Kickstarter Face-Off #4: International Shipping

9 February 2014

Oo…shipping (rubs hands together). Such a great topic to discuss here. Many of you probably found this blog because of shipping-related questions. But the question that I don’t think I’ve ever asked on the blog is: 

As a backer, do you like the idea of a full array of international shipping options, even if they’re expensive?

Let’s see what some Kickstarter backers have to say about this before I weigh in.

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CHCon: Chris Hussey

My name is Chris Hussey, and I hail from London, England. I am currently studying for my PhD in Children’s Literature whilst working in the education sector. I’ve been involved with various forms of war gaming and board games for the past eighteen years, and Kickstarter has only helped develop this habit, with my most recently backed project being Mars Attacks by Mantic Games. I am an aspiring writer, a keen sportsman and an avid football referee in my spare time. You can view my blog here.

Postage is big business. It is unavoidable when ordering things, and Kickstarter is no exception. However, how a project handles this thorny issue can be hugely influential for a backer – and can be, in some cases, the difference between them pledging or not. Whilst it is brilliant that you can order things from around the globe with ease, there can be complications that both parties do not always consider. The following three reasons explain why I am against a range of international shipping options, especially at a cost to a prospective project pledger.

1) Customs or additional charges

Normally, when you order things online – you may look for the place of dispatch and the method of postage to gauge when it will arrive, and in general, it is from the same region or country. It becomes a force of habit. With Kickstarter, there is instantly that global aspect – and a wealth of projects taking place worldwide at any one time.

However, there is a perennial fear when ordering from abroad that paying for your item and for international postage may not be enough. There can be charges levied by Customs officials before you are able to collect your items, which can raise the cost of ‘importing’ your item exponentially – and sometimes, above what the item is worth. If you do not pay, you do not get the items – because you as the importer are liable for any charges. Tax or duty is an inevitable part of life – and whilst there are positive trade agreements such as within the European Union (EU) that allow you to purchase most goods from another country as though you were buying in your own, it can be a risk when purchasing from across the Atlantic that you may be charged more unexpectedly.

This will no doubt become more prevalent an issue in future, with the rise in “stretch goals” and “Kickstarter bonuses” that may add additional content to your pledge without an increase in the initial pledge cost, and the legal status of these rewards with regards to taxation. It is a problem that I understand has had an effect on some recent large projects, especially when these items are listed for purchase with an MSRP that you can add-on to your pledge, and as to whether these items have that recommended price as their value, or as to whether they takes a completely different status legally. Intentionally misdeclaring the value of an item that you are shipping is illegal – such as marking an item as a ‘gift’ to avoid paying any necessary taxes, and therefore creators will have to be careful in future and ensure that everything is properly marked. Nevertheless, there has to be an awareness that when buying internationally that whilst you may have paid for the item to be shipped to you, that it may not be the last thing you pay before you receive those goods.

There are obvious ways to go around this, with perhaps the most prevalent being shipping from several places globally (e.g. the EU), which companies like Stonemaier Games or Mantic have done, which can remove these complexities for a buyer, and any potentially unwanted charges.

2) Which option is right for me?

Admittedly, this point is one that a project creator can easily rectify, but it is the importance of clarity for a would-be investor. International shipping at the best of times can be confusing, but some projects have pledge levels that are immensely complex, and postage options that practically require you to have a Master’s degree to understand.

These are the projects that may charge different prices for shipping depending on what region you live in, what you buy, what quantity you buy in, and how the item will be shipped to you. Multiple price tiers, with myriad permutations, can make calculating how much you have to add on to your pledge to ensure that the item actually reaches you can be a daunting prospect. It is easier when there is a threshold for free shipping, because inevitably people will aim for that – knowing that they can put their money towards something tangible rather than the abstract notion of ‘shipping’. Whether it comes through the regular postal service if sent by air or sea, whether it is delivered by a courier, whether you expect someone to sign for it (undoubtedly your neighbour, because you won’t be in to receive it) are all useful options to have undoubtedly for peace of mind. However, to reconcile those options with what you are actually buying, and how much you need to add for your pledge level can simply be a minefield. Woe betide anyone who doesn’t reside in a country listed in the first few options – because getting that item shipped to you may be near to impossible, or cost the earth…

If anything, it is a plea for clarity. It is great to have those options for those that want them – but working out the expense to you, when the wording may be obtuse and the pricing levels complex, is an unnecessary hassle for a buyer – one we can certainly do without.

