12 November 2015
Before I delve into the Scythe postmortem and stats next week, it’s time to discuss what I learned from shipping Between Two Cities and the new treasure chests (they shipped at the same time). This is the first Kickstarter fulfillment process I’ve implemented that didn’t use Amazon multi-channel fulfillment at all, so it was a bit of an experiment for me.
Overall, this fulfillment process involved sending rewards to about 6,500 backers, 820 of which were backers of both Between Two Cities and the treasure chests. A dozen or so of those shipments are still en route.
Between Two Cities’ estimated delivery month on Kickstarter was November 2015, and the new treasure chests’ estimated delivery month was January 2016. We delivered the vast majority of those shipments in October 2015, with the only stragglers being packages with data-entry or packing errors (and backers in South America, whose shipments take longer in transit).
I used a company called Dimerco to handle the freight shipping for these games, but my main contact at Dimerco (Justin Bergeron) moved to a company called OTX. Based on my experiences working with Dimerco without Justin, I can no longer recommend them at all. I’ve already worked with Justin on freight shipping the new edition of Viticulture through OTX, and it’s been awesome. You can contact him at email@example.com.
So let’s jump in and talk about the companies I used to ship these games. I want to note up front that there are now quite a few great companies listed on the fulfillment Google Doc. My praise for the companies below isn’t a judgment of the companies I didn’t work with–I think they all have potential, and I’d love to hear from creators who have used those other companies. At the same time, I’m going to be brutally honest about areas of improvement for the companies I used.
US Fulfillment: FUNAGAIN GAMES
Why I Chose Them: Funagain had a great reputation for knowing how to package board games, and their communication leading up to our arrangement was superb.
My Overall Experience: Funagain lived up to their reputation in every way. The vast majority of rewards were perfectly packed, and their communication both with me and with backers was excellent. They’ve also made post-KS individual order fulfillment really easy thanks to a Google Doc I set up.
Areas of Improvement: The one tiny mistake Funagain made was that they labeled all packages “Between Two Cities,” even though some of the packages contained only treasure chests. Most backers figured out what this meant, but some were confused. Funagain knows to be more precise about this for future combined shipments.
Europe, Middle East, South America, and Africa Fulfillment: IDEASPATCHER
Please make sure to first read this post from 2016 before considering Ideaspatcher.
Why I Chose Them: I had worked with Ideaspatcher before on several previous projects, so I already knew how easy they were to work with and how well they packaged games. Their prices were even better than the previous times I used them.
My Overall Experience: They lived up to their reputation in terms of packaging quality and prices, and their communication was mostly very good. I made a data-entry mistake on a few shipments, and they were very accommodating in fixing it quickly. Ideaspatcher also uses a Google Doc for individual orders, which is really handy.
Areas of Improvement: While I would absolutely work with Ideaspatcher in the future, there were a lot more issues this time than the previous shipments:
- Like Funagain, they listed every package as “Between Two Cities,” which confused backers who had only ordered the treasure chests.
- About a dozen backers were accidentally sent the French version of Between Two Cities instead of the special edition they ordered.
- Communication with errored or concerned backers was a lot slower than I’d like it to be. This is largely my responsibility, but there were a number of times when I didn’t have the answers and had to CC the folks at Ideaspatcher, and the responses could take 3-5 days instead of 1 day. I could have addressed about 90% of these issues myself if Ideaspatcher had sent me spreadsheets with the tracking numbers as soon as the packages were sent.
- Ideaspatcher used a company called Landmark for many of the packages, and I haven’t been impressed with them. Some packages just seem to stall in their system and not move for a long time, while others are marked as “successful delivery” to a backer while really Landmark just delivered the package to their local post office. Ideaspatcher has used FedEx in the past, and I’d like them to return to FedEx, as they were significantly better than Landmark.
- Ideaspatcher also used a company in the UK called Yodel, which is apparently notorious for leaving packages in people’s yards or even at the wrong location.
