Long and Complainy - More more more issues with international shipping, SMH
3 months ago
– Sat, Nov 23, 2019 at 12:52:20 AM
On the topic of international shipping
Essentially no progress has been made in any directions regarding international shipping.
This isn't exactly true, there's actually a lot of news, updates, and nuance. But no 'progress', because all of these options suck, and international shipping (apart from, merely just shipping it to your door ourselves) is across-the-board terrible.
Let me preface; if there was some company making a product, produced in China or printed in various regions, and it was shipped to distribution centers and shipped all over the world, we would be talking about the 'normal pipeline'. It's not unexpensive, but it's also sort of amertized costs since you must get the product from China anyway. We are NOT this company.
We are manufacturing everything ourselves, in our own facilities, here in the USA. This means our international shipping costs are NOT amortized whatsoever, and we're directly "importing" our product into various regions, and it is hell. Not because it's overly complicated to lose tremendous amounts of money doing something simple. No, if this was your goal, it's easy to accomplish. But if you're trying to -save- money by doing something that seems relatively simple, and passing along those savings to your international backers, god help you.
Now, in part for brevity, and in part for humor, I'm going to rant/complain a little at the expense of some people that ARE ultimately on our side and doing their best. I'm not really being critical of THEIR actions, simply lamenting the greater universe that we are all stuck in.
Poland - Private agent in the EU - Our first independent shipment has arrived in Poland, it has roughly 25 copies of the 5E Spell Effects in a box. Declarations / Freight Forwarding were minimized by sending this package essentially to ourselves; we declared the cost of goods, we receive our own goods, we distribute our own goods. Problem 1 > Customs will not notify the recipient that the package exists. He has to drive over an hour to a customs depo on the border and personally wait in line and ask for a package he 'assumes must exist', and fortunately they agree, "oh yes, we totally have this and it's been here for some time." Problem 2 > Our receiving "company" did not pre-place a purchase order for the products that we shipped ourselves from the USA. Therefor, we cannot prove that this package was requested, hence the package isn't technically allowed to arrive.... solid logic, right? So we solved this by having "ourselves" piggyback our friend's company name, and officially state that we have 'purchased' the items rather than just accept them. We're happy to pay VAT (of course, the package was clearly labeled and value declared in the first place). But in order to proceed, his business needs an EORI number, pay a registration fee, and ... wait several days and drive to the border again. This EORI number is for EU businesses to officially accept international packages, and since their business previously didn't ever need to accept an international package, they just didn't have one. Eventually, we got our package, and now we begin calculating costs to have our agent manually assemble these to ship to our EU backers. Again, not to insult our friend, but lets go on the assumption that now they'll need roughly $8-10 USD to ship each of these packages. Our agent has given us an initial estimate of $950 USD (we've already paid VAT, and over $130 shipping to get the box to the EU.) This would bring the grand total "shipping costs" per set to around $43, a savings of about $7 bucks, plus we've paid the VAT which in theory should be re-collected. However - this 'savings' is VS the Priority Mail price of $50 per package (plus recipient may get hit with courier fees), not VS the much cheaper First Class International shipping cost (which often go missing).
Black Book Editions - agents of "Game-On" in France, a dedicated EU re-shipper - Things are much much more irritating for the 'professional' version of doing the same thing. Our FPM2 batch has been sitting in France' customs for almost 5 weeks. Again, they "Didn't even know it was waiting on them." Now, one big difference between our private agent and BBE, is that this is a major company/warehouse in theory handling the re-shipment of many kickstarters. For these reasons, we were required to individually bag EVERY item, by SKU, barcode every SKU, and send it all with declared retail values. This batch of FPM2 stuff is lonnnnnng overdue, shipped in 2x boxes at an initial shipping price of $155.85 and $123.12, with declared values of $1643 + $1473 respectively (that means VAT alone is going to be another $600 just to import these boxes). This includes total products going to 39 destinations in EU (aka, after they scan and accept all this crap, they have to pick + pack 39 boxes with it). Estimated costs for pick + pack + box + ship are unknown, because all of our correspondence is in broken english and confusing as hell. They've told me twice now that we owe VAT (of course, on the declared import) and THEN we owe VAT for their assembly... we owe VAT for their picking fees, and we owe VAT for the BOXES and the LABOR. Now I'm well aware that this isn't how VAT works, and they agree, with the most shockingly confusing email to date confirming "oh yeah, you're in the USA, never mind you wont have to pay any VAT at all then." ... what does this even mean?? They'll certainly claim I owe VAT when they try to accept the packages and need to pay the $600 to receive it.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves - because unlike our Polish agent who was able to go and get the package, Black Book Editions has only confirmed 'yes, customs has had this for a long time' and that they need OUR EORI number to recieve it. .... Uhm. What? The company that professionally helps re-ship and re-distribute US-based kickstarter projects through France doesn't have an EORI number to import shipments, and wants ME to have one? This essentially implies we are the FIRST import they have EVER done? I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear this and it's lost in translation.
