Behind the Scenes of Shipping 6,500 Kickstarter Rewards

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 jbergeron@bos.otxusa.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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 stonemaiergames@gmail.com.” 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.

33 Comments on “Behind the Scenes of Shipping 6,500 Kickstarter Rewards

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of really interesting information. Even though it’s not all that directly applicable to me since I’m not a creator of any crowdfunding projects (not yet anyway) I love reading all the behind the scenes details and understanding what it takes to deliver. Just finished reading your book by the way and totally loved it. I’m very grateful to you for sharing so much about what you’ve learned.

      1. Good question. So much of the book just made sense (probably because i’ve already followed your blog for a long time) and reinforced what I already knew, but if I had to choose a concept from the book that most intrigued me was the “Go Small to Win Big” chapter… really appreciated the content around staying focused on keeping things streamlined and as simple as possible. Good stuff!

  2. I was fortunate (but a bit lucky) with Yodel for this package. Fortunate in that there were no issues and I was in when they came. Lucky in that… Err… Would have been nice if they’d sent me a ‘we’re about to deliver’ e-mail or txt that day rather than the ‘we successfully delivered’ e-mail and txt about 15 and 30 minutes following delivery. As it happens I’d gotten in about 30 minutes prior, but… They clearly had my contact details, they could have used them so I could make effort to be in when they delivered rather than after letting me know the thing I already knew.

    1. Stephen: I’m glad to hear that Yodel successfully delivered your package. Indeed, I’d much prefer to work with couriers that give you a heads up when the package is on the way–that can save you a lot of worry and can save me a lot of money, as it increases the chance of a successful delivery.

  3. Jamey, More great info. Thanks for sharing this, as well as thanks a lot for making the time in your busy schedule to write your great book.

  4. Hi Jamey,

    Once again you have given to the community a wealth of useful information. I will be launching a KS campaign next year and this fulfillment information is really helpful.

    I downloaded your spreadsheet. There are a couple of broken references in the formulas. You are very kind for sharing the spreadsheet so I hate to even bring it up. If the sheet had one sample entry I think it would resolve the referencing problem and make it clearer.

    Thanks again!

    PS. I just finished your book and there is a lot of great information in there. I really enjoyed it.

    1. Roger: Thanks! Yeah, the formula in the spreadsheet depends on how many SKUs you have, and the data in them will need to be updated based on the weight and cost of your particular items. Thanks for mentioning that, and I appreciate you checking out the book!

    1. Hi Ideaspatcher/Jamey,

      Rather than Yodel in the UK you might want to consider using DPD who may still be cheaper than Fedex (depending on your requirements) but do provide the notification of delivery date/time mentioned above and have a very good reputation in the UK. (I believe they also deliver in other parts of europe but I don’t have direct experience there).

      S.

      1. I wouldn’t recommend DPD, they lost my friends parcel (about 60 cm x 60 cm x 40 cm 30 kg) and they are not even sorry for that, they don’t want to pay any compensation. She wen’t to court with them and we will see how it will end. :/

        I think they should be OK in 99% but if something goes wrong you can’t count on them.

  5. Jamey –

    The wealth of knowledge you have on shipping and fulfillment is really impressive and I want to thank you for sharing. Speaking of, is the cost/service of using multiple providers as you have that much greater than using a single source (ie. Send from China)? I like the idea of using one shipping/solution provider but maybe I am missing something. Thanks for sharing your hard earned knowledge.

    James

  6. Hey Jamey,
    I’ve got a random question for you – wasn’t sure if you had addressed this anywhere else – I looked on your other forums and didn’t see anything – so I apologize if this is redundant. So recently I exported a .csv from kickstarter, and for certain cells for certain languages (like the address cell for a Japanese backer) I got just a bunch of nonsensical characters (not even japanese itself, just weird nonsensical text). Do you ever run into this? If so is there a way you found to handle it? I’d very much appreciate your thoughts. Thanks so much! – Josh

  7. Josh: That’s an interesting issue. I haven’t experienced that, but I think it’s because the version of Excel I use recognizes other language. I bet there is some kind of Excel plugin that you’re missing–I don’t think it’s a Kickstarter export issue.

  8. Hi Jamey.

    First of all, thanks for sharing all your knowledge with us. I have read almost all your lessons. With my wife we are boardgame enthusiasts. We really loved Viticulture (and Tuscany) and Between Two Cites. We recently acquire Euphoria, and we backed Scythe.

    I’m now ending reading your book, and this motivated me to launch a KS of our most successful game: “Mi Tierra”. I’m actually trying to solve the fulfillment so this article has been very helpful. I’m sure that the few doubts I still have will be answered once I finish reading your book.

    Once again thanks a lot.

    Alberto Abudinen

  9. Hey Jamey I have a question. When you are setting up your pledge levels for “free” shipping do you adjust the reward price to include the shipping or do you have it add the shipping during checkout. For example, if I have a $35 reward level with free shipping but will require an additional $10 for Australia and non EU Europe do you create a $35 and a $45 level both with no shipping, or do you only have the $35 reward and just configure the shipping cost to be 10 for the countries that need it?

    I hope that made sense. I’m worried that having to separate prices for the same reward will be confusing.

    Thanks,

    Raymond

  10. Raymond: Right, you build the shipping subsidy into the reward price. So, if US shipping costs $10 and shipping to Sweden costs $15, I build the $10 into the reward cost. When a US backers selects the reward, they don’t add any additional shipping cost. When a Swedish backer selects the reward, they add $5 to the shipping cost (as $10 is already built into the reward cost). You have to configure the shipping fees at each reward level for every country you want to ship to at specific rates (I enter about 50 different rates), and the rest are grouped into a “worldwide” shipping tier.

  11. Jamey, I’ve heard (read) you reference freight shipping in a few different blog posts. I’m unsure what you mean by this. Do you mean shipping from China to the US or something else? It thought that the manufacturer would typically handle freight to the fulfillment company and I don’t know where else freight would come in.

    Also, how was the pricing of Funagain vs. Amazon or SFC or Fulfillrite? I’m trying to decide which way to go and what the costs will be so that I don’t under or overcharge my backers. Thanks for your posts. I’ve read almost all of them now. You are a lifesaver.

      1. Thanks so much, Jamey. So, does OTX happen to ship freight to the US from the same city as where Panda is located? Do they handle the customs clearance as well?

  12. Jamey, hi

    If i have 15k games produced in Russia without barcodes and i would like to ship them to the USA or EU. I need to buy bar codes? So for each game I need to buy a bar code? Or how does it work?

    1. Serge: It depends on what you’re doing with them in the US. If you’re fulfilling them as pre-orders, they don’t need barcodes unless you’re shipping through Amazon fulfillment. If you want to sell them through distributors, they definitely need barcodes. The same barcode can be printed on every game (or, if you’ve already printed them, you can print a sticker for each bar code that includes the barcode, the barcode number, the SKU, and “Made in Russia” and affix that sticker to the shrink wrap on the outside of each game.

      1. Jamey,

        If i decided to fulfill through Amazon because after kickstarter it is possible to continue to sell products , I need SKU, barcodes( i buy 1 barcode and glue it on each piece?)?

        How SKU works, where I enter it ? Sorry for stupid questions.. (

        1. Serge: Thanks for your question. Amazon should provide you some examples for their current specs, but the basic format is to have the barcode bar with the barcode number underneath. The SKU goes to the bottom left of the barcode, and “Made in ____” goes to the bottom right.

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