The terms FCL and LCL refer to the two main container shipping modes. Each of these options offers certain advantages and disadvantages, so it is important for companies interested in shipping their goods to be aware of them in order to choose the best solution for their needs.
In this article by Savino Del Bene, we will analyze what are FCL and LCL, their possible combinations and their differences.
What are FCL and LCL
FCL stands for Full Container Load. This means that the container is exclusively filled with the cargo from a single sender and then sealed. However, the name of this shipping method can be misleading, as the container doesn’t need to be completely full. Instead, the term refers to the sealing of the container until it arrives at its destination.
On the other hand, LCL stands for Less Than Container Load or Less Than Full Container. This describes a shipping method where the container is loaded with goods from two or more senders. The container “accumulates” products along the entire supply chain and can also distribute them to various logistics centers and warehouses along the way.
LCL vs FCL: differences and which one to choose
There are four main differences between LCL and FCL that a company should consider before booking its international shipping service. Let’s examine them in detail.
The shipment volume, usually measured in cubic meters or cubic feet, refers to the capacity occupied by the transported goods. This is one of the most decisive factors in choosing between FCL or LCL shipping.
LCL shipments are recommended for volumes ranging from 2 to 13 cubic meters. Even quantities of goods below 2 cubic meters can be shipped with LCL under certain conditions. On the other hand, FCL shipments become the most sensible choice for shipments occupying more than 13 cubic meters.
Another fundamental element is safety. It should be noted that some shipments are more sensitive to changes and movements the cargo is exposed to during transportation.
An FCL shipment tends to be safer since the lack of contact with the cargo of other senders prevents contamination and possible damages. However, the LCL shipment may be the best choice for low-volume shipments. In this case, goods are packed more compactly and have little space for movement.
Cost is another essential factor in choosing the transportation method. The general rule is to use LCL solutions when shipping low-volume loads (between 2 and 13 cubic meters) and FCL for shipments with higher volumes (above 13 cubic meters).
However, this rule is not always valid: in certain circumstances, it might make more sense to choose an FCL shipment even for cargo volumes below 13 cubic meters. Additionally, the stability of rates should be considered: FCL shipping rates tend to be more volatile compared to LCL shipping rates, which are more stable over time.
Urgency of shipment
When deciding between FCL and LCL, another factor to consider is the urgency of the cargo reaching its destination. In this case, FCL shipment is undoubtedly the better choice for urgent shipments or those that must arrive before a specific date.
The LCL solution, on the other hand, is more suitable for shipments with flexible dates. In general, LCL shipments are more prone to delays due to the multiple handling they undergo during transportation. They need to be unloaded and loaded every time they arrive at a transshipment port.
FCL, LCL and their combinations
The distinctions between these two loading modes are not only practical but also relevant from a legal perspective. Shipments are referred to as LCL when the cargo is delivered to the carrier non-containerized. Conversely, when the cargo is delivered to the carrier containerized, it is referred to as FCL shipments.
These indications are documented in the relevant transportation documents. In this context, four combinations indicate who is responsible for loading and unloading the cargo, how it was delivered to the carrier, and how it will be delivered at the destination. Let’s see what they are.
In this case, the shipper delivers the cargo to the carrier non-containerized, and the carrier leaves the cargo to the recipient in the same form. With this combination, the carrier loads the cargo from multiple shippers into the container and unloads the cargo from the container, which is intended for multiple merchants.
In this case, the shipper delivers the cargo to the carrier non-containerized, but the carrier leaves the cargo to the (unique) recipient in a full container. With this formula, the carrier loads the cargo from multiple shippers into the same container. This combination is usually used when a single recipient has multiple suppliers in the same country.
With this combination, the shipper (unique) delivers the cargo to the carrier containerized. The carrier then releases the container to the (unique) merchant.
With this solution, the shipper delivers the cargo to the carrier containerized. The carrier, in turn, delivers the cargo to multiple recipients at the destination. This formula is usually used when the shipper has multiple customers in the same country.
In essence, there is no one-size-fits-all solution since both FCL and LCL have their pros and cons. The FCL method is undoubtedly less complex: the unloading and customs clearance phases are simpler, the transportation is shorter, and the goods are better protected. However, the costs are higher. On the other hand, the LCL method is perfect for shipping low-volume goods, even though transportation times could be much longer.
Still not sure whether to ship via FCL or LCL? Ask for advice from the experts at Savino Del Bene. Our Maritime shipping services represent the core of our expertise, and we are ready to recommend a customized solution for your business needs.