Fly, my pretties! Fly, fly!

Stokemonkey kits have been flying like flying monkeys out of a monkey’s … really moving this week. The big question is: is this a one-time boom after finally announcing general availability after about a year of soft marketing, or should I plan to stay this busy as long as I keep breaking ice in the supply channel? Here’s one of a few trips to the UPS place:
delivering stokemonkey kits

fly my pretties I need to work on my fulfillment process. Right now, I collect the order information online, chitchat in email about details as necessary (usually), pack and weigh the kit, estimate shipping, then arrange to call the customer to pre-approve the merchandise+shipping estimate amount when I’m logged in to a virtual terminal. This frequently involves phone tag as relative silence, computer, and my butt-in-chair availability are sort of a rare combination. Then I ship, turn the pre-approval stub into a sale after adjusting for the actual shipping price, and send tracking number and “paid” invoice to the customer.

It would be a lot smoother if I just came up with some broad shipping price brackets, so I could skip the pre-approval step and just bill/charge on the day I expect to ship. Some customers would end up paying more than actual shipping (“handling fee?”); some less. Am I sweating this too much? I think so.

7 thoughts on “Fly, my pretties! Fly, fly!”

  • Osborne

    Hi Todd, I’m guessing you have (or can quickly compile) a spreadsheet that tracks weekly sales. If so, consider using a moving weighted average to get a cloudy (but not statistically irrelevant) view into what the future might bring. An enhanced method would factor weekly sales against some other indicator(s), such as web traffic or number of new email inquiries. If you want to get deeper into it, you should check out this forecasting powerpoint deck.
    I like your solution of a streamlined shipping system. Jeff

  • Bill Manewal

    I vote you’re perspiring too much. But then that’s quite a load! [That son of your looks like he's getting big enough to help with the pedaling]

    I think most customers would appreciate more streamlining and wouldn’t care if the shipping charge were stated up front, maybe even on the product/price page, with, as you state, price brackets. A price for this piece and that piece and a price for this bunch of stuff and that bunch of stuff, for West Coast, and East of the Rockies, and International.

    Heck, I’d even go for the shipping price being figured into the purchase price, along with a “No Shipping Charge” notice.

  • Andrew Janjigian
    Andrew Janjigian August 10, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with Bill. Just weigh each item, figure the cost of shipping it within the CONUS, and make it standard pricing. That’s what just about everyone else does. I think most customers wouldn’t mind that setup, and if you happened to spend much less on shipping than they paid, and you gave them a refund or credit after the fact, they would feel they’d gotten a gift.

  • Todd

    I considered rolling shipping into the price, but because this is fairly heavy stuff, shipping can vary from under $20 to over $70 on a complete setup within the continental US. Also, fuel costs are rising all the time, and I have enough problems with sticker shock without rolling in ever-escalating shipping costs. It seems wrong to make local people effectively subsidize shipping for the holdout bikers who refuse to move to Oregon.

    Coming up with 3-5 CONUS shipping cost zones for each item seems like the way to go. Local sales are “zone 0.”

    What I’d like is to be able to send a request for payment to people via email when I’m ready to ship, have them deal with it online securely at their convenience, and have a bell go off when they do so I can send. Paypal offers something similar, but they take a pretty hefty chunk out of every transaction.

    Ultimately, I think some more thoroughly automated stock control/shopping cart/shipping calculator/online payment system is inevitable. Right now, though, all those things seem to impose a far higher setup and administrative labor burden than I can justify. Pardon my (admittedly extreme, even cultivated) mercantile naivete, but what happens if I can’t ship for a week on an item I have in stock, and that I’ve been paid for via tireless web robots, because I’m on vacation or sick or just swamped or lazy? Isn’t that called “kiting” — accepting payment long in advance of delivery?

  • Jim

    I take payments on the web, but I process them manually when I’m actually ready to ship. I’m not comfortable with kiting customers’ cash for more than a day or two.

    I do most of my shipments through the Post Office. It’s fast and easy, and I haven’t had any damage claims to file (I can’t say the same for UPS). I have become vaguely familiar with the Post Office’s price rates. At the beginning, I would bill the credit card for the merchandise, then do the shipment, then bill the card for the actual amount of shipping. This was a hassle, and it was costing me money in extra credit card processing fees. Now I just guess on shipping. If I guess high, I’ll generally have the PO ship at a more expedited rate, in line with what I’ve already charged. If I guess low, I eat it. I’m seldom off by more than a buck.

    I process my UPS shipments online. I measure the box, guess the weight (the weight categories are broad: “up to 90 lbs”, etc), enter the address, select insurance (or not), and preview the shipment to determine the price exactly. It just takes a minute, and allows me to bill the shipping before I actually give the package to UPS.

  • uroburro

    I’m guessing you’ve got some pent up demand. Osborne’s comment above is on the money. You might want to track the number of new requests you’re receiving (your sales pipeline): How many people are just interested, how many people say they are ready, and how many people want to send you money, and compare that to your actual sales.

  • billc

    If you go the online store route, take a look at the ZenCart system. It’s what i used to help Jim set up his web shop. You probably have the experience to set it up yourself, and the template system is pretty easy to deal with. The big time sink is in getting the catalog set up, but you have a small range of products, so that wouldn’t take too long. It also has nice features like shipping and tax calculators, and like Jim said, you can set it up so you’re processing the payments manually. This lets you correspond with the customer as needed before the sale and only charge them when you’re ready to.

    (no personal stake in ZenCart, just a happy developer/user)
    (and their recently redesigned website is… not as stylish as the previous version)

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