Products shipped via ocean freight make the journey inside those familiar steel shipping containers. But before the journey begins, the shipper faces an important question: FCL and LCL?
FCL and LCL stands for full container load, and as the name suggests, it refers to a shipment that occupies the entire space of a container without having to share it with other merchandise.
LCL stands for less than container load. Sometimes referred to as groupage, LCL refers to shipments that take up only part of a container, which means your merchandise is shipped alongside merchandise from other shippers in the same container.
Often the choice is dictated simply by how much cargo you’re shipping. Cargo volume is most often measured in cubic meters (m3). Generally speaking, FCL and LCL shipments are usually the better option for low-volume shipments of between 2m3 and 13m3. And FCL shipments tend to be the better route when the shipment uses more than 10 standard pallets or occupies more than 14m3.
The obvious solution, problem solved, right? Maybe not, because there are gray areas where other factors can come into play and require a little more deliberation.
All shippers want their merchandise to be secure when crossing the ocean. But some shipments are more sensitive to movements that can affect merchandise during shipping.
An FCL shipment tends to be more secure because you have exclusive rights to the entire container. With FCL and LCL, your merchandise doesn’t come into contact with cargo from other shippers, which can happen with LCL. So the risk of damage or contamination from other merchandise is eliminated.
However, under certain circumstances, an LCL shipment may be the safer choice. Low-volume shipments are more compactly packed, leaving less room for movement.
This is another obvious factor to consider when deciding on whether to ship FCL and LCL. The same rule of thumb that applies to the me also applies to cost—go with FCL and LCL for smaller shipments (between 2m3 and 13m3). And choose FCL for larger shipments (13m3 and above), even though you may not completely fill the container.
But rules of thumb are meant to be broken. Under certain circumstances, it may be better to ship FCL even for volumes below 13m3. To further blur the picture, timing can also affect your decision-making. FCL shipping rates are pretty unstable compared to LCL rates, so although FCL and LCL is usually less costly, there will be times when that isn’t true. Here’s another rule of thumb: When in doubt, ask your freight forwarder for advice.
How urgently does your cargo need to get to its destination? We have a clear winner here. FCL is usually the better option for urgent shipments or for shipments that need to arrive before a fixed date. FCL and LCL shipments are more prone to delays because they must be unloaded and loaded every time they arrive at a transshipment port.
Let’s say the nature of your business requires you to make shipments to multiple third-party logistics providers or multiple Amazon FBA facilities. We have another clear winner: LCL makes it easier to split your shipments.
For more on the pros and cons of FCL and LCL, go here:
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