3) Don’t tell me how much it costs…

If you have ever posted anything, you will know that it is not particularly cheap. When you then factor in that item making a journey across land or sea, those costs start to mount. Yet strange things happen when I look at a project and see how much I will have to add on to my pledge to ship it from abroad: I often feel my enthusiasm start to wane and my levels of reluctance to back increasing.

Having worked in distribution for a company, I am well acquainted with how much it costs to send particular items to certain places – so I should not really be surprised that a company may want me to tack on in the region of $20-50 to cover this cost. However, it is the feeling that there is additional cost involved that causes incredulity: having backed the project one occasionally feels these liberties, or otherwise makes me want to relocate to a place where I will not have to pay for shipping. It is particularly salient when at both ends of the scale: I would not want to make a small pledge and then have to pay such a high fee to have it delivered, but equally – if I am already paying so much towards a project, why should I pay any more? It becomes something that you have to factor in – it is recognizing that there is a cost, and at some point, that has to be passed on to the backer, yet it often can be a deal breaker because it feels so artificially high. It sounds selfish, and I certainly do not begrudge paying for international postage, but in the current economic climate, we are all looking for the best deal – and you want to get the most for your money.

Once more, there is a simple solution: it is subsuming the cost of postage into the product itself. People often jump at deals when there is a ‘free postage’ stipulation attached, or when they do not have to worry about something as mundane as shipping – it is human nature. You are still paying for postage, but it is hidden within the total cost so that it does not feel like you are paying anything extra, or having to add it on to your pledge. It is why companies like Stonemaier Games (amongst many others) do this as a matter of course – it looks great for the creator being able to offer just the item you pledge for without any additional cost, and the backer feels like they are getting a great deal for their money. The visual cost of seeing how much an item would otherwise cost to ship to you internationally can otherwise be off-putting; to have the creator plan ahead and have this all arranged in advance without the backer needing to make a conscious decision removes another level of complexity and potential concern. In short, removing varied and expensive international shipping options can simply make it easier for a buyer and more attractive to back.

Rebuttal from Jacob

Sadly my rebuttal may be a little lacking, because for the most part I completely agree with Chris. Simpler is certainly better in regards to crowdfunding projects. If a project says free shipping, I will give it much more attention initially than one that doesn’t have that option. I did find a few things that I would like to talk about in Chris’ post though.

1) Customs or additional charges

Granted, this is a major concern especially in countries where the customs agents are iffy (at best), but a huge part of my issue is that this is easily fixed. Ship from more places and shipping becomes cheaper for more people. This can happen; as I have seen plenty of projects do it, so won’t don’t all of them do it? If a project doesn’t want to do that then, I’ve heard (if shipping from the US) you put on the customs forms the price paid, not the MSRP (and it’s completely legal, from what I understand).

2) Which option is right for me?

You will get no argument here from me, the clearer the better.

3) Don’t tell me how much it costs…

I partially agree with this, because I think more projects should subsume the shipping cost in the initial price, but at the same time I don’t completely agree. While I do enjoy a free shipping label, if it makes the game “seem” too expensive, I won’t back it anyway. It all depends on how much they have to increase the cost of the project to balance out the shipping to who knows where. This, I think, would be answered in my Stretch goal idea (with obvious issues still needing to be worked out). Let people work for your company to “earn” free shipping to their country.

