Of all the ways to learn about board game fulfillment, I didn’t think the Quacks of Quedlinburg would be one of them.
From February 25 to March 9, I worked with Charlie Brieger, the CEO of Fulfillrite on a giveaway contest. We gave away the aforementioned game and there were a lot of ways you could enter the contest. One of which was answering the question “what confuses you the most about board game fulfillment?” Charlie and I didn’t know if that question was going to be useful or not, but we figured it was worth a shot.
Turns out, we received 165 responses that, in the aggregate, were incredibly insightful. When you run a board game publishing company, fulfillment is a major part of your customer service considerations. Likewise, if you run a fulfillment company like Charlie does, it’s always useful to hear from the customers.
Shortly after the contest, I put together a report for him summarizing the data. We thought it’d be fun to answer some of those questions online. I’ve selected twelve of your questions and Charlie will be answering each of them below.
1. What is fulfillment?
After a Kickstarter campaign is funded, a lot must happen in order for you to receive a game! It has to be manufactured, shipped by freight (ocean or air), sent to a warehouse, and then sent to your house. As you can imagine, the game devs who made the game you want to buy can’t do this alone.
What I’ve just described is the supply chain. The supply chain includes everything involved in the production and distribution of a product, such as a board game you’ve been looking forward to. Fulfillment is an important part of the supply chain. It involves order management, picking, packing, and shipping.
2. How does fulfillment work?
Fulfillment is what we do at my company, Fulfillrite. When you place an order through your online store, or when a Kickstarter creator has a whole bunch of orders to fulfill from a Kickstarter campaign, that’s where we pick up. We receive orders, prepare the packages by selecting the appropriate inventory, then we send it out via USPS or FedEx – whichever is appropriate.
3. How does international shipping work?
International shipping is very similar to domestic shipping, with a couple of key differences. First, the postage costs more because it takes more cars, more planes, and more boats to get a game from our warehouse in New Jersey to Sweden, than it would, say, Pennsylvania. Second, we fill out customs forms which lets customs agencies know how much to charge in taxes for exporting / importing goods.
4. How are games shipped to my house?
When games are shipped from a transportation hub to your house, that’s called last-mile delivery. A lot of people consider this to be the hardest part of the entire supply chain!
When we ship products, there is a handoff. The product is then in the hands of USPS, FedEx, or DHL. From our warehouse, they send your game to the nearest one of their hubs, which is usually within 50 miles of where you are. From that local hub, one of a few scenarios can occur:
- The game is then sent by mail (USPS, Royal Mail, etc.).
- The game is delivered through courier service. This is when UPS/FedEx/DHL comes to your house.
- Your game is sent to a pick-up location at your request. For example, FedEx can ship to Walgreens for pick-up. Amazon likes to send products to Whole Foods for your pick up when it’s not practical to deliver to your home.
Again, this is not a perfect process. If you live somewhere really remote, there may still be no last-mile delivery service. However, emerging technology such as self-driving cars and drones may change this in the future.
5. How are shipping costs determined?
A little while ago, we did a post with Brandon called Board Game Fulfillment & Why it Matters on Day 1 of Game Development. In it, we said that shipping costs were largely determined by two factors. The first is the height, width, and length of the package. The second is the weight of the package. The lighter and smaller boxes are, the cheaper the cost to ship will be.
Why are bigger and heavier boxes more expensive to ship? The answer lies in other parts of the supply chain, many of which Fulfillrite doesn’t deal with directly. Heavier packages take more fuel to ship by ocean and by truck. Similarly, the bigger a package is, the fewer you can fit on a single vehicle – whether it be a gigantic transpacific ocean liner or an 18-wheeler truck. Every square centimeter of space you take up on one of those vehicles is a square centimeter someone else’s products can’t occupy, so they charge accordingly.
6. How do you determine how long it takes to ship a game?
Once we receive orders at our warehouse, we move pretty fast. Everything inside Fulfillrite is very streamlined, so we can have orders out the same day we receive them if received by 2 PM.
Now that’s just getting inventory out of our warehouse. If you’re a gamer, you’re probably wondering how long it takes for the entire shipping process to be over – including the last-mile delivery. For most people, it’s as simple as adding the time it takes us to ship the order and the time it takes the couriers to deliver the order.
7. How are customs and taxes determined?
Customs and taxes are based on different countries’ regulations. Goods are classified by the type of good or goods they are. Customs and taxes are then applied based on the type of good(s) and the country they’re going to. I recommend you use an online calculator like this one if you need to calculate customs or taxes for a Kickstarter campaign.
8. How do you determine whose game gets shipped first after a Kickstarter campaign?
The short answer is that we defer to the recommendations of clients. That is, if the Kickstarter campaigner says to ship to a certain subset of people first, that’s what we do. Otherwise, we ship them all within the same day or two. We ship based on the information the clients provides, which may include special instructions. In reality, though, we usually ship them out so quickly that it doesn’t matter.
9. How does Amazon ship so cheaply and quickly?
Great question – we call this the Amazon Effect. In short, customers have really high expectations of shipping because Amazon is so fast and inexpensive. You’re probably referring to Amazon Prime – which provides free two-day shipping for most items to most places in the US.
Amazon is cheap because Prime generates a lot of cash by encouraging people to buy more items. This makes it plausible for them to rush ship nearly everything they have in stock. They also have a lot of local warehouses spread all over the world and robust IT to help them predict which items will be needed in which areas. Finally, the fees on their Fulfillment by Amazon services are fairly steep, which gives them the additional cash needed to finance the Amazon Prime program.
10. What causes delays in fulfillment?
By far, the biggest cause of delay in Kickstarter fulfillment can be chalked up to shipment receiving delays. Kickstarter campaign fulfillment relies on a few prerequisites:
- The timely communication between the campaigner and the manufacturer.
- No issues in manufacturing.
- Timely shipping by ocean, plane, or truck.
If something goes wrong with any of the above, that causes us – and other fulfillment centers like us – to start late.
If there are any problems with last-mile delivery after a game leaves our warehouse, that can also cause you to receive your board game later than you would like.
11. Why are companies so bad at communicating throughout the supply chain process?
There are a few causes. Regrettably, the most common one is simply that a Kickstarter campaigner does not follow up with timely information. Other times, a Kickstarter campaigner’s inventory is being manufactured or shipped by ocean/air and they have little communication from the people who currently physically possess the games. In short, they don’t know what’s going on either.
Once games are in a warehouse like Fulfillrite or in the hands of the courier handling last-mile delivery, communication tends to improve. We often send out tracking numbers that make it easier for people to figure out where their games are in transit.
12. How can we handle the less environmentally-friendly parts of fulfillment?
It’s pretty incredible that you can move goods across the world a matter of days. What’s not incredible are the fossil fuels that are burnt, the greenhouse gases that are released, and the packaging that is created and then quickly disposed of.
Fulfillrite is aware of environmental concerns and we take steps to make sure our operations are as green as possible. For one, we’re physically close to the Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia airports. We’re also physically close to the Port of New York & New Jersey. Not only does this cut down on costs, but it also means inventory doesn’t have to travel very far by truck to get to us. This cuts down on a lot of harmful emissions.
We’re also careful not to use more packaging than we need. We send a lot of small items, so we use small boxes to send items instead of larger standardized boxes. Since we use smaller boxes, this saves the materials needed not just for the boxes but also for padding the inside of the boxes too. In short, we keep your games safe and snug without senselessly harming the environment.
As you can see, fulfillment has a lot of moving parts. We hope that by taking the time to answer some of your questions, you better understand the extraordinary inner workings of the processes that ship games to your home.
Have any more questions? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear them 🙂