Not every project requires a fulfillment partner. It’s a significant expense, and in some cases, rivals the actual production of your product for the most significant slice of your budget. If you only have a few dozen, or even a few hundred backers, a small team can generally handle the workload. Keep in mind, though that what you are saving in money, you’re making up with in time. So, thinking ahead can help keep headaches low.
Before you start your campaign, test out a shipment of what you expect the final reward to be, both in terms of dimensions, weight, and fragility. Send it to yourself or a friend across the country. The goal here is to find out how cheaply you can mail it while still protecting the integrity of your product.
Opening up your campaign to a wider audience is always a good idea, but you’ll have to be smart about who you can realistically offer your product to. Kickstarter keeps good tabs on where most of their backers come from, and you can do some research on similar campaigns to see where your audience is most likely to reside. Find out how much it will cost to ship to any countries you plan on serving. You’ll be passing this cost onto your backers, so if shipping begins to rival the actual cost of your product, you might have to make the hard decision to close it off to that country.
Don’t forget about costs adjacent to the postage—boxes, tape, mailers etc. These will factor into your shipping costs. One way to mitigate these hidden costs is to use flat rate shipping. This is an enticing option for a few reasons. One, you don’t have to do any calculations; it costs the same for every backer, no matter where they live. Two, most carriers offer the boxes/mailers for free, and they’ll deliver them to your door at no cost as well. If you can design your product’s packaging in a way that it fits neatly into a small flat rate box or mailer, this might be a good option that can keep the time spent packing and shipping to a minimum. Be careful, though, the cost of shipping a marginally bigger flat rate box can be exponentially higher.
No matter how you ship, one cost you’ll need to estimate and be very careful of is taxes and customs. Regulations differ from country to country, so taking advantage of resources on shippers’ websites is crucial. Getting customs wrong can lead to fines or seizure of your products. The more countries you serve, the more complicated this gets. This process seems to regularly be the breaking point for DIY fulfillers.
Local Pickup Option
If you live in a big city, it might make sense to offer a local pickup option for fans in your area. Not only will that save on shipping costs, but also gives you valuable face time with your fans. Give consideration to partnering with a local shop that serves your category (comic book shop, kitchen supply store etc.). Many shops will be happy to have an influx of potential customers coming in on a specific day, and can help turn it into a launch day event! These kinds of events also help generate great updates to your backers and keep your brand fresh even after the Kickstarter, late pledges, and fulfillment is complete!
Backers have a habit of deciding to move addresses in the short time between the end of your campaign and when it is time to ship. It can be frustrating getting surveys completed. Lucky for you, we’re here to help. Let’s talk, and give you one less thing to worry about.
Ship All at Once, or In Waves?
Sending rewards out in waves makes sense on paper, but you have to keep your timeline tight. If some backers begin receiving their rewards, while others haven’t even received a shipping confirmation, it can cause strife among your fans. If you don’t have the resources (or the space) to hold all your products before sending them all out at once, just make sure you let your backers know when the LAST day they can expect to receive a shipping confirmation. Do your best to have everything shipped out within a week of the day the first reward lands in a backer’s hand.
Lost in Transit
No matter how meticulous your process is, you will mess up. You’ll spell a name wrong or swap digits on a zip code. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to keep track of shipments, so your backers can quickly see if something is amiss. Even though we can easily see a misplaced shipment, it’s still pretty tough to course-correct when it’s in transit. It can take weeks for it to get returned to you. You don’t want to make them wait that long.
It’s important to make a little extra when your product gets produced, in case a backer’s reward gets lost or damaged. Something in the ballpark of 2-4% of your production run should be held back. You can always sell them when you’re certain every backer has their reward in hand.
One last tip in this vein; do your best to NOT ship in November and December. Carriers are overwhelmed with holiday orders, and as such hire on temporary and seasonal workers. They will not treat your product with the reverence it deserves. Thefts also spike around that time of year, as well. Push your fulfillment to January. It’s simply not worth the headache.
If you choose to do fulfillment yourself, you’re going to learn a ton about all the wild world of domestic and international shipping. It’s a logistical marvel, for sure, and one that can bite you if you don’t take it seriously.