Behind the Scenes: Shipping Costs

edited March 2011 in Story Games
Breaking off a discussion from the Microscope thread.

Consumers, designers, store owners... what's the deal with shipping? How does Amazon get away with charging five bucks while IPR has to charge $10, $20, or more? What's the real process here--how much of the cost do "big box" retailers actually eat compared to say, your friendly local gaming store?

Comments

  • I know it costs more to ship UPS if you go to their hub. Yes I said it - if you take it to them they charge more! So maybe Amazon gets a better deal because they integrate their computer systems into UPS's system. Mailing a game by the post office is cheaper.

    Another cost savings that amazon has is in cost of box. They are buying is bulk - hugh bulk so they can get boxes cheaper than small timers can. So they do have advantages.
  • edited March 2011
    I charge what it costs me to post, plus the cost of packaging, rounded to the nearest pound or dollar.

    For me, shipping to the US costs about $5. So, if you are in the States and order a book from me, I can ship it to you cheaper and faster, from the UK, than IPR can from the States. Crazy.
  • Yeah, my experience is similar to Grahams. When I was doing my own fulfillment I could ship Universalis to Korea for under $10. Europe at the time was like $4.80. Australia / NZ I think crept north of $12 but then I wasn't paying myself a salary for the "handling" part of "Shipping & Handling". And I was also simply shipping First Class in a bubble envelope. I think I only had 1 copy that got damaged enough for the customer to ask for a replacement.
  • For US orders, I charge actual postage, plus packaging, plus my fulfiller's fee for handling, and round it like Graham does. It comes to $6 for Apocalypse World, and less for my smaller games.

    For international orders I charge a little less than actual postage, but only, like, a buck or so. I'd much rather eat a buck here and there than lose sales to exorbitant shipping & handling, of all things.
  • Individuals posting stuff don't have to account for things like warehousing and staff costs - they can't post orders when they happen to head out to the shops, they have to devote manpower to fulfilling the many orders they receive.
    That said, I've stopped ordering from IPR because their international prices are ridiculous.
  • I'm confused as to why IPR is charging $30 when it costs me at most $8.
  • Part of it probably is that their quote only has Priority Mail as the cheapest option, when it should be First Class.

    Most times I purchased from IPR the sticker on the envelope said somewhere between $9 and $13. But it was before the "recent" purchase.

    Part of it was last I checked that the weights were completely wrong on items, and probably assumed each book was packaged and wrapped on its own, so if you ordered 3 books you paid for 3 times the shipping weight, but it still doesn't make sense. That said, didn't order from IPR for a while, due to those costs.
  • Hey guys! We're looking right now into whether there's a problem in our system with shipping charges- it's certainly true that we have actual staff and overhead to maintain at the warehouse and can't simply "charge what we're charged" or even take a loss on shipping as some pubs say they do. Nevertheless, we also don't want to gouge anyone on it, either. If somebody's been charged $30 for an $8 shipping job, please send that to my attention. Thanks! dw
  • Darren! Hey. Don't you pay for staff, overhead and warehousing with your cut of publishers' sales? Are you passing those costs on to the customers in shipping & handling now?
  • I have the same question as Vincent.
  • Hey guys! I'm sorry, I misspoke there. *Our* staff and overhead is covered out of our cut of pub sales. The "handling" portion of the shipping and handling goes to the staff at the warehouse itself for picking and processing the orders. dw
  • Shipping in Canada has become absurd, lately.

    I just finished mailing out the Perfect Unrevised pre-orders, and was shocked to find out that they cost me double what it cost me to mail out Ribbon Drive. For international orders, I had to pay $16 (or ship ground, which I was informed would take 6-8 weeks). I'm now looking to avoid shipping internationally with Canada Post ever again.

    Mostly, I was just happy when I saw a thread about shipping, because I needed to vent that.
  • That's weird, because IPR used to have the best shipping rates to Canada. They went with USPS, an option that not all online sellers had, and it made for a very reasonable shipping cost. Is that an option still?
  • Yeah, it seems that anyone who ships by USPS or Canada Post can give great rates, with UPS or FedEx the rates are horrible.
  • edited March 2011
    IPR offers USPS as a shipping option, but for the games I checked it's more expensive than UPS and way, way more expensive than the actual shipping costs. If I were charging IPR's shipping rates I'd be pocketing at least half of it.

