12 August 2016
Last week I wrote about the process and emotional toll of shipping Scythe. In this second and final post about that campaign, I’m going to discuss and rate each of the fulfillment companies we used to ship Scythe to backers within each region.
Before I get to the ratings, I’m going to share the e-mail I sent to each fulfillment center when I finalized the shipping spreadsheets. In case you’d like to use the same e-mail, I’ve italicized the words that need to be customized and bolded the instructions that several of our fulfillment centers didn’t follow. I’ve touched up the e-mail in a few places so it works as a template.
Hi! With Scythe approaching ports and hopefully moving smoothly through customs, I wanted to go ahead and send you the fulfillment spreadsheet so you can start ordering supplies and creating labels. Below are our instructions for you—please look over them today and let me know if you have any questions.
- Backers in your region are expecting to receive their games within the following range: June 26 to July 14. If this changes, please let me know in advance, as some backers may need to change their addresses.
- I’ve sent out multiple notices to backers asking them to update their 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 slower orders (orders to distant regions or large freight orders). Other than that, there is no priority schemata.
- 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.
- Please send customers their tracking numbers by e-mail as soon as their orders ship. Also, it’s crucial that backers see their FULL address on tracking notifications, not a partial address that will cause them to wonder if we forgot half of their information. If you need to identify the contents of each package for tracking, the label should read “Scythe rewards.” It would also be extremely helpful if your tracking notifications to backers included an e-mail address for someone at the fulfillment center to respond to urgent issues.
- I should receive a spreadsheet of tracking numbers and couriers within 2-3 days of an order shipping. Shipping everything will likely take longer than 2-3 days, so you may need to send me multiple spreadsheets. 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 unnecessary customer service.
- Please pack Scythe with plenty of cushioning around the edges, corners, and between differently sized components. The cardboard boxes should be thick and sturdy. I would much rather spend extra money on packaging than replacing damaged games.
- There are 5 different versions of Scythe. They have different SKUs and slightly different names on the top of the box, but they’re still very similar. Please emphasize to your warehouse staff that the difference matters. It will be very costly if a customer receives, say, a Premium Edition instead of a Collector’s Edition—they want the box that says “Collector’s Edition,” so it will require both a return shipment and a reshipment to fix such a problem.
I’ve rated the following companies on a 10-point scale using a composite score for each of the categories. They’re listed in order between best to worst. Note that “price” is not a category. I’ve found that price matters much less to me than these other categories, and pretty much any fulfillment center on our list offers reasonable prices.
Funagain Games (United States)
- Quality (8): Funagain followed our instructions to put padding (packing peanuts) on all sides of the games. The only shortcoming was that the cardboard boxes weren’t as thick as they could have been.
- Speed (10): Funagain shipped 9600 orders in 17 days, a rate of 565 orders a day.
- Communication (10): Absolutely superb. Nick was in touch leading up to fulfillment, and David continued to communicate excellently after that.
- Customer Service (10): I’m almost without words for this one, because David was so incredible in responding to hundreds of backers who wrote back to him. I saw the e-mails, but instead of me needing to go to David to act on them, he would just take care of it.
- Problem Solving (10): There weren’t many problems to solve, but when they arose, Funagain was proactive, not just reactive. For example, I had a few customers reply to say that they were missing metal coin and realistic resource add-ons. I asked David to fix them. But David took it a step further and identified a pattern–there were actually about 20 backers with the exact same order who didn’t receive any add-ons by mistake. Because he figured that out, I was able to contact those backers in advance and let them know so they weren’t surprised when they opened their package (and we assured them that we were fixing the problem, which we soon did).
- FINAL RATING: 9.6
Starlit Citadel (Canada)
- Quality (10): I think Starlit had the best packaging of anyone, as I don’t remember any issues being reported (I’m sure there were some–no one’s perfect–but there were so few that it’s negligible).
- Speed (7): Starlit shipped 1540 orders in 10 days, a rate of 154 orders a day. These stats are a little misleading because we discovered the macro issue in the middle of Starlit’s fulfillment, so they had to stop and fix the spreadsheet. Overall, even with a smaller team, they worked quite quickly.
- Communication (10): Both Tao and Elise communicated with me at all key times, and that communication continues. They know the exact right mix of contacting me when I need to be contacted and just taking care of things when I’m not needed.
- Customer Service (10): Starlit was available to answer questions from customers to the point that I was hardly ever needed.
- Problem Solving (10): Midway through shipping, it became apparent that there might be a postal strike in Canada. Starlit identified the issue and sorted through all of the orders to figure out which ones they could ship in time to beat the strike and which orders just may not make it so we could contact those customers in advance. It was an incredible effort.
- FINAL RATING: 9.4
- Quality (6): Agility’s packaging was subpar, yet it actually got the job done in many cases. Most games were wrapped in a single layer of bubble wrap and snuggly packed in the box.
- Speed (1): Agility shipped 515 orders in 29 days, a rate of 18 orders a day. It was a real struggle to get them to start shipping Scythe (the “29 days” represents the time between when they received the games and when they shipped the last package), and I’m not sure what took so long.
- Communication (8): Despite the language difference, Cici does a great job of communicating in English. She responds quickly to e-mails.
- Customer Service (4): The big shortcoming with Agility is that they didn’t send out tracking numbers in a timely manner. I had to constantly push for them to send out the tracking numbers, and many customers received their tracking notifications after they received their order.
- Problem Solving (9): Cici does a good job at contacting backers directly if there’s an issue with their addresses. She needed to do this with some Korean-language addresses, and she took care of it without me needing to do much (other than assure backers the e-mail from her was legit).
