Christmas Preparations

indexThe busy season for those of us who deal with games / toys and other knick-knacks that fit under the tree is coming up.  If you don’t think it’s time to start prepping for the season,you are definitely wrong.  Christmas can be as much as 50% of a business’s sales for the year, certainly for Fortress Geek, we see a significant (like 100-200% increase) in monthly sales volume.

What can you do to make your Christmas Season flow well? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Advertising banners and on-site, in-season designs should be started immediately.  You want them ready for the Christmas season to put shoppers in the right mood and remind them to purchase what they need now!
  • It’s too late to start shipping Amazon for Toys & Games, but it’s worth considering places like eBay  and other 3rd party sites.  The bump in traffic during this period is definitely worth planning and grabbing at.
  • Get your shipping area ready.  Pick up all the necessary boxes, packing materials and tapes that you will need.   You don’t want to have to slow down / stop shipping just because you forgot to buy paper for the printer.
  • Pre-pack some of your best-selling items to prep for shipping.  If you know you sell 100 copies of the same item, all in single lots, you can pre-pack these to speed up shipping.
  • Make sure to organise multiple pick-ups / shipments as necessary with your courier company
  • If you are hiring extra help, make sure all documentation and processes are already in-place.  If possible, assign people to specific tasks that they can do continuously such that they can get good at that single task (pulling, packing, etc.) without having to learn the rest of your processes.

Do you have any other tips for e-commerce business’s during the upcoming business season?

Inventory Management Solutions

One of our biggest projects of the year has been an inventory managmenet system. or ERP system for our online stores.  We’ve tried using SaaS sytems before and found them a pain as they weren’t able to handle what we needed.  We considered (briefly) looking at a full ERP system, specifically OpenERP but the thought of using another Open Software system that isn’t stable and prone to breaking made us whimper.

So we ended up purchasing an inventory management system from Magestore.  I wish I could say it’s good, but it really isn’t.   There were (and still are) significant bugs in the system and there are significant gaps in the reporting and usefulness of the system.  Among our issues:

  • No way to track individual stock changes for individual items
  • Mystery stock changes
  • Available / Physical / Hold Quantities do not line up and often are wrong and can’t be adjusted at times
  • No way to use the software for shipping individual orders out
  • No COGs reporting

Truthfully, with the sheer volume of bugs involved; if we weren’t already invested in it’s use I’d dump it and go looking for a new system. I’m still considering dumping it.

Amazon and Magento integration

For those wondering what I’ve been up to, we’ve been working on a few consulting projects but mostly, our time has been taken up dealing with a switch over from M2E Pro to the BoostMyShop Amazon module for our geek sites.

There’s a few reaosns for the switchover, partly the on-going monthly charge from M2E being interacted which can significantly affect our profitability and just as much, the rather horrible support we got from them when we ran into issues attempting to switch our profiles over. Add that to the fact that their latest upgrade / update to the module (which they refeused to help further with until we did) required us to move servers and we just decided that it wasn’t worth using them anymore.

Which puts up with the BoostMyShop module. It is it’s own share of headaches.

For one thing, unlike M2E pro, the documentation is rather rubbish. There’s just no documentation on common error reports or what those error reports mean. There’s no indication why something is error’ing out, even if it shouldn’t. There’s no indication when you switch tabs how to have the system do a double-check so you kind of have to do a tril and error of hitting a bunch of buttons int he hope that it eventually works.

In addition, the system cannot accept more than one type of code – so you can’t, for example, try both UPC and EAN codes. Which is an issue if, for example, a product is only available on Amazon via their EAN code and not UPC code. You’d think it’d be a simple enough code fix, but no go.

Also, the system doesn’t really allow you to choose to use different prices (example if you have 2 or more stores, you can’t choose which specific store price you want to showcase and link to Amazon). So you kind of have to just grit your teeth and go with what seems to be the default price.

Oh, and if you add then delete a Marketplace, realise that it’s going to break your site for a bit. No help at all in their FAQs on how to fix this. Support from t he developer has been less then stellar I have to admit. Mostly I find due to the fact that the developer does not speak good English at all and as such, is not able to understand what you are asking for, so when you do have a bug to report or need information, it’s all very slow. Which isn’t great if the problem has ended up in production like the above deleting.

Is this a viable alternative to M2E Pro? So far, it’s workable I’m sure after we finish fixing it but I definitely think they need to add a lot more documentation, add more features and clean up the code a bit.

Uncertainty, costs and sales

Currently Canada Post is having it’s 5 yearly fight over wages with the Union. I’ve written about how I actually think the workers in the general Canada Post seem to be of a higher quality than what we get from UPS / FedEx/ etc. in general, many of them doing a great job with our packages and helping us do shipping.

However, this uncertainty over the whether they are going to strike / get locked out is seriously harming our e-commerce business.  We’ve seen over a 30% drop in sales with most of our single item order customers deciding not to go ahead with purchasing till this gets sorted.  As it stands, they’ve already delayed the strike for over a week now, which means we’ve been in a holding pattern in shipping for 2 weeks with our stores Starlit Citadel & Fortress Geek.

Why 2 weeks? Mostly due to the fact that it can take up to 8 business days for orders to arrive in the East Coast.   It’s amazing what a small level of uincertainity over whether your shipment is going to arrive or not does to the number of orders and what even a $5 change in shipping costs affects.


Starlit Logistics

Just realised I haven’t mentioned the other major project which is the on-going development of our Kickstarter business . We’ve launched a whole new site – Starlit Citadel Logistics and I’m looking forward to pushing the business more in a few weeks when I’m back from vacation.