    But Darren's told us why, above. The publishers who fulfill through IPR pay only for IPR's staff and overhead; the customers who order through IPR pay for their warehousing and handling.
  • edited March 2011
    USPS takes a lot of crap here in the States. While it's probably true that, as a company, they are running themselves into the ground, I've found that they actually do a pretty good job getting stuff from Point A to Point B -- and for a reasonable fee. I've shipped all of my Mars Colony book sales in a bubble mailer via USPS. I typically take postage + packaging + PayPal fees and round off. That comes out to about $4 US and $6 International. I take a hit on international costs when the country is far afield, but that's fine by me if it makes the transactions a bit more simplified.
  • Posted By: lumpleyIPR offers USPS as a shipping option, but for the games I checked it's more expensive than UPS and way, way more expensive than the actual shipping costs.
    Some of this may be the difference between First Class and Priority Mail. First Class is much more affordable if you can get away with it. It's only when you are shipping multiple books, or need more tracking options, when Priority works out better.
  • I can safely say we're not "pocketing half of it"; if there's a discrepancy somewhere in the system, it has to be that we're not shipping by the most cost-efficient means, and that's something we're looking into. (This isn't an area I know anything about, at least right now.) We're charging what we're being charged, plus a handling charge for picking and packing the order, which goes to the warehouse. dw
  • I hate, hate, HATE dealing with shipping costs. I always end up eating a lot of it because I hate figuring out how much it's going to cost beforehand. The USPS's shipping charts make my brain turn into jelly.

    With the Rustbelt, I've fulfilled enough orders to figure out a vague, estimated "average" shipping cost, and I charge that. I've got two: one for within US, Canada, and Mexico, and one for everywhere else. I still end up eating the cost of packaging (because I forgot to take it into account) until I get an order from Europe that is mysteriously far cheaper than the average cost, and the difference pretty much goes to pay for the packaging for a bunch of other orders.

    Which means that a certain number of people are paying for portions of other people's orders. Sometimes I feel bad about it, but I'm so completely lost in the maze of shipping costs that I don't know how to go about fixing it.
  • Posted By: lumpleyBut Darren's told us why, above. The publishers who fulfill through IPR pay only for IPR's staff and overhead; the customers who order through IPR pay for their warehousing and handling.
    This is the key, I think. The shipping charge includes the handling costs. The handling costs are what the warehouse charges to cover their costs. Thus, you're not just paying shipping. You're paying the cost for keeping the products in a warehouse.

    Stop me if I've misinterpreted that, Darren, of course.
  • Logistics, shipping, fulfillment, and so on are huge issues in 21st century warehousing. I worked for a tool company for a while. And I've dealt with companies like Studio 2 and so on who do fulfillment for companies (as well as warehousing). The real break Amazon has over everyone else is dedicated UPS staff at their warehouse. And a hugely beneficial contract that keeps their UPS costs lower than yours or mine. UPS sends 10-20 people to the amazon warehouse where they work only on the Amazon account. Amazon packs the material themselves, but UPS ships it. Now, here's the kicker. Amazon doesn't have a retail front or even an R&D division. So the warehouse costs are part of the business model of the company, meaning they don't charge you to pack the box the way a smaller company would have to charge you. They slap a sticker on it, send it down the line and the dedicated UPS staff throw the boxes directly into an 18-wheeler waiting right there in the warehouse. When it's about 3/4 full, they let UPS know and a new truck is sent over. UPS gets guaranteed work from Amazon and Amazon gets a reduced cost on shipping, much like McDonalds getting a better price on Coke.

    Replace UPS with FedEx in this example if you like or whatever shipper a deep discounter works with.
  • This is where it'd be pretty handy if Kinkos offered a PoD store, so you could buy something from Kinkos instead of Lulu, and go to your nearest location and pick it up, with all transactions handled online.
  • Posted By: Tim C KoppangSome of this may be the difference between First Class and Priority Mail. First Class is much more affordable if you can get away with it. It's only when you are shipping multiple books, or need more tracking options, when Priority works out better.
    Oh, BTW, there is no first class anymore. Part of the problem is that in the last 4 months or so USPS has torn out all stops to streamline more and become more efficient, at the cost of lower-end shipping options, variability, etc.

    So, for example, you ship a 5 lb box of books: You're either going with Express (EMS), Priority, Parcel or Media Mail. The most realistic options for shipping these days are but two:
    * Priority Mail flat-rate envelope/box/etc
    or
    * Media Mail

    Outside of the US, as of late last year, there is No shipping service lower than Priority Mail. EMS or Priority. Air mail (the lower-end "priority mail", cheaper and still pretty reliable) no longer exists, and Surface Mail (boat) too was phased out.