- FINAL RATING: 5.6
Let’s Play Games/Good Games (Australia)
- Quality (2): Let’s Play made a conscious choice to ignore my packing instructions. After damaged games started getting reported, Let’s play explained that they didn’t have issues before on other games, so they figured they didn’t need to follow my instructions for 5 kg, $170 game. Even after the issue was out in the open, they didn’t seem to improve.
- Speed (2): Let’s Play shipped 810 orders in 25 days, a rate of 32 orders a day. Similar to Agility, Let’s Play took a long time to start shipping out games, despite having plenty of notice that they were inbound.
- Communication (7): Let’s Play communicated well throughout the process, particularly Kim. No complaints here other than the previous note about them not communicating to me that they weren’t following specific instructions (even though I asked them in advance if there were any questions or concerns about my instructions).
- Customer Service (7): It was solid. Kim replied to most requests promptly without me getting involved too often.
- Problem Solving (5): It’s tough to rate this because most of the problems were ones created by Let’s Play (like how long it took them to start shipping and the poor packaging). I would say in general that they just weren’t proactive enough. Like, Kim told me that one of their box suppliers had a delay, and that was impacting Let’s Play. But those boxes could have been ordered weeks in advance using the fulfillment spreadsheet I sent, and when the delay arose, they could have ordered from someone else.
- FINAL RATING: 4.6
This one requires a preface: I’ve shipped from Ideaspatcher several times before. I’ve lauded them on this blog. I had no reason to foresee the debacle that was going to happen over the last month.
But Ideaspatcher grew too quickly, and soon their warehouse wasn’t enough. So they started outsourcing to a much bigger warehouse with higher capacity. This warehouse has performed well for them in the past. I was aware that Ideaspatcher was using this warehouse, and I asked several times if they would offer the same quality that Ideaspatcher had offered in the past. I was assured they would.
Well, that’s not what happened. The ratings below reflect the service of Ideaspatcher’s outsourced warehouse. However, it’s important to remember that I hired Ideaspatcher to do a job, and regardless of which company they hired to do that job, they are accountable for that company.
- Quality (1): A backer’s first impression of a game is the package they receive. When the package looks like the one on the right–as hundreds of packages did, maybe more–that’s not the impression you want to make. The sight inside the box isn’t much better, as almost all of the boxes were completely oversized with just a few air bags. It’s a stark contrast to Ideaspatcher’s past packing jobs, which were as good as Starlit’s and Funagain’s. Also, there were a large number of shipments where backers were missing items that were clearly on the packing slip.
- Speed (1): Ideaspatcher shipped 5390 orders in 37 days, a rate of 146 orders a day. That may seem like a decent rate, but I was told at various times that they could ship between 600-1500 packages a day. Also, from the beginning, the games arrived…and just sat there for a while. They kept changing their dates throughout the process, often after the previous date had passed. Plus, I specifically asked them in the instructions to send slower orders first, but they waited until the last day to send out the big freight retail backer orders.
- Communication (5): This was both good and bad. Whenever I had a question for Victor or Yanis, they usually answered it quickly. But I wish their proactive communication was better. Ideaspatcher’s major flaw–this is shared by their parent company, Morning Players–is that they usually only inform you of a problem they know about if you ask them if there’s a problem, and they only tell you they missed a deadline after the deadline has passed (or when it’s too late to address anything that could address the deadline).
- Customer Service (4): Similar to Agility, Ideaspatcher struggled to send out tracking numbers in a timely manner. I heard from a number of backers who received their tracking numbers after they had already received the games (some customers never received tracking numbers). They didn’t always reply to customer requests, resulting in me repeatedly asking for them to give any information they had. To their credit, as they missed deadline after deadline, they did send me the e-mails of the backers who were delayed so I could contact them to know about the delay.
- Problem Solving (2): This fulfillment seemed like an endless string of solving problems. I never felt like Ideaspatcher was acting in a way that would prevent or be proactive about issues. I just heard a lot of excuses (with the exception of a conversation I had with Tim and Yanis at Gen Con, where they basically said, “Yeah, it sucked–we’re just as shocked as you.” That moment of honesty meant a lot to me–that’s so much more powerful than excuses and half explanations). Like, when it became clear that the packaging was poor during the first week of shipping, they should have fixed it during the next 2 weeks. When it became clear that some packages weren’t going to be shipped as scheduled, they should have offered accurate dates. Instead, on multiple occasions, the warehouse waited until a due date to say, “There are issues with the addresses that we need to fix now, so there will be a delay.” One of those times I’m pretty sure the warehouse was outright lying just to buy more time. The one bright spot was that even though there were a number of packages missing items (they were mispacked or there were holes in the shipping box that the items fell out of), Victor was great at handling those issues.
- FINAL RATING: 2.6
I have two overall conclusions from working with these companies:
- I will most definitely work with Starlit and Funagain in the future. I would buy them fancy dinners just to convince them to work with us again. The others, not so much. I’m not 100% against it, but for my next fulfillment, I’ll be testing out Aetherworks in Australia, VFI in China, and Spainbox in Europe.
- For all three of the low-rated companies above, I had successfully shipped through them in the past. I was fully confident that they would do the same with Scythe. I asked them many times if they could handle a fulfillment this size, and they assured me they could. But 3 out of these 5 vetted companies were worse than last time. If past performance isn’t an indicator of the future, what confidence can I have that any fulfillment company isn’t going to mess it up next time? This concern is a big part of the reason why I’m moving away from Kickstarters and pre-orders. You can do everything right with a project (or close to it), but if your fulfillment companies don’t finish the job well, you’re screwed.
Have you worked with any of these fulfillment companies? What were your impressions? Do you have any others you’d recommend?