How to Ship Stuff Worldwide: 2016 Edition

28 November 2016

2016-10-14-line-items-stonemaier-tuscany-ksAfter the draining Scythe fulfillment process, I was somewhat dreading the fulfillment of the Token Trilogy/metal coins and Tuscany Essential (several different pre-orders that shipped simultaneously).

You see, my crowdfunding fulfillment process is designed to streamline everything. It’s supposed to deliver products to customers faster, cheaper, customs-friendlier, and in better condition than if I shipped them by hand from St. Louis. It’s also supposed to make my life easier, not harder!

Here’s how the 2-step process works:

  1. Freight: A freight company (I work with OTX: jbergeron@jfk.otxusa.com) ships cartons/pallets/containers of products from our factory to 5 different fulfillment centers (Asia, Australia/NZ, Canada, US, and Europe).
  2. Fulfillment: The fulfillment centers send orders to customers within each region.

See? Easy peasy. Though it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes fulfillment centers don’t dispatch quickly, or they don’t send out tracking numbers, or they don’t reply to e-mails, or they send the wrong stuff, or they package games really poorly…or all of the above.

So it’s incredibly important to work with the best fulfillment centers. I’ve come to believe that quality is much more important than price, but you can see price estimates on our master list of fulfillment companies.

Here are my current top picks by region (based on my experience with them). All of these companies were exceptional at recently delivering the Token Trilogy/metal coins and Tuscany Essential. They made my life easier and they did a great job for our customers.

  • United States: Funagain Games (honorable mention: Fulfillrite)
  • Europe: Gamesquest (honorable mention: Spainbox) [September 2017 update: I’ve heard about some Gamesquest shipments going out slower than they should, so make sure to ask about that if you talk to them]
  • Canada: Starlit Citadel (honorable mention: Snakes & Lattes)
  • Asia: VFI
  • Australia/NZ: Aetherworks

Their contact information is found on the master list.

If you’re selecting a fulfillment company, whether it’s one of these or another company, some of the things you’ll want to ask about and test are quality of packaging, speed, communication, customer service, and problem solving.

***

I think a small part of why fulfillment worked out so well this time is that I gave each fulfillment center very clear instructions. I sent them around the time the freight shipment departed from the factory, as that gave the fulfillment centers enough time to buy packing materials and ask questions.

Feel free to copy and paste the instructions below–this is exactly what I send to fulfillment centers.

  1. 2016-10-17-packed-order-stonemaier-tuscany-ksI’ve collected all updated addresses, but it’s possible I’ll still get a few more. I’ll collect them and will send you only the updated addresses—please contact me for updated addresses 1-2 days before you start shipping.
  2. Please prioritize retailer orders first, then distant orders. Other than that, there is no priority schemata. (The reason for this isn’t that we treat retailers better than individual customers; rather, it’s that big orders take longer to ship.)
  3. If you sort the spreadsheet, please make sure to sort entire rows, not just part of the data. Spot check the spreadsheet after a sort just to make sure everything is in the original alignment.
  4. Ship all packages so they do not require a signature for delivery.
  5. Send customers their tracking number by e-mail on the same day that their order leaves the facility (not when the label is made and no later than the day after the package departs). Also, it’s crucial that backers see their FULL address on tracking notifications, not a partial address that will cause them to freak out and wonder if we forgot half of their information. If you need to identify the contents of each package for tracking, the label should read “_________.”
  6. Please send me a spreadsheet of tracking numbers and couriers within 2-3 days of fulfillment completion. I can answer 90% of customer service questions if I have that data.
  7. If an order is sent in multiple packages, please make sure the customer knows that they’re receiving more than one package. That will prevent a lot of customer confusion and frustration.
  8. Please pack the products with plenty of cushioning around the edges, corners, and between differently sized components.