JacobPro: Jacob Coon

I’m an American, but I live in Germany. I moved here last year to start work as an instructional designer missionary. I have been in the board game hobby for only a few years, but i always enjoyed playing them. Kickstarter and BGG has helped me get more excited about trying out a bunch of different types of games. The last game I backed on Kickstarter was Scoville (mostly because I am a huge fan of hot sauce!).

When I first started backing projects (not only games, but that’s the majority) on Kickstarter I never even paid attention to international shipping because I didn’t need to. Almost every project I backed had free or cheap shipping to a US address. Now that I’m living in Germany, I have noticed the shipping and have not backed projects because I couldn’t or it was too much. My personal opinion, though, is that every project should at least offer international shipping, no matter the increase in cost.

Basically it comes down to this. Give people a chance to own your product for as close to the regular price as possible and more people will be happy and support your company and your product, but no matter what offer the game to everyone and everywhere.

Let’s look at the situation a little closer. There are basically three options on how to include shipping on any project. They are:

1. Only offer shipping to the country of origin and lose out on a lot of possible backers.

2. Offer two prices, domestic and international and maybe take a small hit on the few orders that come from countries literally in the middle of nowhere.

3. Offer a variety of options to cover the entire world (maybe even Antarctica!) and possibly get a huge following who will be very supportive and if they like the product will be looking to buy from your company again.

1. I have seen several projects that have only allowed domestic shipping and while some of them are for cost-prohibitive reasons, I think this is the worst option to choose. Imagine a store in your hometown that said only people from your town could shop there. Hard to imagine? That’s probably because no one would do that. Now maybe you are thinking that I’m over exaggerating this, and you are right, but a local store that has an online presence wouldn’t limit it either, if they are smart, that is.

2. Offering domestic and flat international shipping costs is probably the most common method right now. It’s easy, not a ton of work involved and you probably cover your costs for the most part. As an international backer, I’m OK with this but I often will think twice about backing a project that tries to tell me that shipping to Germany costs the same to ship to Moldova. I mean, really? I highly doubt it does. At least this gives non-domestics a chance to back the project if they want to. If the project creator only gets one international backer, that means one more product sold than would have happened otherwise.

3. You don’t run into this option too often (especially recently with places like Brazil being left out of the possibilities) but why not offer the prices that would make shipping the product to all the other countries possible. If your product is good enough, then people will pay the extra to get it. If they aren’t interested in the product for the price then they don’t buy it and you probably didn’t lose out on their purchase unless you did the flat international rate option and it was reasonable.

Another option I would like to present is one I have not seen (that doesn’t mean it has not happened though). Why aren’t stretch goals used to decrease the shipping costs. Start with the true cost of shipping and then have a couple stretch goals that will decrease the shipping costs. I mean, you are getting extra money so why not put it towards getting your product into more people’s hands? I know I would back and probably publicize the product a lot if it meant I could get it for a little cheaper in the end.

This is a little tricky because of the need to pledge with shipping initially, but if you have some product add-ons that people could spend that already pledged shipping money towards then they get more game for the same amount. You might see some pledges decrease, but overall I am guessing you wouldn’t.

Rebuttal from Chris

My opponent raises some good points: at the end of the day, most people would prefer to get the item that they really want, and inevitably, that may incur some cost. What international shipping offers in opening up the potential for global distribution will be a distinct bonus for most creators, and then consequently for prospective backers everywhere. I can imagine that people would always want these options, even if they do not choose to take them up – but I would argue the way in which creators often handle these issues, and their complexity, can still be off-putting to a prospective investor.

From a personal perspective – I will always explore the potential shipping options before I back and often if I do – I do not necessarily add the exact amount on for shipping straight away. I often wait until later in the project to up my pledge, especially if there are things I want to add and then check if I need to take into account any variable shipping due to the size of my pledge. I have certainly heard the idea of stretch goals reducing shipping – although I cannot truthfully recall any projects that have necessarily implemented it, and certainly none that I have backed in recent time! It is a great stretch goal, but there may be a fear on the part of the creator if a mass exodus occurs that they may not have accounted for such a severe drop in backers (either through rival projects or by losing the desire to back). A certain amount of backers may be required to pledge a certain amount of money to cover the costs of this stretch goal, and if this does not actually happen, it could be a risky strategy with a smaller project. I know that most creators like to ‘guarantee’ those stretch goals reached to avoid backlash, although this may simply not be financially viable. It could then put the creator in quite an uncomfortable position.

