3 September 2015 | 102 Comments
Earlier this year, Kim at Secret Base Games revealed an innovative way of shipping items produced in China directly from China to individual backers around the world by working with a company called Send from China. The concept was heralded as a simpler, less expensive way of reward fulfillment.
I like to either test things myself or get a few unbiased opinions before I vet fulfillment methods on this blog, so when I heard that Brian Henk at Overworld Games–one of the smartest crowdfunders I know–was using Send From China on two of his games, I asked if he would write a guest post about his experience. I was particularly curious to see if Brian would continue to use them for his current Kickstarter game, Booze Barons. Thanks for your insights, Brian!
Fulfillment is an absolutely critical part of your crowd-funding campaign, but it’s not very exciting to learn. If you’re curious about it, let me make it easier on you with a summary of my experience using Send from China to fulfill two Kickstarter campaigns for Overworld Games: New Salem (bigger box) and Good Cop Bad Cop: Bombers and Traitors (smaller box).
Now that both campaigns are fulfilled, I wanted to take a look back at what went well, what didn’t, and whether Send from China is a fulfillment option you should consider for getting your rewards out to your crowd-funding backers.
When I first heard about a fulfillment company in China, my eyes grew wide as thoughts of what this could mean for our company and others began flying through my mind. My first reaction was that this could revolutionize the tabletop game industry, at least for those of us who manufacture in China and have a business model that relies heavily on crowd-funding.
The main reason I felt this way was that Send from China has a fulfillment center in the same city as where our games (and likely yours) are manufactured: Shenzhen, China. If you don’t manufacture in the same city, it’s probably at least in the same country and a heck of a lot closer than the fulfillment company you would otherwise use.
Instead of finishing manufacturing and then having our backers wait for ~6 weeks for the games to travel by boat to a fulfillment company in the US, we can start fulfilling Kickstarter copies to backers a few days after manufacturing completes! This can dramatically shorten your campaign schedule.
In fact, if we had executed the fulfillment strategy we planned when launching our New Salem campaign, we would have delivered late, but since we used SFC, we were able to get it to some of our backers by the original delivery date and the rest of them shortly thereafter. Thanks SFC!
After getting our Kickstarter copies to the SFC fulfillment center, we shipped the balance of games to the US for traditional distribution. This happened in parallel to Kickstarter fulfillment, so backers got their copies about a month before stores. This was a nice bonus for our backers and helped build buzz for sales in distribution. Just as retailers are deciding which games to buy for their store and how many copies to order, they’ll start hearing about this new game called… what’s your game called again?
We used Panda for manufacturing New Salem, and they have worked out a partnership where SFC will pick-up games from Panda’s Shenzen plant for free. Wow! We used AdMagic for manufacturing Bombers and Traitors and they were able to match that service by delivering from their plant to the SFC fulfillment center, free of charge (although this may have been an exception rather than a standard service they offer).
My point here is that if your manufacturer is in China, they will be able to get your games to SFC for free or at least much cheaper what it would cost you to send them to a fulfillment center in the US or EU. This is potentially a massive cost savings for you, and getting it to your backers so much sooner might be even more valuable.
In addition to cost savings by fulfilling near your manufacturing plant, SFC has more than competitive pricing on postage. Upon order creation, you choose the carrier that sends each package, which determines the time it will take and the amount it will cost. They have a very nice shipping calculator where you can put in the destination country, the weight, and the dimensions, and you will get a list of the available carriers and an estimate of the cost.
If this was the only cost, these prices will easily beat Shipwire, Amazon, or any of the other options I have seriously considered for fulfillment. However, there are some other costs to consider as well.
- They deal only in Chinese Yuan, so you’ll have to get your currency converted when you add it to your SFC account. They will convert it for you for a 5% fee.
- Payments are only accepted through PayPal, resulting in a fee of around 4%, which they pass on to you.
- You will pay for a monthly plan at their warehouse, which varies depending on how much cubic space you use and how many SKUs you have there. While I was doing fulfillment of these two games along with two additional SKUs, we were paying about $50 USD per month.
- If you ask them to package your items in a special way, they will charge you for it. To upgrade New Salem from a shipping bag to a box, it was about $0.22 USD per item shipped.
- Depending on the carrier and service you use from that carrier, you may also be charged for shipping insurance. This is usually the insured value of the items plus shipping multiplied times .6%. For New Salem, this was around $0.28 USD per shipment.
Deciding on the carrier and shipping service to use for each destination is a tough decision. We basically used the least expensive option that provided tracking, which was different depending on the destination country. This will take some serious time to research, choose, and update in the Send from China bulk upload template. Following are some rates for Bombers and Traitors (9.17oz, 6”x4”x1.2”), not including the other various fees above.
