Before you launch your Kickstarter campaign, you have to make a few key choices about shipping. Although Kickstarter projects can now originate in the United Kingdom in addition to the US, I’m going to write this from the perspective of US creator.
Shipping will vastly differ based on the project, so you’ll have to calculate those costs yourself. However, it is incredibly important that you calculate shipping costs based on the most expensive shipping could be for you. Assume that you’re going to achieve every stretch goal. Then use the size and weight of that version of your project to estimate the shipping cost per unit. For example, if you’re shipping USPS (domestic or international), there’s a HUGE difference in first class postage if your package is less than 4 pounds versus more than 4 pounds.
Also, if you have flexibility in determining the size of your product, configure it so it fits into one of USPS’s flat rate boxes. You might find a better deal through a different company or if your project weighs less than you thought, but at least you have the flat rate option if needed.
You also need to factor in any add-ons for some shipping levels. Most backers might be getting a hardback copy of your book, but 50 of them might sign up for a life-size portrait of you writing the book (who wouldn’t want that?) The shipping cost will be very different for the add-on, especially if you decide to ship it separately.
I’ll advocate fulfillment centers in a second, but if you decide to pack and ship all of the domestic shipments yourself, you need to include the cost of shipping materials in addition to postage for your per-unit costs. Skim through Uline and look at the cost of boxes, tape, bubble wrap, printing stickers, etc. You will need all of these things.
Last, as I was wisely told by fellow project creator Jason (his project, Deck of Thieves, is currently on Kickstarter), it will take a long time to assemble all of those boxes, so order them well in advance so you can have them assembled before your product is manufactured.
International shipping is a lot trickier than domestic. You still need to consider a lot of the above factors, especially if you’re packing and shipping the product yourself. The difference is that with international shipping, there’s a good chance that you will encounter situations where the actual shipping costs is the same as the cost of the reward. That’s a huge deterrent for international backers, so you might have to adjust your costs and take a loss on international shipping like we did for Viticulture.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be smart and selective about how you take that loss. For example, the map on the left shows the shipping costs for Minion Games’ Hegemonic Kickstarter project. Although it’s a very heavy game, they wisely sized the game to fit into a medium USPS flat-rate box so they would know the exact cost of shipping per unit. Note that shipping to certain foreign countries is more expensive than shipping to others.
When you determine your international shipping costs, you have a choice as to how you present that information to backers. Here are your options with pros and cons:
- Have backers manually enter the additional cost of shipping: Last November, Kickstarter added a feature that lets you list one international shipping price. My understanding of this is when an international backers selects a reward level that requires shipping, they are prompted to add the additional amount for shipping. This number is also visible under each reward level on the right sidebar. This is my preferred option because it reduces the number of reward levels compared to the second option–no need to make backers weed through reward levels that have no application to them. The downside is that you (the project creator) have to track down any backers who slip through the cracks and don’t pledge for shipping in addition to the reward. Thank goodness for PayPal after the project is over.
- Create reward levels for each type of shipping: Some projects opt to include several tiers of shipping as reward levels. For the most part this solves the data problem of tracking international buyers, but you might still have to track a few down if they pledge to the domestic level without realizing it. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea if you only have a few reward levels, but I wouldn’t recommend this option. (I’m open to other opinions in the comments, of course.)
Overall, international shipping is the source of much consternation for creators and backers alike. See the modest proposal at the end of this post for some thoughts on how to solve this problem.
Before I launched Viticulture, I had it in my mind that Alan and I would pack and ship every game that we sent to backers. That’s what Kickstarter is all about, right? Rollin’ up your sleeves, gettin’ your hands dirty, workin’ through the night.
All of those things are true. But shipping 50 boxes is a lot different than shipping 500. Or 1, 000. Or a gajillion (a “gajillion” is anything over 50, really. Because that’s what it will feel like).
You can save time and money by finding a fulfillment company to distribute your product to your backers. There are plenty out there, and ideally you’ll find one in your city. I’m working with Amazon Fulfillment for domestic shipments (they don’t do international). If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.