We finished mailing rewards to backer of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival last month using Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment and Asendia.
I still find coordinating fulfillment to be one of the biggest challenges for me as a Kickstarter project creator. There’s unfortunately no perfect solution or silver bullet that fits every situation; the best approach for each project depends on a lot on the specific details. Here are the details from Lanterns that were relevant to making that decision:
- We had 1000 units to mail to backers in the United States, and 300 units to mail to the rest of the world.
- We had significantly more copies of the game for retail than we needed for Kickstarter rewards.
- We had only one product (with just one barcode) to mail: the game. (We had no promos or add-ons so that we could simplify fulfillment.)
- Lanterns was small: two copies of Lanterns in a shipping box weighed less than 4.4 pounds / 2 kilograms.
- Lanterns wasn’t tiny: one copy did not fit in a padded envelope or in a USPS Small Flat Rate box.
- One reward copy of Lanterns had a declared value for customs of US$17.
With those details in mind, we chose to use Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment for US backers and Asendia for international backers. Except for one big hiccup with Amazon that delayed things (see this companion post), we were incredibly pleased with how it all went.
Note: I owe a big “thank you” to Chris Henderson for his four-part, step-by-step guide to Using Amazon Fulfillment to Ship a Kickstarter Product. Check it out →
Arrival in the United States
- Our container full of copies of Lanterns came from China to our warehouse in Indiana, where we stored the games bound for retail until they were sold to distributors. (We have sold out of our first printing; the second printing is currently on the way here.)
- As soon as they arrived in Indiana, we shipped 1000 copies to Amazon. I created the shipping UPS labels through Amazon’s Seller Central. Because Amazon has a partnership with UPS, the cost to ship 1000 units to them was incredibly cheap.
- At the same time, we also shipped 300 copies to Asendia using a freight company. It was a short trip from Indiana to Illinois, so that was also fairly inexpensive.
I emailed Asendia a spreadsheet of the data, and the communication was great. It took Asendia a week to ship out all 300 games. They only deal with bulk shipments, so they won’t handle small projects or even individual packages after the campaign. Their bulk pricing with the United States Postal Service is so good that they charged me less for postage and handling than I would have had to pay for postage alone if I had shipped them myself. Packages started arriving in France and Canada after just a few days, and most backers had their rewards within two weeks. A few took a little longer, closer to four weeks. I had two packages that didn’t arrive at all, and I had to mail replacements myself.
One important thing to note: these rewards shipped from the United States to the other countries. Many campaigns offer “EU-friendly” shipping, which means the project creators first ship rewards to a fulfillment company in the EU, and then that fulfillment company ships the rewards individually to backers from within the EU. Asendia does not do that. For a game the size and cost of Lanterns, that did not make sense:
- We could use USPS’s International Priority Airmail (IPA) service for packages less than 4.4 lbs; that service is pretty affordable. (If your package is more than 4.4 lbs, you can’t send it IPA; instead, you can can only ship it with the USPS using the more expensive Priority Mail International.) For one and two copies of Lanterns (the vast majority of international packages) we could use IPA.
- Most EU countries do not collect VAT or customs charges for packages with a declared value less than €22. One copy of Lanterns had a declared value of $17 (the rest of the pledge was to cover shipping), so most of our backers would not receive extra charges.
For a larger quantity of big, heavy, and expensive games, EU-friendly shipping could make sense, but it did not for Lanterns. If you plan to offer EU-friendly shipping, make sure you understand all the costs — especially the costs to ship the games to the EU. With Relic Expedition, it cost us a lot more than we could have imagined for that piece.
One other important thing to note: Asendia did not give tracking numbers to me or my backers. International shipping is a bit of a waiting game, and you have to be patient. They did have tracking numbers for groups of packages, and if we had serious issues they could have tracked them down. But since nearly every package arrived, I never bothered them to get those tracking numbers.
I shipped all my copies to one Amazon location, and it took about a week for them to get scanned into inventory and moved to various Amazon centers around the country. (Next time I ship from a US warehouse to Amazon, I’ll ship them to multiple locations like Amazon prefers.) I uploaded a spreadsheet with the data. Once they started processing orders (this took a really long time; that was our one big hiccup), things went very smoothly. They mailed all 1000 rewards in three days, and I could see individual tracking numbers in Amazon’s Seller Central. Packages all arrived within one week. Amazon must get such good deals on shipping because they charged me about the same for shipping + packaging + handling as I would have paid in shipping + packaging if I had shipped them myself.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the best approach to fulfillment will depend on a lot on the specific details of your project. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Both Asendia and Amazon charge for each item they have to put in the package. If you have a game, a promo pack of cards, a T-shirt, three flyers, prints, buttons, and four stretch goal miniatures, those costs will add up.
- For Amazon, each item must have a barcode that can be scanned. (At one point, I considered sending the wooden favor token stretch goal only to backers. However, the extra manufacturing cost to include a card with a barcode and the extra fulfillment cost to add a second product was prohibitively expensive: it was cheaper to put wooden favor tokens in every copy of the game.)
- If the majority of the games you manufacture are going to backers, it might be cheaper to ship all of them straight to Amazon from China. That’s what Chris Henderson did; see Part 4 of his series.
- Amazon has a fairly high base charge. If your product is tiny, Amazon could easily end up being more expensive. Lanterns was big enough that Amazon was a good price; so was Chris Henderson’s game. Be sure to follow the exercise in Part 2 of his series to calculate your own costs.
- Every once in a while, I hear someone online comment that Kickstarter creators should mail rewards themselves (instead of using a fulfillment company) to save money. In my case, it would have cost about the same for me to mail the 1300 packages myself. If each package took 3 minutes, that would have been 65 hours: I have much more interesting things to do with 65 hours (like develop more board games!) than save a few pennies.
- I also often hear people make a big deal about making sure your product fits in a USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail box. I have not found that to be the case. The Flat Rate Small box is just too small for most board games; plus, if your product does fit it in a small flat rate box, it could easily be cheaper to ship it in a padded envelope. I don’t plan to use those Flat Rate box sizes to determine the size of my games; there are more important factors than that.
As I mentioned, there’s no perfect approach for every project. What approaches have you taken to fulfill your Kickstarter rewards? What details from your project made that the right approach? What will you change about how you handle fulfillment for future projects?