The Sad Truth of Shipping Kickstarter Projects in 2022

As a creator, shipping is one of the biggest fears when it comes to running a Kickstarter. After all of our hard work, we send our babies out into the world and…hope for the best. There’s so much that can go wrong and reflect badly on an otherwise spotless project reputation.

Estimating Costs
Creators have to do their best when estimating shipping – since there’s no way to change or add funds when a Kickstarter ends. The last thing you want is to be standing at the post office looking at the final cost of shipping and realizing you didn’t charge enough, and suddenly all of your profit is gone (or worse – you are in debt).

In my experience, the best way to estimate shipping is not to estimate. It’s to get the REAL cost, before the Kickstarter goes live. This means having a prototype, or at least an object that is the same size/weight of your final product. For me, it was a bit easier since I could get proof prints of my books. I ordered those as well as the boxes I’d be using, and took the physical copy to the post office. I got real costs for shipping to various countries and used that data when setting up my Kickstarter.

International shipping sucks, there’s no way around it. At the moment there is a world-wide labor shortage due to COVID. There are massive shipping delays in almost every country. And there’s a sticker shock when people see how much shipping costs. I feel it’s much better to be upfront and honest about costs than to try and hide them from customers. But if the thought of showing your customer a £20 shipping cost on a £45 product kills you, you can instead charge double for the product (£90) and offer “free shipping.” But you have to cover your costs somehow. Choose whichever route feels better to you.

But don’t forget – there is so much more that goes into shipping than the public sees. The price charged not only has to cover the amount I pay at the post office, but also:

  • Boxes
  • Labels
  • Internal wrapping
  • Printer ink
  • Petrol to/from the post office

And that’s not even to mention the time/labor it takes to pack everything. Imagine spending 5 solid days – a whole work week – from sunrise to sunset printing labels, cross-checking spreadsheets, wrapping product and stuffing boxes, then driving to the post office at the end of each day to deliver heavy bags of boxes. Pay yourself for that time.

Transit
This is where my bigger fears kick in. I am fully capable to doing the ground work and estimating my costs properly so my project is not underfunded. Thanks to my past experience in administrative work, I know my way around a spreadsheet. However, the thing I don’t know is why some packages, sent to the same country, have completely different fates.
Some arrive quickly.
Some arrive months late.
Some vanish into thin air. 
Some get returned to me even though the customer confirmed their address and my shipping labels were accurate.

This keeps me awake at night. I want my customers to have their packages as soon as humanly possible. But once it leaves my home, I have no control over what happens while the packages travels overseas. Shipping channels can be interrupted. Planes get delayed. Trucks break down. Dozens of humans might be involved in delivering a single package from point A to B. And statistically, human error is inevitable.

So what can I do? For some packages, I splurge and pay for tracking – simply for peace of mind. This means I might be paying double what I charged, just for the sake of being able to see where the box is until it arrives. It means using my profit for the benefit of the customer’s peace of mind. I only do this for countries I’ve had problems with in the past. Or when there was a recent labor strike.

However, when it comes to shipping hundreds of boxes, doing this can easily add up to an extra few thousand £’s. In my case, for 110 packages that are traveling from the UK to the USA, if I splurged on tracking numbers this would result in an added £3,500. Money I didn’t charge people for. So instead I do what I said I would originally do: I pay the post office for “economy” service. This means it gets loaded into a shipping container on a huge ship and sails across the ocean. A few years ago, this took 4-6 weeks. In 2022, this takes 6-12 weeks. And we can’t track it, which means we just hope for the best.

As a creator, this hurts. As a customer, this can be frustrating. But, the alternative would have been to charge them £33 instead of £15 (on a product that costs £45). The closer the shipping costs get to matching the total price of the product, the angrier people are. Even when charging £15 on international packages, I had several comments saying the shipping was too high. Lots of people opted out of buying the books at all. Sad.

But what can we do? We are mere pawns in the grand scale of things. The folks running the show charge what they charge, and we have to play their game.

So, the point of all this is to say, make sure you charge enough to cover your costs and labor. If possible, get tracking, but if not, let the customer know it may be a long wait. If it’s a good product, people will still back your project.

See my Kickstarter here.

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

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