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