Canada Fulfillment: SNAKES & LATTES
Why I Chose Them: They had a great reputation for packing games well, and they responded quickly when I reached out to them about working together.
My Overall Experience: Like the other companies I’ve mentioned, they packed the games extremely well. They also have a really nice online system for monitoring current inventory.
Areas of Improvement: There are just two small areas that made Snakes & Lattes fulfillment harder to use than it should be. They have you use their spreadsheet template instead of your own, which is fine, but every SKU must have its own line on the spreadsheet. So if John Doe orders 1 copy of Between Two Cities and 1 copy of the Food Crate, those would be separate lines on the spreadsheet under the same order number. This is how Amazon did their fulfillment as well. To put it mildly, it’s a huge hassle and significantly increases the chances of human error as you’re separating each order into multiple rows in Excel.
The other area of improvement is that the Snakes & Lattes online system doesn’t have a form to fill out for entering individual orders. Instead, if I get an order in Canada, I have to create an entire spreadsheet just for that one order and upload it to the Snakes & Lattes site. It is not ideal.
Asia Fulfillment: AGILITY
Why I Chose Them: I’ve worked with Agility several times in the past, and while packing and shipping games has been a learning process for them, they’ve been very open to improving each time.
My Overall Experience: Agility was careful to double-wrap everything in bubble wrap and box it well. There were still a few games with dented corners, but that was very rare. They were also quick to respond to customer service requests.
Areas of Improvement: The only big thing is that Agility is quite slow. Whereas most of these other shipping companies were able to start shipping games within 2-3 days of receiving the inventory, Agility took 2-3 weeks. Fortunately they’re in China, so they get the games faster than anyone else, but I’d like for them to pick up the pace a little bit.
Australia/NZ Fulfillment: GOOD GAMES
Why I Chose Them: I’ve worked with Good Games a number of times. They know how to package games well, and shipping through them means saving backers in Australia and New Zealand a ton of money compared to shipping from other countries.
My Overall Experience: It was just as good–if not better–than any other time we’ve used them. They’re fast, responsive, and ship games well.
Areas of Improvement: It’s just a small thing, but I wish Good Games would use my Google Doc system for individual orders. Instead, they seem to prefer that I forward them the order e-mails as they arrive, which makes it hard for me to track if those packages have been sent. In fact, I hardly ever receive tracking numbers from Good Games. It’s never been an issue for some reason, but they would be handy to have just in case.
Before I end this, I want to mention two things I learned about handling the shipping process this time around that I will continue to do in the future:
- How to get backers to update their address: I used to send an e-mail to backers asking for address updates, but I’ve found that many people don’t look at that e-mail. However, tons of people respond when they get an official notice from Kickstarter saying their package is about to be shipped (they get this notice when you close address updates on Kickstarter). I’ll import all of those new addresses into my master spreadsheet using this macro.
- What to do when a backer doesn’t update their address: I heard from a handful of backers after their rewards had been shipped that we had sent to an outdated address. Sometimes this was my mistake, but usually it was just that they forgot to update the address until it was too late. I don’t like paying for this, but I also don’t like forcing a backer to pay for it either (it feels weird for some reason), so I’ve started writing the following in my response: “We will ship your game to you again at our expense, but if you would like to pay for it, you can send $10 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.” That way it’s clear to backers that there is a way to compensate for their mistake if they’d like.
Also, if you’d like to use the same spreadsheet format I sent to most of these companies (except Snakes & Lattes), you can download it here. I really, really liked being able to use my own spreadsheet instead of having to conform the data to someone else’s template.
If you have any comments or questions, I’m happy to address them below! You can also read more about shipping and fulfillment here.
If you’ve read my crowdfunding book and have some opinions about it, I would be honored if you shared them in the form of a review or rating on Amazon. This is a great way for you to spread the messages of community, generosity, creativity, and selflessness I talk about in the book.