Eventually, they're going to bill me, and somehow I assume it'll be higher than my own agent's estimated $38 per package for assembly + re-ship. My rough total estimates have these at nearing $65 per shipment right now and climbing fast.
Lion Rampant Imports - Fantastic people, answered the phone promptly and let me talk to a warehouse manager and operations manager. Conversations went very smoothly, and they agree this is an incredibly light and easy to manage package, with a small number of shipments. Should be "no problem" just need to finish some paperwork and basic logistics stuff. They provided me with a standard fee chart - $3.50 base fee, +Box cost, plus direct shipping costs (once it gets to Canada), plus the initial large shipment cost, plus import duties/tarrifs. If we're sending 20x copies to Canada hopefully we can get the final costs down under $25 a shipment..... USPS First Class International shipments are $16.39 to canada right now. So, in a perfect world, we lose potentially $9 a shipment going through an agent that so far has been smooth and easy to work with. Of course First Class is unreliable, but at a cost of +$9 per shipment.... if less than 16% of these 'disappear' we SAVE money taking the risk. It's unreliable, but it's not THAT unreliable.
Aetherworks - Austrialian warehouse with dedicated KS re-shipments to AU/NZ region. Also seem like great guys. In this case, we have only 19x AU sets to ship. At this low quantity, their 'flat rate' fee kicks in, for $650 AUS ($441 USD) to cover everything. So we'll ship to them for ~$150, plus the $441, and end up around $31 per package. Honestly ... it's kind of upsetting how reasonable this seems in comparison. But again, its $22.33 per First Class shipment to just "send it ourselves", almost the exact same $+9 cost from CA, so as long as 16% don't go missing, we save money saying "screw it" and just shipping them to individuals.
On the topic of residual 'costs' to international shipping, aka time.
Again, not to 'blame' anyone. I love you guys, and we owe our business and literally our livelihood to our backers. But lets consider this an honest retrospective:
Almost 60% of non-spam emails we receive, company wide, are concerns/issues about international shipments that have gone missing or are significantly delayed by foreign customs. In virtually all cases, the USPS delivers the package to the host country ... and then "poof" who knows. Of course the backer/web customer is very frustrated, wondering WTF to do, and who's the culprit, and who's going to pay to reship to them. These email chains are 10+ emails long on average. If i'm not in a diplomatic mood, and I respond too curtly, they can be immensely offended that I'm not willing to lose serious money eating the costs and reshipments.
Less than 15% of our backers/orders are international. International backers are more polar in their purchases, strangely ordering the smallest orders (cannot understand this logic), and also the largest orders (makes perfect sense, since you'll save shipping costs buying 1 large order vs two smaller ones over time) - but this backfires tremendously when they go missing, or put in a Paypal/Stripe dispute claiming they never get their package. Every international package that goes missing puts us in a tough spot, do we upset our customer, or refuse to take a loss on the entire order. If Stripe/Paypal get involved it's a strange coin toss - either way we shipped the package correctly;
A> When USPS shows the package 'delivered' to the host country, and then the package goes missing, we win the dispute, because we did nothing wrong.
B> In the cases where the USPS "screws something up" typically because they delivered it to the host country successfully butttttttt "forgot to scan it properly" at some stage, the dispute declares that because the USPS is at fault .... WE lose the dispute and have to pay for the USPS' mistake.
Again, best logic ever. But regardless we lose a not insignificant % of our income from international shipments. And if a $200 shipment is considered "profit" of say, $50, having to eat an extra $200 in product, plus a second $22+ in shipping, doesn't just kill our profits from that sale, it kills the profits from several sales. So even small-ish rates of missing international shipments can completely kill all international profitability.
And now, with this latest batch of 'bad news' (from a cost perspective, physically the shipments are proceeding and all that), I'm just right back to scratching my head thinking to myself "I don't think I should even bother." I know a lot of people will be upset by this, but I really believe we will not offer international shipping solutions in the next campaign, per-say.
Amazon and Amazon.uk
Oh, I wish I could say here's our saving grace. And maybe it is. But wow there's a problem.