To conclude, I do not think there’s a perfect way to satisfy everyone, but by presenting options clearly and concisely, it makes people the world over feel more comfortable backing a project. By informing backers as to where the item will actually ship from, to reduce the possibilities of any further charges or taxes, provides a further confidence boost for a prospective investor. As aforementioned, my preference is to roll shipping into the overall cost, but appreciate that this may not always be possible or viable, although having shipping included does however make it look as though you are getting an even better deal! Ultimately, I think the ability to back superb international projects will often outweigh fears surrounding shipping, but I feel that the more transparent the creators are with the process of dispatch and delivery, the better backers will feel about spending their money on new projects.

My Take

First, thanks to Chris and Jacob for sharing their thoughts. It’s always great to hear such in-depth insights from backers.

Second, it’s tough for me to think of something that I haven’t already said about it here or here. Stonemaier Games is built on the premise of leveling the playing field when it comes to shipping.

Third, as a backer, I live in the US, and most of the projects I back are US projects, so shipping is included in the price. Which, as both Chris and Jacob pointed out, is brilliant. I feel like I’m getting free shipping even though I’m paying for it. However, I think I’ve become a little spoiled by it. Not only do I want to buy a game on Kickstarter for 20% or so less than MSRP, but I want shipping included too! (Perhaps it is Amazon that has spoiled me.) I think I need to remember more often the price that my fellow creators have to pay to get the game to me, especially when it comes to the heavier games I like to play.

Fourth, as a creator, I believe in finding the best and most accurate shipping option for every backer on the planet. Both Chris and Jacob seem like advocates of this, and I think we’ll inch closer to that goal with Tuscany. Some areas still confound me–I’m looking at you, Brazil!–but I think I finally figured out Australia, and that solution might get even better if/when Amazon opens a multi-channel fulfillment center there.

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What do you think?

16 Comments on “Kickstarter Face-Off #4: International Shipping

  1. I agree with most points mentioned in here. However, there is something that hasn’t been mentioned and really annoys me as an international backer: I shiver inside when I read “free shipping”.

    For example, I recall a project (whose name won’t be mentioned) that essentially had 2 pledges:

    50$ The game. FREE SHIPPING in the USA
    80$ The game. FREE SHIPPING in the rest of the world

    WTF? Does Free mean a different thing in the US? If so, why do I have to pay for it? In my opinion his is a much better description of the pledges:

    50$ The game. Shipping costs included for any address in the USA
    80$ The game. Shipping costs included for any address in the world

    The difference is minor, but in the first one I get the feeling that the goal of the project is to sell something (rather than getting help for starting a project). I tend to run away from those.

  2. As a backer living in Europe, added shipping prices are everywhere on Kickstarter and are always a major point to consider. Honestly, I don’t mind arrays of shipping options as long as I fall into one of them (and I usually do, fortunately, outside of the US, the EU is the next best thing for shipping options IMHO).

    Let me just put it on the table: in my opinion, the price of shipping matters very little. Maybe i’ve been spoiled by eBay as Jamey has been spoiled by Amazon: when I see something for sale on the internet, I always look for the shipping cost to see how much it adds up to.

    Obviously, I’d never back a boardgame who charges $40 or $50 for international shipping. there’s a limit to that too. Ideally, i’m cool if I need to pay up to $20 more than the americans, which I think is fair, but anything more and I’d start having second thoughts.

    What matters mostly is the total price. Jamey’s $50 pricing on euphoria was brilliant (though i probably would’ve bought more copies if it had multiple shipping discount). I’d gladly back a $60 boardgame, shipping included. Even $70. $80? That starts being out of my price range.