- Australia: $4.86
- Canada: $5.24
- Germany: $5.01
- UK: $5.40
- US: $4.48
Here are some rates for New Salem (28.6oz, 11”x10”x2”), again, not including the previously mentioned fees.
- Australia: $12.18
- Canada: $13.26
- Germany: $12.18
- UK: $12.47
- US: $11.57
Note that these are not EU-friendly rates and you have to pre-pay funds to your SFC account before they will begin shipping anything for you. Even with the annoyance of having to pre-pay and all of the little fees they add, the price is still going to beat most other fulfillment options.
Since you’re likely using different carriers for each country, and some of these fees (like packing or warehouse plan changes) will happen during fulfillment, it can be hard to know exactly how much it will cost until you’ve passed the point of no return. So when you’re building your campaign’s financial model, add in some cushion for unexpected costs.
So… here is where I have to admit that I made a terrible mistake. I did not specify the type of packaging to use for shipping either game because I assumed they would know best. This is all they do after all – they should be experts.
I now believe their main focus is on price, not on ensuring packages are delivered in pristine condition. If I were shipping extension cords or socks, my focus would be on the former, but I’m shipping something that people often proudly display on their game shelf, so my focus is on the latter.
The result was that both New Salem and Bombers and Traitors were put in a plastic shipping bag lined with a thin layer of bubble wrap. This was sufficient for the smaller (6”x4”x1.2”) Bombers and Traitors as we only had almost zero instances of box damage when it was shipped alone. However, the larger (11”x10”x2”) New Salem was a disaster.
We had about 800 backers who backed for a copy of New Salem on either its campaign or the Bombers and Traitors campaign. We sent them out in two waves, each of about 400 copies. Once we started getting reports of damage from the first wave, we held off on the second wave.
We asked everyone with New Salem box damage to send us pictures of the damage. We received 17 pictures from that first wave (9%) that showed significant damage to their box. I read comments from many others who had box damage but many weren’t very concerned about it so they did not send in pictures.
Overall, I estimate we had over 15% of our backers receive a box with some kind of damage in that first wave. This is absolutely and completely unacceptable. I have never felt so ashamed that our backers who supported us and trusted us to find a way to deliver their game to them received a damaged product.
We talked to SFC about the problems and they promised to put them in a standard box and pack them very carefully in the second wave. We had zero backers notify us of any kind of major damage as of the time of this writing. We offered partial refunds to our backers with damaged boxes, and after some long discussions, SFC did reimburse us for some of the shipping costs, but the most important cost goes far beyond the financials.
The moral of the story is that if you do use SFC, be extremely specific about how it must be packed… or take a monumental hit to your bank account, your brand loyalty, and your heart.
When we fulfilled our campaigns with SFC, they did not have an EU-Friendly option, which was a major drawback. I was happy to hear that in early August 2015, they announced a new carrier option that will fix that problem by shipping to Amsterdam and then to your EU backers from there. As of the time of this writing, they do not have a similar option for “friendly” shipping for any location other than the EU.
One question you may have while reading this is whether there is a language barrier when communicating with SFC. The answer is unquestionably a yes. But you can work around it by asking more clarifying questions when you don’t understand a response and by reserving time in your schedule to accommodate waiting for responses from a different time zone.
SFC responds Monday-Friday only and are roughly 15 hours ahead of my time zone here in California. So if it’s 10am in San Francisco, I know it’s 1am the following day in Shenzen. I usually received a response the following business day, but sometimes it takes 2 business days or required a follow-up email.
The website you use to manage everything is similar to boardgamegeek.com in terms of usability. I know – yikes! When you change a feature, add funds to your account, intercept a shipment, or other tasks you assume are automatic, you will find that some require manual intervention from someone in China before they are completed, so when you click a button, be prepared to wait a long time before it does anything.
Overall, communication is acceptable, I suppose. It gets the job done, but it will cause you some headaches and take more time than you think it will.
Will We Use SFC Again?
There are plenty of items in both the pros and the cons list for whether to use Send from China, but we do plan to use them again, especially now that we have learned most of their little quirks:
- The financial and schedule savings we get are worth dealing with some communication and user interface difficulties.
- The quality of their shipment packaging adds risk to your project and is what keeps us looking for alternatives, but for now, we are giving them another shot.
- They shine when shipping a small game where extra shipping protection is not required, but even for a bigger box game, they can work pretty well as long as you are extremely specific about how your game needs to be packaged.
If you’re seriously considering SFC, just send a few copies of your game to one of their warehouses and create some orders to learn the process well before you begin using them to fulfill a campaign.
If you have any questions for Brian about his experience using Send From China, feel free to ask them in the comments. We’ll see if he can take a quick break from Booze Barons to answer them. :)