One of the areas we really want to work on is the sale to subscription box businesses. They are almost the perfect fit for us – businesses that don’t need a lot of warehouse space but do need shipping expertise.  Working with our Kickstarter Fulfilment options, it makes the most of a limited amount of space.

If you know of anyone who  needs this help, you should let us know.

Kickstarter Backer Shipping

What we’ve been doing lately as a side-project is to provide Kickstarter Backer Shipping.  We’ve helped a number of project creators get their products across the border and into the hands of their backers, with currently having completed 3 projects.  We’re scheduled to do at least 1 more in the next year, all in the board gaming industry.

However, we thought it might be worthwhile to open this up to anyone who needs to bring a product across the border and ship their final items to backers.

Fulfillment to backers in Canada (prices in Canadian Dollars)


Service Fee Description
Import $5.00 Customs Fee + $3.50/parcel If stock is sent to our US receiving address, we can import it into Canada along with our weekly restock shipments for a small fee. If we are charged sales tax/duty on the items being imported, you will be assessed this amount as well.
Receiving $20.00/hour Unpacking of a game shipment, and inspection of received product for damage or defects. Average processing time is roughly 100 items/hour. This fee can be waived if you do not want us to inspect your shipment for accuracy/damages.
Order Handling $3.00/shipment + $0.50 per item over 1st item Packing of individual orders for shipping to backers. Includes boxes and packing material, and cost of re-shipping lost or damaged orders.
Shipping Varies Sending each parcel Canada Post Expedited Parcel service. See table below for pricing estimates.
Storage $1.75/ square foot If you need us to store additional copies of stock, or if stock needs to be kept at our warehouse for more than 2 business days prior to shipment, storage fees will apply. Most shipments are sent out immediately after being received.

Estimated Minimum Shipping Cost (Canada)


All costs listed are estimates only. We will provide you with a precise quote based on the dimensions and weight of your item. Please note that availability of specialized services, such as Lettermail, is subject to change.


<0.2kg 0.5kg 1.0kg 1.5kg 2.0kg 3.0kg 5.0kg
Cost/Parcel $3.50* $9.00 $11.00 $12.00 $12.50 $14.50 $17.00


*This price applies to Lettermail service only, which is available for items no larger than 8”x10”x0.5”. Please note that this service is not trackable.

Developing different forms of income

It’s interesting, with our business model, we’re beginning to generate different kinds of income.  We’ve begun to take service income for logistics / kickstarter fulfilment, 3rd party sales income from selling on eBay & Amazon, income from in-person sales at conventions and at our open hours, consulting income and even passive income from our Youtube videos.  Of course, our main income source is e-Commerce still and it’ll probably continue to be our main form, but it’s certainly interesting playing around with different forms of income.

The other aspect of these different forms of income is that it helps smooth out instability in other areas.  We get advertising income from our Youtube videos and that should, over the next fewyears, continue to generate a decent amount of funds.  It’ll never be a large amount of money since we develop our videos for a niche audience in our niche business, but it’s a nice addition and often seems to be quite stable.

Perhaps the area that we’d love to exploit and develop further is service income, from our Kickstarter Fulfilment to consulting.  It’s something we’ll have to slowly develop, between working on our other businesses.

Scam Company

Just got a call from a scam company called ‘Convention Housing Authority’. Phone number of tel:+12124413140.  They were mis-representing themselves as part of the Convention we were booked for and saying ‘It was their job to make sure we had accomadations’.

If they call you after you book a hotel, don’t. Always check with your actual convention exhibitor and/or contact the hotels listed on the convention website direct yourself.


Competing on Price

One of the rather more challenging aspects of the game trade which we are in is the fact that online, most people compete on price.  Due to the lack of barriers to entry, a lot of people recently have been getting not the business.  That unfortunately means we are now facing increased competition, most of which are competing on price.

What that means is that we have seen is a significant decrease in revenue as price sensistive customers move to our competitors.  However, changing our business model further – decreasing our sales even further – would be a bad move.  It’s a matter of margins.  A 15% decrease in our margins to compete would require a 30% increase in our revenue.  That’s a significant number, one that we find hard to meet.

So, what can we do about it? Well, if our current customers do not work then the better option would be find new customers, ones that are not as price sensitive.

Free, flat or variable shiping costs

Let’s talk about shipping.  Now, we all know that you need to let customers or potential customers know what the cost of shipping is before they hit checkout.  So you put in the necessary shipping estimators on the shopping cart and otherwise.

However, what kind of shipping methods do you use? The various options have pros and cons.

Free shipping (pure) generally means you put the cost of the shipping items in the cost of your products. This works quite well if, for example; you have a high margin product with a low shipping cost.  It also does well if you can get customers to purchase more than 1 of the item at the time, to save on shipping costs.

However, the cons are that you generally have to put a much higher price on your product which could make you seem uncompetitive.  I’d say this type of shipping method works best for really high value products (where shipping is a small portion of your actual price) or low value products  (where you can ship the order really cheaply).

Secondly, you can do a combined free / variable shipping method. Basically, you provide free shipping at a certain level.  Now, this shipping option pushes people to purchase a certain amount and if set right, can push people to the next ‘level’ of purchasing.  This kind of method requires more calculation but in many cases can be quite profitable.

Flat rate shipping on the other hand is perhaps the easiest for customers to understand.  It’s a simple number that they can work with, but has the disadvantage of requiring to you know your shipping cost quite well.  It also means that if a customer does a large order, and a lot of customers do that, you cost is going to go much higher than you expected.  Depending on how you price it, you might also be losing money on each order.

Lastly, you have variable – or actual – cost of shipping.  Here you charge everybody the actual cost of what it costs to customer to ship. This is of course the most fair method, but the customers that you really want – the large order customers might decide to go elsewhere because other businesses are offering them free shipping.