    So, in addition to keeping shipping cost (real or apparent) into reasonable limits, I think it’s even more crucial for creators to set an attractive price for their project’s main pledge levels.

    As for customs, I don’t mind entering the customs roulette. Worst case scenario, if the package value is over the customs declared threshold, I pay VAT for the product. I really don’t mind it.

  3. As an international backer, one of the first things I always check is the international shipping cost in relation to the pledge amount. I fully understand that international shipping is not cheap, but here have been enough examples of projects that have found good solutions, that I consider projects not implementing those solutions as not interested in the international community.

    But one my biggest complaints is in regards to small cost projects like card games. Too often US price points are in the range of $15-$20, including shipping, yet international backers are looking at almost double that, somewhere in the $30-$40 range. Now I understand that almost always international backers receive the same amount of cost reduction in shipping cost as US backers, but it is the perception of paying almost double that rankles. Compounding psychological effect is the exchange rate, where a US backer get the product for close to €11, but I can pay €22.

    One example of that is the Draco Magi Kickstarter. Especially their message that they have chosen a “ridiculously low price of $15” as an incentive to back the project. Great! But I can pay $28. Still a good price of course, but I cannot help but automatically compare that if I were living in the US, I could have purchased two of those for practically the same price. Somehow it irritated me so much (probably because of that “ridiculously low price of $15” message), that I decided not to back out of principle.

    If only they would have chosen a slightly less “ridiculously low price” of $18 (which would have made practically no difference to US backers). so that they could offer a price point of $25 to International backers. I would have backed and have no doubt that the project would attract a lot more international backers then.

    What I would essentially like to convey is that there is a potentially larger international community willing to pay a bit more to participate in a Kickstarter project, than there is a domestic US community. If projects would start to subsidize international shipping just that bit more (instead of always providing fully free US shipping), or provide a different solution, I am certain that they would attain higher total amounts of backers and funding (with the same amount of shipping cost) at the end.

    The point of this post I think was proven by the Euphoria Kickstarter project. I am certain that Euphoria would not have attained the more than $300k funding total if it would not have offered the shipping solution it had. Unfortunately I am still eternally sad that it came at just the wrong time for me, so that I could not add my pledge :/ But reading Jamey’s answers for his Geek of the Week, I am ever hopeful to still be able to support StoneMaierGames directly with a Deluxe or Supreme Edition in the future.

  4. Jasper, I totally agree about card games. doubling the price because of shipping just doesn’t feel right. In cases like that, if I really want the game, I look for multiple copy discount.
    You have to consider, though, that the resto of the world has another limit with american board games, which is, they are in English. So outside of the UK or Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, there will be few board gamers who back a board game Kickstarter, simply because few people can take a game that’s not their native language (of course, this varies with the degree of language-dependancy of the game).
    That, plus shipping cost, plus kickstarter’s varying popularity by country, still make the US the main market for kickstarter board games, I think.

    But i’d love to be proven wrong. Who knows, maybe Tuscany will be the first Stonemaier project with more backers from outside than inside the US :D

  5. Sorry, my blog isn’t nesting comments for some reason, so I’ll reply to everyone here.

    MK: “Free” is a deceptive word, isn’t it? We tend to throw it around a little too much. The language I use is “free shipping included,” which really means, “shipping included.” I have a new chart I’ll use on Tuscany to give full transparency to what that means.

    Morgan: That’s interesting that it’s the total cost of the game + shipping that impacts your decision the greatest. I’m curious how that plays into expansion campaigns where you’re trying to get the game and the expansion. Are you still hesitant to spend more than $60 on a single Kickstarter for an expansion plus the base game?

    Jasper: I must admit that I don’t know much about shipping small games internationally, as I’ve only had to deal with two big-box games that weigh 2 kgs or more. But I think as more creators use international fulfillment centers like we do, we’ll see those prices go down. Also, as for Euphoria deluxe and supreme, I just want to clarify that we don’t make those versions of the game anymore. I do have a few extra copies that I will offer to the original backers (and then do something charity-related with the extras), but we’re only making the retail version of Euphoria from now on. You’ll be able to upgrade your copy with realistic resource by getting our Treasure Chest (which can be used for a number of games, not just Euphoria), but that’s a separate item.

