Kickstarter Lesson #202: Local Pickup

6 October 2016

A long time ago, when I was fresh-faced and dew-eyed, I decided to invite local backers in St. Louis to pick up their Kickstarter copies of Viticulture at a release party.

Part of the reason is that I thought it would be fun to meet backers face-to-face and thank them for their contribution in making Stonemaier Games a reality. It was also an opportunity to save a little money on shipping 40 or so games (I was using Amazon fulfillment at the time, before I knew better).

So as the games traveled from China to the US, I e-mailed all St. Louis-area backers and told them we would be hosting a wine-and-cheese release party (because, you know, Viticulture) at a lovely Italian restaurant called Bartolino’s Osteria.

The event was fun. Some came for the social aspect, while others wanted to learn how to play Viticulture.

But when the event ended, we still had about 15 copies of Viticulture to give to local backers. Fortunately, my co-founder’s job at the time involved a lot of driving around St. Louis, so he hand delivered the remaining rewards.

This story isn’t unique. I’m sure you’ve seen Kickstarter projects that offer local pickup, whether it’s at a game store, a specific convention, or a release party. I’ve even talked about it on this blog in reference to Pass the Buck.

But I haven’t detailed the questions creators might ask when considering this option, hence this post.

Should you offer local pickup for your project?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where are your rewards made? If you’re making cupcakes in your home kitchen, that’s one thing–local pickup makes sense. But if you’re making 5,000 games in China, it’s quite another.
  • How are you shipping most rewards? Again, if you’re shipping rewards by hand, it’s easy to offer local pickup. But if you’re using the Stonemaier Method (using fulfillment centers around the world, which is so normal on Kickstarter now that it’s easy to forget that just a little over 3 years ago, we were one of the first crowdfunders to do it), it complicates things. It means that you’ll need your fulfillment center to ship at least several cartons of rewards to you, which is only marginally less expensive than mailing all of those games individually.
  • Are you detail oriented? Say you have a backer named Jamey who tells you he’ll pick up his game, but he’s a no-show at your release event because he needed to walk his cats (which you don’t know, because Jamey doesn’t e-mail you). Did you track who picked up games and who didn’t, especially at a time when you’re juggling tons of address changes and inquiries from backers about whether or not their games have shipped?
  • What is your motivation for offering local pickup? If you’re trying to save money, I’m not sure local pickup is worth it. Maybe you’ll save a few dollars per reward, and that money might go right back into the cost of the release event. If you’re trying to build community and thank backers face to fact, that’s awesome. Just don’t go into it expecting to save money.
  • Are you okay with the responsibility of hand-delivering packages that aren’t picked up? Imagine I told you right now that over the next week, you would need to hand-deliver 15 packages (mostly to strangers) within a 20-mile radius of your current location. If that fills you with a sense of dread, maybe local pickup isn’t for you, because you’re definitely going to have backers who don’t show up to your release event. Maybe it’s their responsibility to get the game from you, but that’s not always the case.

If I want to offer local pickup, how should I do it?

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Create a reward level specifically for local pickup. There are a few reasons why I don’t recommend this option. First, it clutters the reward sidebar with a reward that is irrelevant to the vast majority of backers. Second, all sorts of production and shipping issues can happen, so if you’re targeting a specific event (like a convention) for pickup, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to miss that deadline. Third, people change their minds and their addresses all the time, so it’s kind of difficult to get a definitive answer from someone so far in advance.
  • Contact locals when it’s almost time to fulfill rewards. This is what I did on Viticulture, and it’s my recommended method. It reduces the number of backers who originally indicate they want local pickup but actually end up requiring you to ship the reward. Just make sure you have a clear date as to when you’ll have the local rewards in hand before you pick a date for the release event.

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My overall conclusion is it’s pretty rare when local pickup can actually make things easier, better, and cheaper for the creator and the backers. Again, this doesn’t mean that release events are a bad idea–they’re often a great idea, really–but they don’t have to go hand-in-hand with local pickup.

If you’re a backer, how do you feel about local pickup options? Have you ever used them? If you’re a creator, what are your thoughts?

