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When to ship LCL rather than FCL? Advice for importers

Posted: February 22, 2013

by Renaud Anjoran

Some importers try to optimize their freight costs. They always make sure they will fill a container up.

Most buyers, however, simply buy what they need. They don’t want to carry extra inventory that might not get sold. If they have, say, 22 cubic meters it is not a problem — it will nearly fill a 20′ container up. So they book an FCL (Full Container Load).

Now, what to do if you only have 12 cubic meters of products to ship? Most freight forwarders offer to consolidate your shipment with those of some of their other clients. Each client books LCL (Less than Container Load), and then the forwarder arranges to put it all together in one container.

WWhat is the cut-off point between LCL and FCL? If you have less than 14-15 cubic meters (half the volume of a full 20′ container), it is more interesting to book LCL.

What are the drawbacks of LCL?

CPG just published The Advantages of LCL versus FCL When Shipping. Here are a few interesting points from that article.

It may take a little longer.

LCL is often in transit for a longer period of time, due to the freight company having to load and unload numerous companies’ items. It is also possible that your shipment will be delayed whilst the shipping company find enough items to fit the container.

Another cause of delay, not mentioned in the CPG article, is the risk that other goods inside the same container are blocked by Customs. One regular reader tells me she saw cases where an importer lost his products completely this way (because Customs had a problem with OTHER products).

The forwarder won’t bring a full container to the factory.

Either you pay the forwarder to send a truck to collect the products, or you ask the supplier to bring the goods to the forwarder’s warehouse (at their costs if you buy FOB).

Insurance is more expensive

When shipping by LCL you are likely to be paying more towards insurance then you otherwise would with FCL. Although the difference in charges is not large, it can add up on the balance sheet as the common 1.5% cost of insurance when using FCL can rise to 3% or more when using LCL.

Your cartons might get damaged

If you ship soft goods, and your loose cartons (not on pallets) are placed aside/under heavy hard goods, your products might get crushed. I would advise to ship LCL with strong protections: a pallet + wood on the sides + reinforcements on the corners.

Anybody has other tips?

Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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