    Morgan: I hope to push that limit for Tuscany. It would be cool to get to a 50/50 split between the US and the rest of the world. :)

  6. That is indeed something I had not yet thought of Morgan. Even though I’m Dutch, I always tend to prefer my games in English. I also expect that the serious gamers in other countries would at least not mind English. How else would they be able to play a large amount of the Kickstarter (and even quite some traditionally published) games which do not get released in any other language?

    Maybe this is a topic for Jamey as another face-off: should boardgames on Kickstarter have multiple language support? Some projects on Kickstarter already enlist the help of the community for translation of the rulebook during the campaign, Machina Arcana is a recent example, which I think is a good low cost solution for a small team/publisher. Other projects may choose to provide translations as a stretch goal (this happens quite a bit with video game projects), which would be another incentive for international backers to pledge.

    Anyway, it looks like there are still some improvements that can be made to make Kickstarter more interesting to international backers.

  7. Thank you for the answer Jamey! I’ll just reserve an amount labeled “Stonemaier Games Investment Fund” for any future Kickstarter :) And yes, I am looking forward to the Treasure Chest campaign, very curious about it.

  8. Jamey, I’d be absoluteIy NOT hesitant to pay more than $60 for a game bundled with its expansion! I was thinking about the base game when I threw in the $60/$70 figure. Of course, the base game+expansion can go way beyond that 60-70 dollar “limit”, I’m getting two “items” after all. I was trying to make a general statement but there sure are many exceptions! Like expansions, add-ons and so on….

    @Jasper, Yes, many people don’t mind english, especially “serious” gamers. But it’s a fact that anglophone gamers are just a small niche inside another niche (Board gamers), at least in Italy where I live. I’m sure its different in the Netherlands, I’ve heard that most dutch people have no problem with english!

  9. In case it’s of any interest. Out of the projects I’ve backed:
    – The most I’ve paid for int. shipping is $30 (On top of a $130 pledge).
    – The most by % is 50% ($24+$12)
    – More than half the projects I’ve backed has been ‘free’ shipping.
    – Every game I’ve backed with included shipping, would have cost more at retail even before adding shipping costs. (2 Exceptions, one was the first project I ever backed, and the other was thanks to customs)
    – VAT has stung me once, a £15 where I had to pay £6 VAT + £10 customs charge. Don’t think I’ll back anything £15+ again unless shipping is clearly going to be EU friendly.

    All the things I could really say about international shipping have been mentioned above, but I just want to comment that as far as I’m concerend, any project with ridiculous shipping (*cough* game salute *cough) may as well not bother, and that I don’t believe any excuse from any company claiming they can’t get it below 50% of the US pledge level to add it on.

    The general situation seems to be always getting better though – likely in huge thanks to this blog – and we’re getting more and more exciting projects from the area’s that kick-starter is expanding into (Yay for UK projects ^^). I’m particularly happy in that the 2 UK ones I’ve backed so far have also had included shipping to the US for all you lovely people over there (Go back oddball Aeronauts ^^).

  10. Looking at some of their more recent projects they certainly seem to be doing a lot better. The last time I really looked much at them was Kings Forge (39+35S) & Chaos & Alchemy (25+26S) which was looking at doubling the cost. I hope they continue to do a good job =)

    The Game Salute London thing is interesting, perhaps we’ll see more UK friendly projects, although it still seems a little odd that they couldn’t do better to the rest of the EU if shipping from here, possibly to not overload the new office ^^.

  11. Games Salute have partnered with us at Spiral Galaxy Games Ltd to help fulfill their products to the UK and Europe. Recent projects we have handled for them include Ruse, Relic Expeditions and Tomorrow. We aim to make American games more accessible in the UK and EU.

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