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Big Hiccup Using Amazon for Fulfillment and Retail

Working with Amazon the fulfillment company and Amazon the retailer at the same time was mostly great, but it did cause one big hiccup.

97a711_cc77efac50fd7637763ba7115bc4f17aAmazon is a lot of things to a lot of people: most people know them as a retailer, but they are also a marketplace, a fulfillment company, and even a web hosting company. When we were trying to send our Lanterns rewards to backers with Amazon the fulfillment company, we had a hiccup that caused a big delay because we were also dealing with Amazon the retailer. Here’s what happened:

Fulfillment Company: As I mentioned in my post about delivering Lanterns rewards to backers, we used Amazon’s Multi-Channel Fulfillment. We mailed them 1000 copies of Lanterns, we uploaded a spreadsheet of data to them, and they mailed out the products to our customers. We managed all this in an area of Amazon’s website called “Seller Central”. You can list your products for sale on Amazon through Seller Central, but we didn’t need to do that; we had already “sold” the products through Kickstarter. We had sold them through another channel, and we simply needed Amazon to fulfill the orders. (“Multi-Channel Fulfillment” refers to Amazon fulfilling orders you sold through non-Amazon channels like Kickstarter or your own website.)

Retailer: At the same time, we were also working with Amazon the retailer. (We manufactured more games than just those we needed for Kickstarter rewards, with plans to sell them to distributors and retailers.) Amazon the retailer buys products from “vendors” (aka, publishers) and sells those products to their customers. We managed this relationship in an area of Amazon’s website called “Vendor Central”. Without thinking too much about it, we tentatively set an optimistic release date of April 30.

The difference between a “Seller” in Amazon and a “Vendor” in Amazon is important. You can see this difference clearly when you look at the two listing for Foxtrot Games games:

For Relic Expedition, we are the seller.

For Relic Expedition, we are the seller.

For Lanterns, Amazon is the seller. (Behind the scenes, we are the vendor.)

For Lanterns, Amazon is the seller. (Behind the scenes, we are the vendor.)

The reward copies of Lanterns arrived at an Amazon warehouse on April 6 and spent a week getting moved around to different warehouses. They were all scanned in and marked as “Available” on April 13. I uploaded my spreadsheet and expected the orders to start going out right away. But they did not.

It took a while to track down the issue. It was related to that release date of April 30. Since Amazon the retailer knew from Vendor Central that the vendor was releasing Lanterns on April 30, Amazon the fulfillment company wouldn’t let Foxtrot Games the Seller mail out copies of the game before that. What? Really?!?! We made tons of phone calls to both Vendor Support and Seller Support, but we simply could not get the release date we set as the Vendor changed so that we could mail out our rewards before that date as a Seller. It did not even matter that our beautiful fox logo was on the box; they would not mail out our rewards for us. It was a very frustrating ten days, with the games just sitting there waiting for the “release” date.

Despite the frustration, everything worked out just fine. The delay gave the international shipments a head start, so backers in the United States and backers around the world started receiving their rewards at similar times. Even with the delay, we still delivered rewards two months early (April instead of June). But this is something we are going to have to solve for World’s Fair 1893. We are looking at using separate barcodes for Kickstarter rewards and retail copies, though that may be too expensive; we may just use a different fulfillment company just to make sure we can avoid this.

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