas, areas of interest (AOI), or coverage areas. So, as you can see, not everyone calls the these areas territories but they amount to the same thing. Sales territory creation in MapBusinessOnline takes place when the user groups a series of ZIP codes together to form a shaded area of the map with a defined name. These ZIP codes can be assigned incrementally – one-by-one, or lassoed using a polygon creation tool, or they can be imported from a spreadsheet. (See previous blog posts for complete instructions.) I guess you could also call this ZIP code mapping. And remember, in MapBusinessOnline you can conduct the same groupings with city limits, counties, states, Census tracts, ZIP-3’s, MSA’s, and even school districts. In 2018 we also added Congressional Districts.

Each territory or AOI, once created, will list all of the boundary based ZIP codes that make up that specific area of interest. In the Data Window you’ll see your territory or AOI listed by name and neatly filed below your administrative districts – ZIP codes in this case. In the lower left it will tell you how many boundaried ZIP codes you have in your AOI data set. The user is then able to export that list out of MapBusinessOnline for use in other applications. For instance, a territory assigned to a sales representative can be exported as a list of ZIP codes for that sales rep to file as his or her area of responsibility. So this answers a common question, “Can I export all the ZIP codes within a radius?” Yes, you can.

Point ZIP Codes over Boundary ZIP Codes

Where’s My Point?
Point ZIP codes are sometimes reported as missing from territories by Map Business Online users. These point ZIP codes are actually there, embedded in the map application. Those embedded point ZIP codes just aren’t used to build coverage areas because they lack defined boundaries. To check this, key in a missing ZIP code into the Address Lookup in the upper left-hand corner of the map application. If it is a valid ZIP code you will see a ZIP code point referenced on the map, and it will be located somewhere inside of a boundary ZIP code.  When displaying point ZIP codes MapBusinessOnline will not highlight the boundaries of any ZIP code. That’s a big clue too.

If you’ve imported business data that includes sales results for one or more point ZIP codes, those results will be included in any sales calculation operation applied to the corresponding boundary-based ZIP code areas. Imported point ZIP code data always gets included in spatial queries within Map Business Online.

If you suspect you have a bunch of point ZIPs in your territory creation file make sure to check the “Ignore Point-Only ZIP Codes” check box in the second box of the Create Territories dialogue. It is on by default.

A Cautionary Note on Sales Territories and Point ZIP Codes

We speak with territory users everyday. Remember, every point ZIP code is going to be physically located within a boundary ZIP code. That is a fact of ZIP life.  The biggest challenge around territory mapping occurs when a company assigns a point ZIP code to a sales person while also assigning the surrounding boundary ZIP code to another sales person. This causes overlap.  MapBusinessOnline can display overlapping sales territories – go to Map & Data, Edit Map Layer Properties, and select the Intersection Tab. Overlap may be allowed in your org. Or it may not be allowed.  Just be aware of this issue – especially in legacy territory assignments.

Show Me All My ZIPs
In MapBusinessOnline there is a way to query each territory and generate a list of all ZIP codes – whether boundary or point based – within that territory. To accommodate this analysis we’ve included a dataset of all ZIP codes in the product. To import that list click the Plot Data on Map button – fifth button from the left on the tool-bar.

  • In the resulting dialogue page choose the lower option labeled “Select data you have already uploaded to server”
  • Note the “Public data” folder is now available to you – hit that drop down arrow and choose Public Data
  • Go all the way to the bottom and select ‘Zip Codes 2020 (May)’ or a more recent version,  then process by hitting Plot. This puts the entire ZIP code list in your map as a layer. You can turn off the points on the map that result from this import and proceed with the analysis.

Back in the Data Window you can now search or filter that layer for records. In the Data Window activate the Data drop down and select the Zip Codes May 2020 layer. To the right side of the Data Window tool-bar, select the Yellow Puzzle Piece Icon and choose a target territory – that geographic area of interest you want to query. The result will be every ZIP code from the Zip Codes May 2020 file in your selected territory – including point ZIPs. Save and export as required.

In this way MapBusinessOnline is truly a ZIP code mapping tool. In addition to color coding your maps by zip code users can plot ZIP codes on a map, show population by ZIP code, find all the ZIP codes within a radius, or simply color code one single ZIP code. As with all Map Business Online layers you have complete control of ZIP code fill shading, borders, and labeling options. You can even calculate sales totals by ZIP.

Cocktail Party Conversation
So, the next time you find yourself trying to impress a new acquaintance at a cocktail party try working point ZIP codes into the conversation. No one will know what you are talking about. If nothing else you’ll get an understanding of their tolerance for hot topics like the United State Postal Service and business mapping software. And the chances are good you’ll at least secure their home ZIP code for future follow-up, which is much better than state or county for successful locating, but not as good as a phone number. Believe me, I know.

We recommend users access MapBusinessOnline via the downloadable Map App.

The Map App install is fast and easy. The Map App is a cloud-based service, once you’ve logged in you’ll have access to all of your previously saved maps and data. The Map App is a better user experience and provides access to more features than the Web App. The Flash-based Web App link will remain available until December 15, 2020.

The Map App includes the new Map Viewer app for free non-subscriber map sharing.


MapBusinessOnline – Map Based Business Intelligence Propelling Your Business Forward

Contact: Geoffrey Ives geoffives@spatialteq.com (800) 425-9035, (207) 939-6866

MapPoint users – please consider www.MapBusinessOnline.com as your MapPoint Replacement.

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