    -Andy
  • Posted By: AndyOh, BTW, there is no first class anymore.
    I assume you mean that there's no first class for shipping heavier packages, right? Because there's still first class for letters and such.

    But yeah, for boxes of multiple books, the priority mail flat rate boxes are a good way to go. I can send fifteen copies of Fiasco pretty much anywhere in Europe for $45 dollars or so. Of course, with USPS you don't get tracking or much in the way of assurance that it will get there. So far we haven't had any problems.
  • Hello All! Darren Watts (IPR) asked me to briefly comment on this.

    IPR uses X-Cart to run its website, and X-Cart uses information provided by the Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS to determine its pricing based on a formula that also calculates handling and packaging material fees. The later two costs are pretty minimal, and don't account for any discrepancies mentioned on this thread (such as $8 vs $30), but they do mean that it will probably always be at least slightly less expensive for an individual publisher to go to the post office and mail something than it will be for IPR to ship something. (In other words, we have some minimal expenses beyond the shipping fees.)

    It is true that the postal service raised its international shipping rates on January first. First Class is (I believe) limited to weights of under 14 ounces, effectively removing it from being useful to us (IPR) in most circumstances, as we try to used backing & packing material on even the smallest shipments. (Otherwise your books & games arrive damaged more often.) Priority Flat Rate is my preferred method of International shipping to all foreign countries besides Canada & Mexico, where FedEx and UPS are still practical.

    HOWEVER, we have had some problems with X-Cart in 2011, particularly with the USPS International portion of the software. And I didn't program the aforementioned formula into the system myself: that was done before DOJ bought IPR. (We haven't made any changes to it since we acquired IPR, though the Postal Service has changed its prices.) So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to have a good, hard look at how the software determines international shipping costs and report back to you. If it's doing something funky, I will render it non-funky.

    Jason Walters, IPR General Manager
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: Graham

    This is the key, I think. The shipping charge includes the handling costs. The handling costs are what the warehouse charges to cover their costs. Thus, you're not just paying shipping. You're paying the cost for keeping the products in a warehouse.

    Stop me if I've misinterpreted that, Darren, of course.

    Only slightly, Graham. ;) *Keeping* it in the warehouse is actually paid for by IPR out of pub fees. Getting it *out* of the warehouse and into the hands of buyers (in other words, picking and packing) is paid for by the handling fees. And those fees aren't large, certainly not enough to account for the kind of discrepancies people have been reporting here specifically on international shipments. dw
  • Posted By: Steve SegedyPosted By: AndyOh, BTW, there is no first class anymore.
    I assume you mean that there's no first class for shipping heavier packages, right? Because there'sstill first class for letters and such.

    But yeah, for boxes of multiple books, the priority mail flat rate boxes are a good way to go. I can send fifteen copies of Fiasco pretty much anywhere in Europe for $45 dollars or so. Of course, with USPS you don't get tracking or much in the way of assurance that it will get there. So far we haven't had any problems.

    And for international mail, First Class is available for even more than 13 oz, I forget what the limit is, but I've been shipping a lot of small packages, and 95% are able to go First Class.

    Frank
  • Late to the conversation, but I've found that I can charge everyone in the range of $6 for shipping, flat, and I wind up eating about 5¢ a book, which doesn't really matter to me. It winds up costing me less than $10 a year to do that and it's worth it to have an s&h charge that isn't all wonky, like "$6.12".

  • What's your top page count though?
  • edited March 2011
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanLate to the conversation, but I've found that I can charge everyone in the range of $6 for shipping, flat, and I wind up eating about 5¢ a book, which doesn't really matter to me. It winds up costing me less than $10 a year to do that and it's worth it to have an s&h charge that isn't all wonky, like "$6.12".
    Josh, which carrier, and what option?

    We (by which, I mean my store, Modern Myths) always ship printed matter via Media Mail unless the buyer requests otherwise. It's half to a third the cost of Priority, and we've found it to be perfectly reliable. You can't get the same level of point-to-point tracking you can via UPS, but you CAN get Delivery Confirmation. We generally use a Flat Rate of $4 for most books because of this, and bump it a few bucks as weight goes up. As of our last shipment to the UK, I think the cutoff for First Class International was 4 lbs. I am 90% certain the domestic cutoff is much lower. If you happen to be a service-person reading this, rates to IPO boxes should be MUCH more reasonable.