 

36 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #202: Local Pickup

      1. When I’ve done local pick up, for projects that I’ve backed, it was always last minute notice. So, as a backer, I loved doing the local pick up, and meeting the creator, but would have really appreciated more notice. :-)

  1. I picked up a few Kickstarter items at Gen Con, and in the future, I would prefer not to do that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a big deal one way or the other, but it gave me more stuff to carry around and more activities that had to be accounted for while at the show. I loved meeting people, talking about the stuff, and seeing physical items, but I had similarly good experiences visiting other publishers for stuff I already received or am looking forward to that was able to satisfy the social connection side.

    1. Those are great points about convention pickups, Jonathan. As a creator, I can’t even imagine the logistical hassle of offering pickups at conventions. There’s no way I’d do that. :)

  2. Mayday Games introduced an Essen pickup for both Twist of Fate and Nerdy Inventions at their boot – after the KSs ended… but that’s a choice we make for ourselves. Should they refund is the postage we’ve paid for? Or would that be rude and cheap from a creators point of view…

    1. That’s a good question. Generally I think the cost savings is so minimal that it’s a wash, but if for some reason there’s a big difference, that seems like the right thing to do.

      1. The backers don’t always realize this, so some up-front education may be helpful that you still do pay for getting their rewards to the convention. They frequently assume pick-up should mean free shipping. Selling it as an early-pickup option can help with this.

  3. How would you say your local pickup compares to what in my experience as a backer is the more common option of convention pick ups (Usually either Essen or Gen Con) to run?

    1. Stephen: As noted in the post, I’d classify them all as “local pickup.” Really the only difference with conventions is that it’s even more of a logistical hassle because you have to get the rewards to the convention.

  4. This is somewhat timely considering Essen is around the corner. Having backed and/or worked with campaigns who have offered local / convention pickup, may I also suggest…

    3. Ensure if you’re using a post-campaign tool, check if it can support local pickup in some capacity. This may make it easier if you have multiple tiers with different configurations to not have to duplicate all the rewards and confuse the backers. Simple on the front end is almost always worth a little trouble on the back-end from a backer perspective.

    Also just calling out that just having a reward level with local pickup may not be as clean if you decide to also offer add-ons or upgrades. It’ll get hairy real quick.

    (disclaimer: I’m somewhat biased)

    As a prolific backer myself:

    Reminding the local pickup folks before the actual pickup is almost a must. Giving folks a chance to have a reminder before hand is a good way to start that feedback loop where they can tell you they actually can’t make it so you don’t waste your time and lug things you don’t need to lug around, also helps lead them down the path of “Well if you can’t pick it up, we need to charge you for shipping” issue instead of having it come up later or them being mad because they have a delay in getting their reward because they didn’t specifically reach out to fix it.

    I especially love local pickup at conventions, even more so if I can get it even sooner by saving you some money (win-win). Plus you have the opportunity to play a shiny new game with your friends. I’m not sure I’d specifically go to a local pick-up event unless it was pretty close and convenient.

    1. Thanks, Adam–those are some great considerations for creators. It’s neat to hear your backer perspective as well. For me, I can’t think of a time when I would have games in hand faster than a fulfillment center could get games to backers, so offering local pickup at a convention would end up getting the games to backers slower, not faster.

      1. I’m pretty sure in almost every case I’ve done local pickup at conventions it’s been earlier than the standard ship dates, sometimes a considerable amount of difference. It might be that creators are air freighting in copies and using the backer pickup as a buffer to allow early sales at shows vs waiting for the standard distribution channels for the other 90% of folks.

  5. I would very very much like to have the local pickup option , but it is mostly for US residents. I can’t imagine a project to be delivered from my tiny town in the suburbs of Greece, locally to the capital, even worse to the EU and US..

  6. Remember picking up Ancient Terrible Things by Pleasant Company Studios at Essen, which was a reward option during the KS campaign – and if I recall the price tag was without the shipment fee… same formula again this year with Snowblind ;)

  7. As a backer, I’d prefer local pickup be optional. I backed an album from a local band (that I wasn’t particularly familiar with — I just thought it’d be nice to back these local guys.) The band assumed all their local backers would make their release show and didn’t ship to us. Ended up being a hassle for them to contact people and arrange for individual deliveries. Felt like locals got worse service, really.

    And there was a certain game product I backed where they were very late shipping and offered to let people pick up their rewards from a con they were going to attend. But, they didn’t end up verifying the identities of people picking up games, or even take note of who they were. So we were then treated to a series of pathetic updates where they begged backers to ‘fess up if they had picked up a game.

    Long story short, I agree with your general conclusion!

