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FCL vs LCL container shipping: how to choose

If you’re contemplating shipping goods via ocean freight, you’ll inevitably face the decision between LCL (Less Than Container Load) and FCL (Full Container Load) shipping. Depending on various factors such as the size, volume, and urgency of your shipment, either option could be suitable for your needs.

However, before making your decision, it’s essential to consider and comprehend all relevant factors. If you’re unsure about which container shipping option to choose, this guide provides comprehensive information to help you make an informed decision.

We’ll provide detailed explanations of both FCL and LCL shipping, including their costs, transit times, and our tailored solutions to simplify the process for you.

What are LCL and FCL?

LCL stands for Less than Container Load, while FCL stands for Full Container Load. These terms are used in the context of shipping and logistics to describe two different methods of transporting cargo by sea:

Less than Container Load (LCL):

  • LCL shipping is used when the cargo does not fill an entire standard shipping container, typically either a 20-foot or 40-foot container.
  • In LCL shipping, multiple shipments from different shippers are consolidated into a single container at a container freight station (CFS) or warehouse at the origin port.
  • The container is then shipped to the destination port, where it is deconsolidated, and the individual shipments are separated and delivered to their respective recipients.
  • LCL shipping is suitable for smaller shipments or when the volume of cargo does not justify the cost of booking an entire container.

Full Container Load (FCL):

  • FCL shipping is used when the shipper has enough cargo to fill an entire standard shipping container.
  • In FCL shipping, the shipper books and pays for the entire container, whether it is a 20-foot or 40-foot container.
  • The shipper loads their goods into the container at their own facility or warehouse, and the container is sealed before being transported to the port of origin.
  • The sealed container is then shipped directly to the destination port without any consolidation or deconsolidation en route.
  • FCL shipping is typically faster and offers more security and control over the shipment since the container is sealed and not opened until it reaches its final destination.

Differences between LCL and FCL

The differences between LCL (Less than Container Load) and FCL (Full Container Load) shipping methods lie primarily in how they handle cargo consolidation, cost structures, transit times, and the level of control and security over the shipment. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences:

When opting for FCL, you’ll be charged for the entire container, regardless of whether your shipment fills it completely or not. There’s no minimum requirement for shipment size to utilize FCL. On the other hand, LCL shipments may incur higher costs as you’re billed based on the volume of your cargo measured in cubic meters (CBM). CBM essentially quantifies the space your shipment occupies. Therefore, if your goods cannot be stacked or occupy substantial space, you’ll bear the cost for the unused space that could have accommodated other shipments.

LCL is well-suited for shipments as small as 1 cubic meter (CBM), or even less than 10 CBM. If your shipment falls below 1 CBM (and weighs less than 200 kilograms), air freight might offer a more economical option. However, for shipments exceeding 10 CBM, the price gap between a full container load and LCL may be negligible.

LCL shipments typically require slightly longer transit times compared to FCL shipments. This is due to the additional time required for consolidating your goods with those of other shippers, including sorting, loading, unloading, and separating the cargo at each port. Additionally, LCL shipments may need to await other goods destined for the same destination before departure. In contrast, FCL shipments usually have shorter transit times as the entire shipment is delivered directly to you.

FCL offers greater security compared to LCL. With fewer handling procedures, there is a reduced risk of damage, theft, or loss during transit.

LCL offers more flexibility compared to FCL. It’s suitable for scenarios where you need to deliver to multiple Amazon FBA facilities, various 3PLs, or split deliveries across different destinations. However, if you opt for FCL to accommodate such needs, you’ll need to consider additional costs for warehousing, unloading, sorting, and trucking to the delivery address.

During peak periods like the lead-up to Chinese holidays, securing FCL shipments can be challenging. In such instances, LCL may offer a preferable and potentially quicker alternative as you don’t have to wait for a full container to become available.

LCL v FCL: Pros and Cons
The biggest advantage that FCL enjoys over LCL is the relative security your goods enjoy, compared to LCL. If you are shipping fragile goods or goods that must remain undisturbed during the voyage, FCL is a better option.

In addition, FCL is faster than LCL. The fact that your shipment travels alone means you do not have to account for consolidation and de-consolidation time. Besides, traveling with other shipments may potentially expose your shipment to problems with customs. If they decide to examine any of the goods being shipped in the same container with your shipment, the entire container will be delayed.

Despite this, LCL may be a better option overall for startups and small businesses. It provides a flexible pricing arrangement where you can fit your shipping needs to your budget. This is especially beneficial if the shipments are low-volume.

Overall, it can be hard to tell which shipping option is much better than the other. In truth, they represent very different shipping options that are suited to completely different circumstances. And in the right circumstances, they can even present complementary solutions to shipping problems.

For instance, if your goods take up more space than a full container, you can consider FCL shipment for the bulk of the goods, and LCL for the spillover goods. This saves you the cost of having to rent a much bigger container or another similar-sized container.

How to choose between LCL and FCL in ocean freight?

Choosing between LCL and FCL ultimately comes down to four things: volume, cost, security, and urgency. If your shipment is larger than 10 CBM, it pays to consider if FCL is a better option. But for low volume shipments, your best option will likely be LCL.

If you find yourself in a situation where the volume is approaching a threshold and causing confusion, it’s prudent to consider the cost. FCL becomes an attractive option for shipments exceeding 10 CBM, as you pay a fixed rate for the entire container. Given that LCL costs escalate with the amount of space your goods occupy, FCL might ultimately be more economical. However, if your shipment falls significantly below the 10 CBM mark, FCL is likely to be more costly.

If security and protection from mishandling is a big consideration for you, FCL represents a better option. This is also the case if you don’t have flexible delivery dates, and want the goods to be delivered as soon as possible.

Try Huy Phuc Logistics for seamless shipping

With all the ambiguities, shipping goods overseas and dealing with the complexities in international freight shipping can feel confusing and daunting for small businesses.

We’re excited to unveil our latest supply chain and logistics offering, Huy Phuc Logistics, designed to streamline entry into international markets. Powered by Freightos, a digital freight marketplace, Huy Phuc Logistics provides a fully digitized platform, transparent pricing, and competitive quotes. With Huy Phuc Logistics, customers can now effortlessly compare quotes, explore various air and ocean freight options, and seamlessly manage and track shipments—all from a single, convenient platform.

Soure: Internet

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