    For the folks who said that USPS is 'running into the ground', I gotta say there are few things I find more disingenuous than bashing the Post Office by comparing it to private enterprise. They have two major considerations that the private carriers don't need to deal with: any time they want to raise rates, they need o get permission from Congress, and they're required BY LAW to deliver to any legal address in the United States, including lots and lots and lots of places that UPS and FedEx simply refuse to go to. our Postal system is one of the genuine triumphs of American democracy, and seriously, it's one of the things that government really does right.

    We can have a whole discussion about why Amazon not actually being a retailer but a stock scheme and data-mining operation being why they're able to so relentlessly obliterate the value of print, but any time I start on that, it turns into a rant. Suffice to say: Amazon simply operates by different rules, which include not actually making any (or much) money on the product they retail, unlike those of us who don't have a decade and hundreds of millions in venture capital to figure out our business model.

    IPR is in a tough position: Media Mail is much cheaper, but has little in the way of tracking options, exposing them to significant charge-back risk. Keep in mind also that if you have someone like Josh charging a flat rate of six bucks, it might cost him $3 to ship one of his games 40 miles over the border to VT, but $9 to ship to the NW corner of Washington state, and six-ish to most of the Midwest and South, while IPR is rather compelled to charge exact rates plus that handling fee Darren mentioned, which makes it tough to do an apples-to-apples comparison. It's a reality of the biz that people who buy from my eBay store from NY are subsidizing shipping to Cali, but Josh is right that below a certain size, and within a certain range, a flat rate for all buyers is just easier to deal with.

    Mainly, I don't want anyone to jump immediately to the conclusion that Darren, or indeed any retailer, is "ripping them off" based on rates from amazon or direct from a private individual shipper. It's a complicated issue and costs vary insanely depending on origin, destination, shipper, service, etc.

    Finally, for what it's worth, it's pretty easy to figure out what shipping ought to cost using different methods, and it's probably something that I take for granted in assuming people have an idea how to do to protect themselves as consumers:

    UPS has a handy calculate time and cost widget on their site you can use to back up b-board posts like I did on the Canada shipping question.

    FedEx has a similar online rate and time calculator.

    The Postal Service has a smilar widget,. Media Mail is listed under 'other options'. You can also download a somewhat outdated but still perfectly usable desktop program called 'Shipping Assistant' that you can use to store addresses, print labels, and even do pre-paid postage; it's what we use at the shop and though it can be a bit clunky, it works as well as it needs to to get the job done (and is another rare example of why the USPS represents the government working as it should: when they announced the SA would be discontinued in favor of going all-online last year, the hue and cry caused them to reconsider and re-fund its continued operation!)

    Anyway, I hope that's helpful to everyone. Please feel free to whisper to me if you're curious about my shop. I work very hard not to spam the list with talking about it, but am happy to discuss the ins and outs of the retail side of things with anyone who might be curious, on this issue or any other (including carrying some copies of your games to sell in-store, at our eBay store, and at several New England cons (/spam)).

    -Jim C.
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. Newman150 ppg.
    That's actually a fair bit, which means it should be feasible for most indie RPGs to be shipped around that rate.
  • For you Americans who complain about your postal service, I suggest you compare it to ours in Canada. I'll have things shipped from California that will get from there to the border in two days and then take a week to ten days to get to their destination in Canada.
  • Posted By: walkerpFor you Americans who complain about your postal service, I suggest you compare it to ours in Canada. I'll have things shipped from California that will get from there to the border in two days and then take a week to ten days to get to their destination in Canada.
    I've had the same happen in reverse, in all fairness.
  • For those, like myself, that find the USPS online resources somewhat lacking (like Marshall, I seem to have some kind of cognitive block that keeps their shipping rate tables from matching to any reality that I can see), here's a strategy:

    Package your book like you would to ship to a customer (ideally without sealing it)
    Go to a post office with a APC
    Put it on the scale and pretend to ship it across the country by whichever methods you want to offer
    Record #, round up to nearest dollar - establish this as your shipping rate
    Pretend to ship it to a couple of countries (for most story-game-ish stuff, if you don't already have a sense of this I would recommend: Canada, UK, Italy, France, Australia). Derive an international shipping rate from this info (generally, Mexico/Canada is one rate, and Other International can be covered by another higher rate)
    Repeat for each product

    Sure, it entails taking an hour out of your day, but at least you have a real number to charge. Sometimes if the place isn't busy you can talk to an actual person and get them to give you the info as well.