***

Here are a few other random tips I’ve learned over the years:

  • Bar Codes/SKUs: Some fulfillment centers require bar codes (www.buyabarcode.com or gs1); others just need SKUs (stock codes; if you’re in the board game industry, get these from heather.stoltzfus@hmahobby.org). Make sure you have both, and make sure you have a system for ensuring that you don’t use the same bar code on different products (I use a Google Doc with conditional formatting that highlights duplicate cells).
  • Made in China: If you manufacture in China, put “Made in China” on the box (or wherever you made the product). Customs will have a problem if you don’t do this.
  • Product Size: A certain number of cartons fit on a pallet (usually 48), and your manufacturer will often use the same carton size for everything they send. Keep this in mind when you determine the size of your product. For Scythe, if we had increased the box size even by 1 mm, we could have only fit 3 games per carton instead of 4. That’s a significant increase in freight shipping costs.
  • Add-Ons: The more add-ons and various configurations you offer, the more trouble you’re going to have when you fulfill rewards. Not only does it increase the potential for human error, but it also increases the cost: most fulfillment centers charge a fee for each item in the box.
  • Fee Precision: When calculating shipping rates on your crowdfunding project, use accurate fees for each country, not one-size-fits-all rates.
  • Address Updates: If you’re not using a pledge manager, use a macro to help you automatically update backer addresses.
  • Australia: If you’re sending anything to Australia that contains wood, make sure your manufacturer obtains a fumigation certificate.
  • South America: Request tax ID numbers (CPFs) from backers in South America–this will help them pick up their order from the local customs office.
  • Communication: I’ve found that keeping backers informed with frequent updates throughout the fulfillment process is really helpful for easing their anxiety.
  • Local Pickup: If you have some products in stock at your location, here are some factors to consider when offering local pickup.

***

Of course, this is far from the only way to ship stuff worldwide. There are a variety of methods you can use. Perhaps by reading my other articles about fulfillment, you can find the method that works best for you.

If you fulfilled a project in 2016, what’s something you learned that can help our fellow creators?

57 Comments on “How to Ship Stuff Worldwide: 2016 Edition

  1. This is awesome. Thank you! I second Funagain as I worked with them on my first project. Very professional and responsive. Sorting out fulfillment for small projects is quite challenging. On day one of my most recent Kickstarter, I had a lot of very vocal backers angry that I didn’t have shipping options to their country and I worked hard to find some sort of compromise and found some new routes to fulfill for them.

    1. Thanks Doug! I’m glad you touched on the importance of finding a way to ship to backers everywhere, even if it costs them a lot. I think people would rather have the option than no option at all.

  2. Love that you keep updating us as you continue to learn more – thank you! Question about SKUs – are they necessary if you already have a barcode? Which fulfillment centers required both?

    1. Juliana: All of the fulfillment centers that I highly recommended just use SKUs, though retailers really like to have bar codes too so they have the option of selling via online marketplaces. That’s why I’d recommend having both–it doesn’t hurt to have both, but there’s a very good chance it’ll hurt at some point if you only have one or the other.

      1. Hey Jamie!

        Just wondering if the ‘Postage, packaging and labour fees’ includes pick & pack and receiving fees? Or what exactly is the breakdown of that category of cost?

        Thanks for all your work!
        Nicole

        1. Nicole: Yes, it’s supposed to include pick and pack and processing fees (pretty much everything but warehousing fees). But I’d recommend reaching out to a few of them for more precise estimates just for your project.

  3. There are a number of other companies that offer fulfillment in the US that aren’t on the master list. Just off the top of my head, there is Black Box (under the umbrella of Cards Against Humanity) and the “new” kid on the block Quartermaster Logistics (which is an arm of CoolStuffInc.). I’ll see if I can come up with more.

    1. That’s true, not every company is on there. Whenever I hear about a company, I reach out to them and see if they want to add their info to the Google Doc. I reached out to Black Box a while ago and never heard back. If a company can’t communicate with a potential customer, it makes me hesitant to think they’ll communicate well with customers.

  4. “Please prioritize […] distant orders”. Living in New Zealand I would love this practice to be more common. I received most of my backed project between 1 and 2 months after everybody, and it is always a shame to see that in addition to the long delivery time, package for remote locations like mine are often prepared the latest in the fulfilment center, increasing the delay even more. I receive my Scythe in about the same time than everyone else around the world (even a bit in advance), thanks for that.

