28 November 2016
After 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:
- Freight: A freight company (I work with OTX: email@example.com) ships cartons/pallets/containers of products from our factory to 5 different fulfillment centers (Asia, Australia/NZ, Canada, US, and Europe).
- 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.
- I’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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Ship all packages so they do not require a signature for delivery.
- 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 “_________.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.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?