    I recently fulfilled an overseas order, and ended up refunding half of the shipping cuz the rates apparently -dropped- from over a year ago (which was the last time I had mailed to that region). So that was surprising!
  • Posted By: komradebobPosted By: walkerpFor you Americans who complain about your postal service, I suggest you compare it to ours in Canada. I'll have things shipped from California that will get from there to the border in two days and then take a week to ten days to get to their destination in Canada.
    I've had the same happen in reverse, in all fairness.

    Heh, Customs is a subject for a whole 'nother thread!

    -JC
  • Posted By: ndpFor those, like myself, that find the USPS online resources somewhat lacking (like Marshall, I seem to have some kind of cognitive block that keeps their shipping rate tables from matching to any reality that I can see), here's a strategy:

    Package your book like you would to ship to a customer (ideally without sealing it)
    Go to a post office with a APC
    Put it on the scale and pretend to ship it across the country by whichever methods you want to offer
    Record #, round up to nearest dollar - establish this as your shipping rate
    Pretend to ship it to a couple of countries (for most story-game-ish stuff, if you don't already have a sense of this I would recommend: Canada, UK, Italy, France, Australia). Derive an international shipping rate from this info (generally, Mexico/Canada is one rate, and Other International can be covered by another higher rate)
    Repeat for each product

    Sure, it entails taking an hour out of your day, but at least you have a real number to charge. Sometimes if the place isn't busy you can talk to an actual person and get them to give you the info as well.

    I recently fulfilled an overseas order, and ended up refunding half of the shipping cuz the rates apparently -dropped- from over a year ago (which was the last time I had mailed to that region). So that was surprising!
    Yes, good point! The DIY postage resources at most POs are actually pretty decent these days, and they're underutilized.

    The Shipping Assistant program basically puts this software on your desktop, including the ability to plug a scale peripheral into your PC.

    -JC
  • Posted By: walkerpFor you Americans who complain about your postal service, I suggest you compare it to ours in Canada. I'll have things shipped from California that will get from there to the border in two days and then take a week to ten days to get to their destination in Canada.
    I imagine that's because shipments from Canada to the US go in one large container that travels very regularly, it's rather like taking a highway because of the volume. So if you're near somewhere like Vancouver you'll get stuff from the US quite quickly.
  • Posted By: Jim CrockerPosted By: komradebobPosted By: walkerpFor you Americans who complain about your postal service, I suggest you compare it to ours in Canada. I'll have things shipped from California that will get from there to the border in two days and then take a week to ten days to get to their destination in Canada.
    I've had the same happen in reverse, in all fairness.

    Heh,Customsis a subject for a whole 'nother thread!

    -JC

    I can only assume that the RAFM Deep Ones were held up at the border for a month to insure they weren't Al Qaeda Operatives...
  • I ship 1st class, or whatever its current analog is. My unerstanding is that Media Mail takes too long.

  • Media does take longer, but only by days and not, like, crazy-longer. We use it exclusively and have a long list of glowing reviews about how fast we ship, but that may be just because other eBay vendors don't ship out right away.

    If you go over domestic First Class weight limits (which tops out at 13 ounces), Media is your best bet but if you're under, than yeah, it's definitely First Class FTW.

    -JC
  • I've shipped and received a lot of Media Mail all over the country. My understanding is that it is deprioritized and they just stick it in the back of a truck that's really devoted to Priority and First Class. As a result it might take five days to get across the country or it might take six weeks. Either of those is *totally* possible given my experience.
  • I might well be misremembering but "media mail" takes (technical term here) fucking forever to get overseas.

    Priority is only very slightly better, though, since both (again, IIRC) can't be tracked once they leave the US borders, leaving your overseas customers wondering if, after 4 weeks of waiting, they should start worrying about their package. And not knowing what to say to them, since you can't track it either.
  • Priority can be tracked international as long as you don't use the small flat rate box. Any other Priority package requires the larger customs form, which is then trackable (the smaller customs form does show up in the tracking system, but doesn't give any info other than that it's been put in the mail). I didn't realize this until an international customer kept asking me about tracking and I decided to try putting the customs form number in, and guess what, it told me where the package was (ended up hung up in customs at his end).

    Frank
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