    1. That’s actually one of the nice things about this shipping method, especially when manufacturing in China–Australia is close to China in comparison to most other prevalent shipping areas, so backers in New Zealand really should get their rewards a little before everyone else!

  5. Hi Jamey – great to hear you’ve had better luck fulfilling in Australia. Hope Aetherworks continue to be reliable for fulfillment, and look forward to your future projects.

  6. Hey Jamey. I don’t mean to derail this topic, but the post made me wonder whether you are planning to do another run of the metal coins for these two games. I missed out on picking them up, but Viticulture has become by far my most played game in the past month, as I’ve been playing it solo nearly every day, and so plan on picking up Scythe as well.

  7. Hi Jamie, for a fulfillment center like Starlit Citadel (who are also a fairly big online board game retailer), are you also shipping games to them (for their own stock) as part of the fulfillment inventory (two birds, one stone kind of thing) or is that done at another point?

  8. Fantastic advice. One thing I learned this year is that sending out surveys right after your campaign ends is important with this type of fulfillment. Once you are armed with the exact number of copies that need to go to each region, you can look for logistics optimizations that can save you a ton of money while improving the experience for your backers.

    When I have used simpler fulfillment strategies, I liked waiting until ~1 month before shipping before sending out surveys to reduce the number of incorrect addresses received from those who have moved.

    1. Thanks Brian! I agree that it’s quite a contrast. It’s nice to have that information up front (and somewhat necessary, as you need to know the final quantity no matter how you ship stuff), but it results in a lot of address changes much later.

  9. Hi Jamey,

    In your experience, was there a fee to obtain/process the fumigation certificate as required for Australia?

    How do you generally manage shipments in small quantities (less than a carton) to areas outside of your fulfillment centers scope of delivery and how do they influence your budget?

    Are there any regions you consider as high risk and would you ever exclude any regions from fulfillment?

    Thank you for doing what you do!

    1. Tom: I think there is a small fee, but it’s wrapped up in our manufacturing cost, so I never see it.

      I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an area that is outside of my fulfillment centers’ scope of delivery. Can you give me an example?

      That’s tough…I don’t like to exclude people. That said, we’ve had a hard time delivering to South America (Brazil in particular), Russia, and Africa (South Africa in particular).

      1. Well, I tend to overthink things a bit… but I can’t help myself ; )

        So, here it goes….

        Based upon your current methods…

        I was wondering more so about remote areas of delivery and whether or not you have ever incurred any surcharges and how it may have affected your fulfillment budgets.

        I’m just wondering if surcharges are something to consider or factor into a budget based upon your experience.

        1. Tom: Well, what I try to do is tell backers where their games are being shipped from, so if they know that shipping something from X location to Y destination will result in surcharges, it’s their responsibility. On rare occasions there will be a completely unexpected surcharge, and usually if the backer approaches me about it in a reasonable way, I’ll help them out with it.

        1. Juma: The best thing I’ve found is to include the backer’s CPF on the package–that seems to help out the Brazilian custom’s office. Also, in hindsight, I wish I had followed up with Brazilian backers a few weeks after the games ship to encourage them to go to the customs office if they haven’t received their game. I still occasionally get e-mails from backers in Brazil who never received their copy of Scythe, and it’s way too late now–the game was sent from France to Brazil, held for a while, then sent all the way back to France (to a warehouse that I’ll never get the game from). That’s a really expensive way for someone to note get their game–for me and for them–so I the follow-up e-mail may have prevented that from happening.

          1. I heard that many creators do not offer fulfilling to Brazil and Russia in the first place.

            So is there any greater risk that copies are lost in customs or during fulfillment even if backers go to the customs office to pick up their games?

          2. Juma: If backers go to customs to pick up their games, it’s about the same amount of risk as any other country. But you’re relying on backers to do that, and you’re relying on their customs offices to be organized and efficient.

  10. Thanks for the article. Do you happen to have any recommendations for a worldwide fulfillment company? Or domestic and international? I’m thinking of using Fulfillrite in the US, but they don’t offer customs friendly shipping internationally.

