4 February 2019 | 53 Comments
After shipping very few direct orders in 2017, we sold several thousand units directly to consumers in 2018. This has required me to revisit the concept of fulfillment and shipping, so I though I’d update the methods I last discussed in 2016.
In general, this is the 2-step process that many Kickstarter creators use:
- Freight: A freight company (I work with OTX: firstname.lastname@example.org) ships cartons/pallets/containers of products from a factory to several different fulfillment centers (Asia, Australia/NZ, Canada, US, and Europe).
- Fulfillment: The fulfillment centers send orders to customers within each region.
That method works well if you know exactly how many products to send to each region. Because I no longer use Kickstarter–instead, I simply make products and accept orders when they arrive at our warehouse–if I want to send products to a regional fulfillment center, it’s a guessing game.
A New Technique to Consider
One method that seems to be gaining traction is to have the manufacturer pre-package some quantity of the product for fulfillment. This can range from putting corner protectors or bubble wrap on the game to fully packaging the product in box so that all the fulfillment center needs to do is slap a label on it and give it to the courier.
I’m looking into doing this for the Scythe modular board. The pros are that it should speed up the fulfillment process and reduce the overall cost. It also ensures a consistent quality of packaging.
The cons are that the products take up more space for freight shipping. For example, you might be able to fit 126 games on a pallet normally, but if they’re prepacked in boxes, that number might reduce down to around 80. Also, if you intend to sell excess products to distributors, they shouldn’t be prepackaged, so it’s a bit of a balancing act in terms of the quantity the fulfillment center should prepack. Last, it isn’t always as simple as shipping 1 product to each person. Sometimes people order multiple units or there are add-ons or other games they want in the same package.
The Fulfillment Centers
If you’re selecting a fulfillment company, whether it’s one of these or another company, some of the things you’ll want to ask about and test are quality of packaging, speed, communication, customer service, and problem solving.
I’ve come to believe that consistently high quality is much more important than price when it comes to fulfillment centers. However, you can see a variety of stats (including price estimates, which are updated by each corresponding company) as well as contact information on this master list of fulfillment companies.
Here are my current top picks by region:
- United States: Fulfillrite, Quartermaster Logistics, and Funagain have great reputations, and whenever I receive a package from them, I’m pleased with the quality of packaging. Greater Than Games handles our fulfillment because they also warehouse our games, and I recommend them, but their core focus isn’t on fulfillment.
- Europe: Spiral Galaxy has been an absolute pleasure to work with on our last few preorder shipments. They’re extremely responsive, they’re fast, they pack games well, and they even have an optional system where they can confirm addresses with customers before printing labels.
- Canada: Starlit Citadel has been equally wonderful to work with. They’re in Vancouver, so if you make games in China, it’s a relatively quick ocean freight shipment. They’re great at communicating, their packaging is fantastic, and their fast and flexible.
- Asia: VFI is the company I worked with a few years ago, and they were excellent. I haven’t shipped games from a fulfillment center in Asia in a few years, but if I did, I wouldn’t hesitate to work with VFI again.
- Australia/NZ: Aetherworks is similar to VFI in that I haven’t shipped from within Australia in a while. However, that’s going to change with the upcoming Euphoria expansion. I trust that they’ll do a great job, and if not, I’ll update this post! :)
I’m sure there are other great fulfillment companies out there–feel free to recommend them in the comments below.
Instructions for Fulfillment Centers
I try to be abundantly clear every time we work with a fulfillment center. Feel free to copy and paste the instructions below (or add/subtract from them) they next time you fulfill a project:
- Ship all packages so they do not require a signature for delivery.
- Send customers their tracking number by e-mail on the same day that their order leaves the facility (not when the label is made and no later than the day after the package departs). Also, it’s crucial that backers see their FULL address on tracking notifications, not a partial address that will cause them to freak out and wonder if we forgot half of their information. If you need to identify the contents of each package for tracking, the label should read “_________.”
- Please send me a spreadsheet of tracking numbers and couriers within 2-3 days of fulfillment completion. 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 customer confusion and frustration.
- Please pack the products with plenty of cushioning around the edges, corners, and between differently sized components.
A Few Tips I’ve Learned Over the Years
- Bar Codes/SKUs: Some fulfillment centers require bar codes (www.buyabarcode.com or gs1); others just need SKUs (stock codes; if you’re in the board game industry, get these from email@example.com). Make sure you have both, and make sure you have a system for ensuring that you don’t use the same bar code on different products (I use a Google Doc with conditional formatting that highlights duplicate cells).
- Made in China: If you manufacture in China, put “Made in China” on the box (or wherever you made the product). Customs will have a problem if you don’t do this.
- Product Size: A certain number of cartons fit on a pallet (usually 48), and your manufacturer will often use the same carton size for everything they send. Keep this in mind when you determine the size of your product. For Scythe, if we had increased the box size even by 1 mm, we could have only fit 3 games per carton instead of 4. That’s a significant increase in freight shipping costs.
- Add-Ons: The more add-ons and various configurations you offer, the more trouble you’re going to have when you fulfill rewards. Not only does it increase the potential for human error, but it also increases the cost: most fulfillment centers charge a fee for each item in the box.
- Fee Precision: When calculating shipping rates on your crowdfunding project, use accurate fees for each country, not one-size-fits-all rates.
- Europe: If you’re shipping within Europe, I’d recommend putting an address on the back of the box. Guidelines indicate that it can be any address linked to your company (it does not need to be a European address).
- South America: Request tax ID numbers (CPFs) from backers in South America–this will help them pick up their order from the local customs office.
- Communication: I’ve found that keeping backers informed with frequent updates throughout the fulfillment process is really helpful for easing their anxiety, even if you have no news to share.
- Local Pickup: If you have some products in stock at your location, here are some factors to consider when offering local pickup.
Of course, this is far from the only way to ship stuff worldwide. There are a variety of methods you can use. Perhaps by reading my other articles about fulfillment, you can find the method that works best for you.
Also, I would love for there to be more forwarding services in the US that can service non-US customers. Has anyone used Shipito, Vyking, or YouShop?
If you fulfilled a project in 2018, what’s something you learned that can help your fellow creators?
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