Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to prepare for the cost of board game fulfillment. In that article, I also mentioned three other ugly truths about fulfillment that I’ll be talking about today.
- Even domestic fulfillment – packages originating in the United States and going to somewhere else in the United States – can be tricky.
- Your international customers might be charged customs or VAT, unless you ship from within their country or region. That means you have to fulfill your games through a third-party distributor OR YOUR CUSTOMERS MIGHT GET CHARGED EXTRA.
- Don’t try to fulfill your game on your own if you have more than 200 people to send to at once. Same principle applies if ongoing shipping takes more than an hour or two.
With that in mind, I’ve written how-to guides to help you address these three issues. As with the original article, this advice is targeted at game developers in the United States. However, it might still be helpful even if you’re outside of my country.
How To Ship Low-Volume Domestic Packages Yourself
If you’ve got fewer than about 200 packages to send in the USA, you’re probably better off fulfilling rewards on your own. Services are expensive at low volumes, but critical at higher volumes – we’re talking hundreds of packages OR regularly sending more than 10 packages on a daily basis.
Step 1: Order Flat Rate Mailers from USPS
Our benevolent government has seen fit to provide us with free supplies for shipping mail through the USPS – as long as you’re using priority mail. You still have to pay for postage, which costs quite a bit, but is usually cheaper than anything else (like UPS or DHL). You can order free boxes and mailers on the USPS website in quantities of up to 100 at a time.
Step 2: Buy Packing Supplies from ULINE
If you’re buying boxes, mailers, or bags, there is no better place to look than shipping supply mecca, ULINE. I personally chose to put padded mailers inside of the USPS priority mail padded mailers when I was shipping War Co., so I bought a whole bunch of Kraft yellow mailers from the ULINE store.
Also worth mentioning that if your package is too light to consider priority mail (under 13 ounces) or too bulky to fit in the USPS boxes, ULINE has mailers and boxes of all sorts of sizes. You can use your own boxes and mailers and still print postage.
Step 3: Order Bubble Wrap and Shipping Labels on Amazon
Anything you can’t find on ULINE, you can almost always find on Amazon. A couple of things I found myself buying on Amazon for fulfillment were bubble wrap and handy-dandy adhesive Avery brand shipping labels. I cannot emphasize enough how nice those shipping labels are to have for the next step.
Step 4: Make Postage using Stamps.com
If you plan on shipping more than 100 packages at once OR 25 packages per month, I suggest you go to Stamps.com, make an account, and download their software. Full disclosure, it costs about $16/month to maintain an account, but you get a discount of $.70 on every priority package you print postage for, so it pays for itself pretty quickly.
All you have to do is enter the address you want to ship to, enter the weight and size of the package, print the stamp on your nice Avery paper, and stick it on the package. That’s it. Repeat until all your packages are labeled.
You probably don’t need shipping insurance. You will, however, want to buy a cheap postage scale. Your weight estimate needs to be very accurate, and rounded up a bit just in case.
Step 5: Print Scan Sheets and Take Them to the Post Office
Put all of your packages in a box or a bag. Print off the scan sheet that Stamps.com will give you. Take all the packages to the post office. The postal worker will scan your sheet. All you have to do is just hand the packages over the counter. One scan sheet updates the tracking information for all your packages.
How To Find Third-Party Distributors for International Fulfillment
Unless you have only a handful of international packages to send, I strongly suggest you find distributors to help you send packages. Distributors tend to have warehouses in different countries, letting them send packages for way, way, way cheaper than the USPS ever could. Plus, if you send international packages from the US, your international customers might be charged customs or VAT, unless you ship from within their country or region. That means you have to fulfill your games through a third-party distributor OR YOUR CUSTOMERS MIGHT GET CHARGED EXTRA.
Yes, I copied and pasted that statement from above. Yes, that’s the third time it’s been on my blog. That’s how important it is. Kickstarter backers and board game buyers in Canada, Europe, and Australia have come to expect customs-free shipping. You’ll disappoint them if you don’t provide this. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but one you have to work with.
Step 1: Do Your Homework
The best distributors for Kickstarter rewards and board game sales change over time. My specific recommendations below will soon be outdated. Start Googling for fulfillment companies, especially if they fulfill board games. Find names. Look up those names and see what people are saying about them. Rule out the bad eggs before you send your first email.
Step 2: Start an Email Conversation with Distributors
Before you start a serious business relationship with a distributor, email their company. A good chunk of them may not even respond. If that’s the case, you don’t want to do business with them. Pass them by.
If you get a person, start asking about prices. That includes customs, account fees, shipping fees, payment terms, etc. Make sure you have an accurate estimate for the weight and size of your game. Leave no stone unturned. Put everything in an Excel spreadsheet and do some price comparisons. It’s different for every project.
Step 3: Try Some of My Recommendations
Here are some companies I’ve had good experiences with:
- Games Quest – they do fulfillment worldwide. They’re based in the UK, so their best prices are for Europe.
- Snakes and Lattes – they do fulfillment for Canada. Their customer service is very friendly and their prices are very reasonable!
- Aetherworks – they do fulfillment for Australia and New Zealand. If you have a lot of packages going to that area, they’re worth talking to.
How To Find Third-Party Distributors for Domestic Fulfillment
If you’re shipping more than a couple hundred packages in the USA, it’s time to call in the big guns. You need someone shipping USA-bound packages for you. Even if you don’t have many packages to send, this is really good to know about in case your business gets bigger than you expect.
The steps to this are basically the same as above, but here’s a couple of different suggestions:
This is a huge amount of information, and the longest post I’ve ever done. Shipping is very tricky, but if you are detail-oriented and hardworking, you can set up a network to fulfill your wildest dreams. When it’s done right, worldwide fulfillment is downright magical. Like a magician-in-training, though, it’s up to you to learn how the tricks are done.