  8. We did a launch party in conjunction with a new local brewhouse/resturaunt. They offered the space for free and made money on food and beverage sales. We saved a few dollars on shipping about 40 rewards, but the real point was getting everyone involved in our company out in the community, getting to know our backers and finding out face to face what they like and dislike and engaging in conversations about the Kickstarter experience. This brought several good discussion points up for our team, and hopefully will help us improve on future projects

    1. Thanks Jeff! I absolutely see a huge amount of value in launch and release parties (and other events, like the Design Day we host). I just think it’s okay to have a clear delineation between those types of events and local pickup, which is a whole different animal of its own. :)

  9. Jamey,

    Great article on something I’ve always wondered about! Out of curiosity, for your Viticulture campaign strategy of reaching out to backers prior to fulfillment, did you pass on the small cost savings of not shipping directly to the backers? Or did you use that money to reinvest in the local pickup event? And if the latter, did most backers seem receptive to the shipping fee they paid being utilized in this manner?

    Thanks for continuing to post these great articles!

    1. Travis: Well, as I kind of hinted at, it actually cost us more money to do it the way way did, because we had to ship the games from the the fulfillment center to St. Louis, and then we had the cost of running the release party. I think the backers definitely saw the value in that.

      In most cases, the cost savings of local pickup is going to be a few dollars at most, even if the event is more cost-effective than the one we ran. I think a refund would be justifiable if the savings were significant ($10-$20).

  10. With the new Shipping options I know that John Wrot offered free Gen Con Pickup by using Antarctica for free shipping for his Game Night Bags. It cut down the the number of reward teirs, and they were useful at the convention to boot. However I think in the future I’m coming down on the side of some of the other commenters that Convention pickup is a pain for Backers as well as Creators, even with a downtown hotel this year It felt like I was spending time picking things up rather than spending time looking at new things.

    I have considered local pickup as well as I’m nearing the final stages of my dice project, but thinking of the time and hassle of working out the shipping and making sure people get their pledges this article has made me rethink that.

    Perhaps to do the best of both worlds, Shortly after most local people have gotten their rewards hold a local party for backers to come and celebrate, hang out, and meet the creator. That way you don’t have to worry about distributing at the event and can spend that time interacting with the backers.

    I know a webcomic I read that has done Preorders way before Kickstarter was a thing http://www.schlockmercenary.com has had packing parties and even done it at a local game store to interact and get volunteers to help with shipping. I believe they still do all their own fulfillment.

    1. Sean: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I really like your “best of both worlds” idea, especially since it gives you the chance to focus on interactions and connections instead of transactions.

      1. One thing that’s interesting is while game designers tend to be more… Accessable… than creators of other media – There’s a ton at any decent sized game con and they’re not sequestered away behind the scenes like guests of honor at, say, sci-fi cons (though not accessible to conversation during business hours due to how busy basically everyone at a con who isn’t just attending it is), how few events that are like book signings there are.

        Not as formal, signature, one question, move on to the next in the queue, as those, but… Something somewhere in between that formality and bumping into them at a con during evening open gaming when they’ve got five minutes because the booths are closed. Your cheese and wine party sounds ideal for that sort of thing, and it’d be nice of more things like that could happen – I think ideally run by larger publishers, with multiple designers that they’ve got games by. No sales, just conversations and light party games. Or, I know your Gen Con strategy is have a room, have events ranging from open gaming to playtests, have you considered doing that sort of social gathering with light party games and people involved in Stonemaier games there as one of the activities, with the focus on just… Meeting with fans of the company? (Granted I’ve not been to Gen Con, for all I know that’s one of your regular activities in your room)

        One backer reward that I’ve seen from other industries – Dinner with someone involved in the creation at a local restaurant, which sometimes can fetch some hundreds of dollars, but that’s more private than community building. And my husband has gone into a musical Kickstarter at a ‘private song writing lesson with one of the creators of this musical’ reward level before now…

        1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Stephen. As for Gen Con, that’s the goal of our open game nights. They’re very casual, there are lots of different games, and I pretty much wander around hanging out and chatting with different people the whole time.

          I tried something like what you described in the last paragraph (for Viticulture), but it ended up not really feeling right to me. It felt weird to charge people for doing something that I might do anyway for no fee (or I might not, and I like the freedom to say no if I’m busy). I talk about that a little more here: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-183-epic-level-rewards/

    2. Love the idea. As a backer, I’d love to attend an event and meet the design and the team who worked on the game. When people back projects on Kickstarter, they feel like a community — like they’re part of something bigger. Otherwise I’d just wait until the game hits retail. I think the biggest value of an event is to build that sense of community.

