When considering your freight forwarding shipping options, you’re likely to come across the terms LCL and FCL.
FCL refers to a Full Container Load, which means that you’re paying for exclusive use of a standard 20ft or 40ft container (as set by the ISO – International Organisation for Standardisation).
LCL refers to Less than Container Load, which means that your shipment doesn’t fill a standard 20ft or 40ft container. Instead you will share a container with other consignees. The various shipments are separated at the destination port.
Now that you know what the terms mean, it should seem pretty obvious which one you need. However, there’s more to the pros and cons of each than might first meet the eye. Let’s take a closer look:
While shipping by FCL is cheaper per cubic metre, LCL is more cost-effective for smaller shipments. Obviously, with FCL you’re paying a flat fee for the use of an entire container, whether you fill the space or not. With LCL you only pay for the space you use.
If you’re looking for the speediest shipping solution, FCL will usually arrive sooner. This is because, with LCL, there’s the extra time required for loading and unloading/separating the goods for onward delivery, as a rule of thumb this can add approx 5-7 days to overall transit times.
In terms of convenience, LCL is the less labour intensive option. The packing into the container will be done for you, as will the unloading at the destination port. The shipment will then either be collected, or it will be delivered out of the container (often palletised), which usually makes unloading from the truck easier. With FCL, the full container is typically delivered to its final destination on the back of a truck, and you (or the service you have outsourced to) are responsible for unloading it within an allotted time frame. This can be tricky to do as the container won’t be dropped to ground level unless you pay extra.
LCL shipments also have the potential to be delivered on smaller trucks – which is excellent news for those with concerns about delivery access. With FCL, the lorry needs to be big enough to carry a 20ft or 40ft shipping container. If this is likely to cause access problems for you, then you’ll need to arrange to have the container unloaded at the port.
LCL is a flexible option that’s ideal if you need to ship fluctuating volumes. There’s no need to wait until you have enough to fill a container, you can simply export or import the amount needed, as required.
When you choose FCL, it’s usual for goods to be loaded into a container at their source (i.e. a factory) and unloaded at their destination by the recipient (or their agent). Unless selected for customs checks, it’s unlikely that the container will be opened en-route. This means minimal handling, which in turn minimises the risk of damage, loss, contamination or theft. With LCL your goods will be handled more as they’ll usually be delivered to a loading warehouse where they’ll be added to their container. At their destination, they also need to be separated and sorted, before their eventual delivery. All this extra handling can be a concern if your shipment is especially fragile or valuable.