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When to Use Less Than Container Load Ocean Shipping

Looking for an easy and cost-effective way to ship small freight volumes? Your best solution may be less than container load (LCL) ocean shipping

Are you finding air freight too expensive for all your shipments? Perhaps you’re also looking for ways to cut your carbon footprint? Ocean transportation is a great alternative to air. But what if you can’t fill an entire shipping container? Maybe your consignments are smaller these days because you’re keeping inventories lean, spreading shipment risk, or testing new markets?

If you’re looking for an easy, cost-effective alternative to air and full container load (FCL) ocean shipping, you may find your solution in less than container load (LCL) ocean shipping.

When is LCL a Good Option for Me?

LCL is likely to be your best choice for cargo that’s not too small nor too volumetric or heavy. In general, up to 10 tons and 20 cubic meters (CBM) can be handled as LCL.

When Should I Use LCL Instead of Air?

If you have a very small consignment – say, goods weighing less than 300 kg – you’re likely to choose air transportation along with the benefit of swift transit times. But if your goods weigh more than this (it’s difficult to give a precise threshold, as there are several factors to consider) and if your schedule can allow a journey by sea, think about LCL instead of air. Many companies consider LCL a cost-efficient and reliable option to move their cargo, particularly with schedule-driven sailings, and you may pay just a third of the equivalent air freight rate. On top of this, ocean freight is greener than air freight, and DHL LCL offers zero carbon emissions at no extra cost for customers with approved SBTi targets.

When Should I Use LCL Instead of FCL?

If your goods don’t require a dedicated container, or your cargo volume won’t maximize the total container capacity, LCL might be a better choice than FCL, as you only pay for the container space you actually use. For companies such as retailers regularly moving goods from Asia to Europe, LCL often proves to be cheaper than FCL. Another benefit is that, instead of placing a single large order for FCL transportation, these shippers can place several smaller orders which are easily accommodated as LCL on multiple weekly direct connections.

What if I Need to Cut Costs and Carbon Emissions?

Ocean transportation is cheaper and greener than air. And with LCL shipments, you may be able to cut costs and carbon emissions even more by adding a consolidating step for your goods during transportation. This is where incoming LCL consignments from various origins are combined before continuing a journey in the same direction. You’ll benefit from significantly lower costs and a smaller carbon footprint, just by allowing a little extra transit time.

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How Do LCL Transit Times Compare?

Air is going to be faster than LCL except for short-distance lanes or some intra-regional transportation. You’ll usually find no difference between direct port-to-port transit times for LCL and FCL. Just allow extra time for LCL handling processes at both ends, as illustrated below and as described in our LCL 101 article. If you need more speed, you can always consider using expedited LCL.

Where Can I Use LCL?

You’ll find LCL services in many geographies and covering long distances. For example, we offer more than 2,800 direct LCL services, including both directions on the main intercontinental routes between the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, and Middle East & Africa along with intra-Americas, intra-Asia Pacific, intra-Europe, and intra-Middle East & Africa services.

What Products Can I Ship?

With LCL you can ship mostly the same products as FCL if they don’t need special handling and can be loaded with other products in the same container. Your goods must be suited to long-distance, long-duration shipping as sea journeys can take between 20 and 30 days, sometimes more. Here’s a list of excluded commodities for LCL: live plants, live animals, perishables of any kind, currency and securities, valuables such as gold, platinum, and jewelry, some dangerous cargo, arms and ammunition, vehicles including motorcycles, tobacco, cigarettes, and personal effects.

What Size and Weight for LCL Items?

Typically, each item shouldn’t exceed 5.80 x 2.25 x 2.20 meters (LxWxH). There is usually a per-item weight limit too (for example, 2,500 kg) and a maximum shipment volume measured in cubic meters (for example, 20 CBM). 

If you’ve got something bigger or heavier than this, and your shipment volume is greater, we recommend you check with your LCL partner. We can usually handle item outliers after examining the specific shipment, trade lane, container utilization, and more.

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