Now, I always assumed there would be some 'benefit' to amazon.uk from my stocking perspective. I figured that I could send products to Amazon, and they could funnel it off to Amazon.uk, with some streamlined process of getting American products into EU. NOPE! Strange as it may seem (or not strange), they cant offer me anything. I have to ship it to Europe, pay all fees, VAT, etc. to get it to an EU warehouse, and then it stocks and sells to the EU like normal. So if I'm out a % of total costs, if i want to recoup, I need to raise the cost on Amazon.uk.
I assume of course there's an end of day benefit to an EU buyer, because once it's imported there's no additional costs/ couriers, sure.
But I would not have suspected that an EU buyer would also get a significant benefit buying from Amazon.COM. Turns out, as soon as 5E Generic Spell Effects hit amazon.com, a slew of international backers jumped aboard and preferred buying the Amazon.com version of the item rather than buy the same item, at the same cost, from Arcknight.com. (everything else being equal, why give Amazon the 15% stocking fee?) Now, wouldn't this be the same? Either way it now has to leave an American warehouse and go straight to the EU backer ... I reached out and asked why - I know there's no international prime shipping, that's impossible. I was told that yes, they will pay international shipping costs. BUT, since Amazon is HUGE, they funnel all this product off to the EU, declare / minimize VAT, get it into the EU, and then the buyer doesn't pay a courier fee....
WAT. Isn't that the same scenario as above? No. If it's in Amazon's possession, and it's sold, Amazon can move it. But if it's not in their possession, and was never 'sold', thats an import of unsold goods to the EU, and Amazon won't touch my customs issues with a 10-foot pole, it's on me.
Long story short though, both Amazon AND Amazon.uk offer potentially significant benefits to international backers, from any country. Essentially if it can be imported and delivered cleanly, Amazon's on the job, though it may raise my costs to supply it (and therefore impact my profitability.) So, it's "possible" that even though I lose a % to Amazon, these international issues simply aren't worth the headaches - pass them off to Amazon, take a smaller cut, and let the chips fall.
In our next kickstarter, this may very well be our approach: We'll toss copies at Amazon, and international backers can grab them up ... but we're not taking direct international orders or dealing with anything - because it just kills our bottom line, and too much of our time.
But this isn't even the "problem". The 5E Generic set is 12x18" sheets, in a plastic bag. The final dimensions are therefore 12x18" + a bit. The cutoff for oversized items is 12x18" exactly, or else we incur a massive 'oversize' fee in addition to the Amazon listing fees + shipping fees. For the 5E Generic item, this could be another +$9 per order on a $40 MSRP product, obliterating any possible income from the entire listing - Internationally AND Domestically..... Making Amazon completely out of the question (for this product) for life.
I'm working with Amazon to see if we can get an override or recalculation under the exception that this 'bag' doesn't actually increase it's shipping dimensions. If they accept, then I get to have the entire same argument with Amazon.uk, ESL. Fun stuff.
Pathfinder Set News
Philip has a new layout. A fan asked us if we're going to support PF2, not just PF1. That conversation led to the awareness that they're the SAME set.... except PF2 has "emanations". But the idea of Emanations aren't unique to PF2, they're just as relevant and logical in PF1, the term was just never coined. An "Emanation" is just an area spell like a nova that originates on a unit instead of a vertice. So whether it's in the 'rules' or not, MANY PF1 players (probably) already apply something like the emanation ruling to their games, or would be interested in having an emanation template if all else is equal.
What this means is that we can make a single "PF" 3-page layout, that has all the PF shapes, with the Emanations thrown in there. And if you want them, yay. And if you don't want them, ignore them.
This takes some tricks in the same manner as the 5E Generic sets with nested shapes, but that's good all around for everyone. The only step we're not finished with is trying to make sure the overlapping PF 'trace lines' aren't overly confusing, if we had an option to clean them up more, and we don't have many options anyway since only so many shapes / trace lines can nest inside each other regardless.
And then LASTLY - we have a very hard question : assuming the 'shape' of a PF1 fireball and a PF2 fireball are the same (which they are), and this single product can cater to both PF1 and PF2 players simultaneously (which it can), can the "Spell Text" as well become somehow agnostic, and appeal to both - or does the text absolutely have to go one way or the other.
We haven't spent much time on this question, and PF2 is 'new' and all new paizo products are PF2-based.... but this kickstarter was funded by you guys asking for "PF" sets, not PF2 sets (necessarily?) but perhaps what you're really asking is for shapes that work for PF - which this will be regardless.
I dunno, feedback much appreciated.