      Not having to worry about distributing and keeping track of who received what would let the creator focus on meeting people and making sure the guests are having a good time.

  11. A very interesting article indeed! For the upcoming Essen fair I chose to go for pick up options for three kickstarters. Fortunately, only for one of them it’s still not safe if everything will be ready.
    I like the idea of picking up my pledge personally as it gives me the chance to meet the people behind the project I helped realizing. It’s something you hardly have the chance to do nowadays ;)

    1. Andre: I totally see how it’s fun to meet creators at conventions. Though that can happen without picking up a game from them, right? :) In fact, you might say that if they don’t have to deal with the logistics of local pickup, they’ll have more time at conventions to chat with backers.

  12. Great entry Jamey! I have done a similar party with my game (the game was published traditional way, not through Kickstarter). I did a party in a tea shop, we had champagne, and other stuff and it was a lovely night. I invited some reviewers, friends, etc. I think it can be a good way to promote your game as well!

    In the subject of a personal pick-up, there is one very important thing: the backer will be sure that his copy of the game is in perfect, undamaged and complete condition! That’s why I like that idea! I offered that to my customers; they could visit me at my house :)

  13. Hi Jamey,

    Great topic for project creators to think through. In our case, we had a rather high number of local backers in the Madison, WI area (75+ backers ordered 90+ copies of Flag Dash) and decided to offer personal delivery to interested backers. We split up our inventory between Shenzhen to fulfill worldwide orders directly from China using SendFromChina and our home “warehouse” in Wisconsin.

    We asked local backers if they wanted local delivery and informed them it would be up to 3 weeks later than they would otherwise receive the game if shipped from China. Since we had personally met almost all of these backers (family, friends, coworkers, and many we met through local stores and events) almost all local backers wanted local delivery to a) save us money and/or b) have a personal delivery experience.

    We saved almost $6 in shipping/freight costs per copy of the game by hand delivering them, saving us over $550 so it was definitely worthwhile cost-wise. It was also very satisfying to hand deliver games and thank backers personally – truly a wonderful experience. But this all came at the expense of 15 hours of driving/delivery time around Madison during my lunch hours and after work across a week and a half. That is still a decent return per hour of my time ($36/hr) but time was at a huge premium right when our stock arrived, especially considering we ran a booth at Gen Con the week prior and were already wiped from that.

    Next time, I think I would offer local pickup but hope to have many backers pick which local game store they want to pick them up from. I would establish a time or two I would be at each store to provide opportunities to personally greet/thank backers if they desire. Our local stores would gladly check names off a list from backers who are supposed to come by.

    1. Kirk: Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I think it was wise for you to factor in the value of your time in your decision to shift to pickup at local game stores. That’s a lot of driving around time! Though it sounds like you had a good time chatting with your backers. :)

  14. Late chime in here.
    I just tried free pickup at GenCon for our Game Night Bag project and it was a huge success. People were excited to be at GenCon anyway and it was a way to meet specific people amidst the 60,000. Huge success. There were of course about 20% that chose to pickup at GenCon, but didn’t pick up at the con that I had handle when we got back. Of those 95% are out the door after collecting the small shipping fee separately. Sure that part is a bit of extra work, but I think given the volume and uniqueness this model was worth it for us.

  15. I offered local pick-up in Essen and in Berlin for my Green Deal campaign. The pick-up in Berlin was a bit annoying as I had to communicate back and forth with individual backers. I solved the solution by bringing some dozen copies to a local game store and told the backers who chose pick-up to go get the game from the game store during opening hours (which brought potential customers into the store).

    Local pick-up in Essen was not really complicated. I had only one version of the game and a list with all backers and crossed them off the list when they picked up their game. It was nice to connect with them, even if it was just for a few seconds.

    A big pro of the local-pick up option is that the kickstarter version looks a lot cheaper than the final version in retail (which it is anyway but if you add shipping it might only be slightly cheaper than the retail version).

    Many of my potential customers are in Berlin and they are going to be the one who will back on day 1. Having the local-pick up in place I make sure that my campaign is going to have a strong start which we all know is crucial.

    However, given your (Jamie’s) big global fanbase I understand it wouldn’t make sense for you to offer it.

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