    I’m shipping books, so that should cut down on VATs and other fees, but I would still prefer to ship with as few surprises to foreign backers as possible.

    I was going to use Shipnaked.com for their EU friendliness, but they’ve been impossible to get in touch with for nearly three weeks now. Maybe after Christmas they’ll wake up.

    1. If you’re asking for a single company to ship everywhere, I know of some (Shipwire, Send from China, Blackbox, Shiphopper), but I’m not sure I’d recommend that route. The only way you’re going to get customs friendly shipping is if you ship from within a region. It only takes a little more coordination for you to do that on your own than to find a single source to do it for you (and you can probably do it faster).

      If a company doesn’t reply to you when you’re trying to get their business, that’s a huge red flag. Find a company who communicates well from day one.

      1. Yeah, I meant a single company. I have about 2500 units to ship, and around 800 of those are international (mostly Europe), so I’m not sure if it would be worth it to use multiple fulfillment companies. I’ll have to figure that out.

        I heard shipnaked might be going out of business, so that explains that. ;)

  11. Thanks again for a great post, Jamey!

    I am currently in the pre-production phase of Abandon Planet, and am looking to make 100% sure about everything on the back of the box. Most of the items are in place (thanks to your posts), but I’m wondering the following:

    – Some games have CE Markings, and others don’t. Do you feel like a game should have CE marking? AP is for 12+, but I haven’t done any chemical testing type activities for it.

    – Z-Man and FFG games list their company addresses as well. Do you see this is as necessary?

    – I contacted Heather at HMAHobby about the company code. Supposing the code comes back as OMG (Orange Machine Games), should my game code be OMG 001?

    – FFG has more fine text than anyone, including bits about ‘reproduction not allowed,’ and ‘all items trademarked by FFG’ etc. How necessary do you see this type of info, as well at TM-ing all the names?

    – Lastly, some boxes list game contents and others don’t. If I feel the images depict the game’s contents fairly well, is this necessary? Is there any other reason to include it?

    I know that’s a lot of questions, and I appreciate your time. I imagine others will likely benefit from knowing the above as well. Thanks!

    – Don

    1. Thanks Don! I’ll hit these one by one:

      – Some games have CE Markings, and others don’t. Do you feel like a game should have CE marking? AP is for 12+, but I haven’t done any chemical testing type activities for it.

      I’ve gone back and forth about this, and I’m sure opinions will vary. I think it’s better to put CE on the box. The worst-case scenario if you do is that customs in Europe will flag it because it hasn’t actually been tested, but then you can just test it real quick and proceed. The worst case scenario if you don’t put CE on the box is much worse (the games may all be shipped back to the source).

      – Z-Man and FFG games list their company addresses as well. Do you see this is as necessary?

      I’ve heard it’s helpful to list a European address on the box, but I haven’t heard the same for the US.

      – I contacted Heather at HMAHobby about the company code. Supposing the code comes back as OMG (Orange Machine Games), should my game code be OMG 001?

      That’s an interesting acronym. :) The number can be anything you’d like. The way I’ve done it is that my Viticulture line is the 100s (101, 102, 103, etc), Euphoria is the 200s, etc. Eventually that system is going to fail, though, so I’ll have to start over with 150, 250, etc (or maybe they’ll allow 4-digit codes?)

      – FFG has more fine text than anyone, including bits about ‘reproduction not allowed,’ and ‘all items trademarked by FFG’ etc. How necessary do you see this type of info, as well at TM-ing all the names?

      That seems like overkill to me.

      – Lastly, some boxes list game contents and others don’t. If I feel the images depict the game’s contents fairly well, is this necessary? Is there any other reason to include it?

      Some customers may use that list to check the components in the box, but if you have a detailed list in the rulebook, you should be covered. I wouldn’t say it hurts to have the full list on the bottom of the box, but it isn’t necessary.

  12. I purchased my barcodes at http://www.buyabarcode.com as you suggested, and it does seem like a good site. However I notice that their codes can’t be used for Walmart/Target and others, which might include Barnes & Noble. Apparently you need to buy directly from gs1 to get a code that they’ll accept.

