An address is an essential element in the data activities of every organisation. It’s the core piece of locational data that enables businesses to locate, sell to and communicate with existing and prospective customers. But achieving address accuracy is a major challenge, particularly for businesses operating on a global scale.
That’s why we’ve developed our global addressing blog series. With the help of our product specialist, Chris Harman, and addressing expert, Graham Rhind, we’ll take a deep dive into global postal formats. We’ll look at the complexities and nuances of international addresses, while providing expert advice on the technology and solutions that tackle these challenges head on.
There are very few cases where address data can be ignored or where its quality and accuracy are not paramount. An accurate address reduces checkout friction, helps prevent fraud, allows for a higher level of customer experience, and expedites cross-border commerce.
Having poor quality address data in your systems, or allowing good quality address data to deteriorate, will have major consequences for your levels of service, for your customer relationships and crucially, your bottom line.
Globally, there are currently 249 countries and territories, with approximately 7,117 languages spoken.
On a very basic level, there are around 130 postal address formats worldwide, which already presents a significant challenge for businesses. But when we delve a little deeper into each country’s standard formats, there are hundreds of variations and nuances that could pose further problems.
In most countries, addresses are created from the policies, decisions and inputs from government and other organisations. They are usually managed and maintained by a single organisation – often the national postal services. State or national governments define the borders of municipalities, while postal services tend to create postal code systems.
The street naming and building numbering is often down to local councils. And while many of these follow accepted patterns and forms, there are always those errant officials who make their mark by coming up with creative and divisive address systems that even some locals have issues understanding.
Only a handful of countries have a standard postal address format. Most regions around the world use different ways to describe a location – such as neighbourhood names, points of interest, or directions to a location. As you can imagine, this injects a lot of noise into the data.
We solve this problem by combining the richest globally curated data from multiple postal, geospatial and local sources with a sophisticated matching and verification engine, ensuring the most accurate address data is captured and returned. The result is verified address data that’s standardised, enriched, and structured to the most appropriate local format.
Addresses can be deceiving. Even some of the seemingly simple systems can have their quirks. Take Dutch addresses for example. They appear to be systematic and regulated, containing only four (sometimes five) pieces of information per address. But complexities can still occur.
Let’s look at an example of a typical Dutch address:
Plein 40-45 40-IIIa
1000 CA AMSTERDAM
Looks easy enough, right? Well, it’s not as simple as it might seem. To the untrained eye, the street name would appear to be the word ‘Plein’. But this actually translates as ‘Square’ and it’s in fact the numbers ‘40-45’ that indicate the street name (they refer to the years 1940-1945). The second number ‘40’ is the building number, ‘III’ is the floor indicator and the lowercase letter ‘a’ represents the position of the apartment on that floor.
1000 CA is the postal code. But you’d be surprised by the number of times companies and systems identify the two letters in this code as a state code. Amsterdam? In California? You can see how that might cause confusion.
This address is apparently easy to interpret. After all, it’s a correctly formatted and spelled address. But in practice the issues are more challenging, throwing off systems and even human interpretation. Add in typos, altered element placing, abbreviations, punctuation, diacritical marks, missing data, the use of endonyms and exonyms, plus addresses in different local and international languages – and you have a cocktail of headache-inducing complexity on your hands.
The examples are endless. There are:
Building numbers can also be very high, sometimes making them hard to distinguish from numeric postal codes. And sometimes they don’t follow a recognisable sequence on the ground, making them a challenge to map.
There are street names which consist only of words usually recognisable as street types, such as ‘Avenue Road’. Or town names that are street types, such as ‘Street’ in Somerset, UK.
Street and town names can be very short – one letter, in fact. On the other hand, they can be very long – too often much longer than the space you allow in your database to store them. Streets also often change names multiple times along their route or are not contiguous. They can contain punctuation, like ‘Westward Ho!’. Or diacritical marks, which too many systems still won’t allow to be stored.
Then there are the systems based on directions and distances from a single point, such as those used in Wisconsin and Salt Lake City in the USA. Or distances and directions from junctions, such as in Quito in Ecuador. Or block and building systems, such as in Mannheim, Germany and Japan. Many systems are unprepared for addresses like this:
W124N8145 Hwy 145
MENOMONEE FALLS WI 53051
It can all sound rather dry, but there’s humour to be found. South Yorkshire Police have an office on ‘Letsby Avenue’ (that’s humour that probably doesn’t travel well). And This Street, That Street and The Other Street in Newfoundland, Canada, were probably named in the few minutes before office closing time on a Friday before a long weekend!
It’s very common to underestimate the challenges you’ll face when you enter the world of addressing. Managing and validating about 60% of addresses from the economic top 10% of countries is plausible. But after that, the exceptions and difficulties multiply rapidly.
Addresses aren’t static. They change. And whole systems can change, perhaps more often than you might think. Buildings can be renumbered, streets and cities renamed, boundaries changed, and postal codes altered.
Managing addresses is not a trivial exercise. But it can be done – as a process rather than a project. The basis to bring all these processes to fruition is always knowledge. You can study addresses and addressing daily for decades and still be surprised by new and exotic idiosyncrasies. So, choosing to acquire all the knowledge you will need from scratch is usually not the best option.
Fortunately, it’s not necessary because we’ve been there and done the work for you.
Loqate is the most advanced software for capturing, verifying and enriching address data globally at scale. The Loqate Standard in global address verification gives businesses across industries the unrivalled precision and reliability they need to make location data-driven decisions, deliver superior customer experiences, help prevent fraud and enable cross-border commerce.
How? It’s all thanks to our Global Reference Data. We curate the most comprehensive and precise premise-level address data in the world by combining multiple data sources into a consistent and reliable single view of a location. We then apply our industry-leading technology, human expertise, local knowledge and cultural context to enhance the data’s precision and relevance.
In simple terms: we’re the addressing experts, so you don’t have to be.
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