    Just wondering if you were aware of that? And either way thought I’d mention it here for others. Obviously getting into the really big retailers is a stretch, but doesn’t hurt to aim high!

  13. Just the article I was looking for. Thanks for an extensive description on the way to fulfill pledges. This was a major help for me. Though some questions did arise:

    1. Do you usually send your games only to one fullfilment centre which then sends the games to backers all over the world or do you send to multiple fullfilment centres which then send games to their countries respective backers?

    2. Do fullfilment centres get already packed games and they just need to send them out or do they have to pack the game components together to get a game which they then send out? I realise that this could depend on the manufacturer.

    3. What is a typical fee of a fullfilment centre? On what is it based?

    4. Is there any source where I can check the sizes of cartons/pallets/containers?

    I realise that these questions are probably some really “noob” questions, but they have really been on my mind for quite some time now and I could’t find info on them (yet).

    I would like to thank you for all the great articles you have written. I enjoyed reading quite a few of them along with your book which I own. :)

    Regards, Milan

  14. Thanks for your questions! I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1. I send games to multiple fulfillment centers–ideally one per region (see the list mentioned in this blog post).

    2. The games themselves are assembled at the factory of origin, not the fulfillment center. That’s standard.

    3. It’s based on size, weight, etc. See the Google Doc on this blog entry for some estimates.

    4. I’m not sure if there is a standard carton or pallet size–it may depend on manufacturer.

  15. Hello Jamey Stegmaier very good your article!

    I have a doubt the charge company is to send the games to the compliance center?

    Can you recommend a company that prints letters and sends?

    Thank you for your response to your hand

  16. That if the fulfillment centers cover the transport of merchandise or are two companies apart?

    Is it necessary to have Z-Man and FFG?

    1. Z-Man and FFG are publishers, not fulfillment centers. If you self-publish a game, using the method I describe in this post, you’ll pay a freight company to send your games from the factory to a fulfillment center, then you’ll pay the fulfillment center to ship individual games to your backers.

  17. Hello Jamey Stegmaier thank you very much for your answer ..

    Sorry for the inconvenience but I have another question

    Which of these bar codes should I use UPC or EAN?

    Which is the most used bar code or SKU?

    My games are cards

    1. I think UPC is the most commonly used bar code format for board games. I get mine from buyabarcode.com. SKU is a different thing–that’s a unique code you use for your company’s line of products.

  18. Great article, I took extensive notes and also plan on reaching out to these companies.

    The questions I have are:
    These prices from the Master list are only for the actual delivery by the fulfillment company, and not including the freight cost to get them there?

    How much is the average cost of freight to get the game to the fulfillment centers.

    Thanks

    1. Clinton: Thanks! The freight shipping cost depends on the size of the game. if it’s, say, about the size of Viticulture, and you fill a shipping container with them, it’s about $1.50-$2.00 per game.

  19. Hi Jamie–Love your games and your blog! I had a question I was wondering if you could talk about? Our company had a game backed on KS, it shipped out, and nearly all of our backers are happy, but we’ve encountered a backer who, after two attempted shipments already, continues to say that (he or she) haven’t received their game. We’ve double checked to make sure the address is correct and nothing is wrong on our end, and we obviously don’t want to accuse them of making it up–we’re really trying to accommodate this backer, but I wondered if you had any advice on how to deal with customers saying they did not get their game after several attempted shipments? We’ve even tracked the package to the destination, but they are saying it didn’t get there. How do you deal with a situation like this, especially when we’re just starting out and our inventory and budget are small? Thanks for listening, and I’d be very grateful for any insight you could provide.

    1. Erik: That’s a great question. I’ve certainly had that happen a number of times over the years. I always ask backers for a reliable, secure address, but they don’t always provide one, and packages are stolen.

      I think it’s your choice to decide if you trust the backer or not. If you believe that they really did not receive the package, then I’d recommend asking them for a more secure address so you can ship them another copy.

      If you don’t believe them, my recommendation would just be to refund their pledge and move on.

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