LCL (Less-Than-Container-Load) and FCL (Full-Container-Load) – Meaning and Difference

June 13, 2023
Featured image for “LCL (Less-Than-Container-Load) and FCL (Full-Container-Load) – Meaning and Difference”


LCL (Less-Than-Container-Load) and FCL (Full-Container-Load) are terms used in the shipping industry to describe two different shipment options based on the utilization of shipping containers.

What is Less-Than-Container-Load (LCL)

Less-Than-Container-Load (LCL) refers to a shipping method in which goods from multiple shippers are consolidated and transported together in a single shipping container. LCL is used when the volume of goods from a single shipper does not fill an entire container. Instead of hiring an entire container for themselves, shippers share container space and pay for the space they occupy based on the volume or weight of their goods.


Here’s how the LCL shipping process typically works:

  1. Consolidation: Shippers deliver their goods to a freight forwarder or consolidator. The consolidator collects shipments from various shippers and combines them into one container at a warehouse for ecommerce or hub. The consolidation process involves careful organization and packing to maximize space utilization and ensure efficient loading.


  1. Freight Charges: Shippers are charged based on the volume or weight of their goods and the space occupied in the container. The charges typically include origin handling fees, consolidation charges, documentation fees, and destination handling fees.


  1. Transport: Once the container is loaded and sealed, it is transported to the port of origin for shipment. The container is treated as a single unit during transit.


  1. Deconsolidation: Upon arrival at the destination port, the container is unloaded and taken to a deconsolidation facility. The goods are then sorted and distributed to their respective consignees or further transported to their final destinations.


Advantages of LCL shipments include:

  1. Cost savings: LCL allows smaller shippers to share the cost of shipping a container, making it a cost-effective option for those with lower shipping volumes. Shippers pay only for the space they require.


  1. Access to global markets: LCL enables businesses with smaller shipments to access international markets without the need to fill an entire container. It provides flexibility and cost-efficiency for smaller businesses expanding their reach.


  1. Reduced inventory holding costs: LCL shipments allow businesses to ship goods more frequently in smaller quantities, reducing the need for large inventory stocks. This can help lower inventory holding costs and improve cash flow.


It’s important to note that LCL shipments may have longer transit times compared to Full-Container-Load (FCL) shipments due to the additional consolidation and deconsolidation processes involved. However, LCL offers a practical and economical solution for shippers who do not have enough goods to fill a container and want to benefit from the advantages of containerized shipping.



What is Full-Container-Load Shipments (FCL)

Full-Container-Load (FCL) shipments refer to a shipping method where a single shipper or consignee utilizes an entire shipping container to transport their goods. In FCL shipments, the entire container is dedicated to one party, regardless of whether the container is fully loaded or not. This differs from Less-Than-Container-Load (LCL) shipments, where multiple shippers share container space.


Here’s how the FCL shipping process typically works:

  1. Container Booking: The shipper or consignee books an entire container for their shipment. They specify the container size (such as 20-foot or 40-foot) based on the volume or weight of their goods.


  1. Container Loading: The shipper loads their goods into the container at their premises or a designated facility. They are responsible for properly securing and packing the goods to ensure safe transportation.


  1. Sealing and Documentation: Once the container is loaded, it is sealed and the shipper provides the necessary shipping documents, such as a bill of lading, commercial invoice, and packing list, to the shipping line or freight forwarder.


  1. Transport: The loaded container is then transported to the port of origin for export. During transit, the container remains intact and is not opened or unloaded until it reaches the destination.


  1. Customs Clearance: At the destination port, the container goes through customs clearance processes, where the necessary import documents are reviewed and customs duties or taxes are assessed and paid, if applicable.


  1. Delivery: After customs clearance, the container is released and transported to the consignee’s designated location. The consignee unloads the goods from the container at their premises.


Advantages of FCL shipments include:

  1. Exclusive Use: Shippers have exclusive use of the entire container, providing greater control and security over their goods. There is no sharing of container space with other shippers, minimizing the risk of damage or loss.


  1. Predictable Transit Times: FCL shipments generally have more predictable transit times compared to LCL shipments. Since the container is not opened or unloaded during transit, there is minimal handling and no need for deconsolidation at the destination.


  1. Flexibility in Packing: Shippers have the flexibility to pack and load their goods in the container according to their specific requirements. They can optimize the space utilization and packing methods to ensure efficient and safe transportation.


  1. Reduced Risk of Cross-Contamination: With an FCL shipment, there is a lower risk of cross-contamination between different shippers’ goods since the container is dedicated to a single party.


FCL shipments are suitable for businesses with larger shipping volumes or those requiring exclusive use of a container. They offer more control, security, and predictability compared to LCL shipments. However, it’s important to note that FCL shipments may require higher shipping volumes to be cost-effective compared to LCL shipments.

Difference Between LCL and FCL


Difference Between LCL and FCL for e-commerce owner

For e-commerce owners, the main difference between LCL (Less-Than-Container-Load) and FCL (Full-Container-Load) shipments lies in the volume and nature of their shipping needs:


  1. Shipping Volume: E-commerce owners typically deal with smaller shipping volumes compared to larger businesses. LCL shipments are well-suited for e-commerce owners who have smaller quantities of goods to ship. They can share container space with other shippers, allowing them to benefit from cost savings by paying only for the space they occupy. LCL is a cost-effective option for e-commerce businesses with lower shipping volumes.


  1. Cost Considerations: LCL shipments offer cost advantages for e-commerce owners. Since they share container space with other shippers, the overall transportation costs are divided among multiple parties. This can be beneficial for e-commerce owners who want to optimize their shipping costs, especially when the volume of goods is not sufficient to fill an entire container.


  1. Flexibility in Shipping: E-commerce owners often have fluctuating shipping volumes and may require flexibility in their shipping options. LCL provides flexibility by allowing e-commerce owners to ship smaller quantities on a regular basis. It enables them to react to market demands, restock inventory more frequently, and adapt to changes in customer orders. This flexibility can be advantageous for e-commerce businesses that need to manage inventory levels and respond quickly to customer needs.


  1. Reduced Inventory Holding Costs: LCL shipments can help e-commerce owners reduce inventory holding costs. By shipping smaller quantities more frequently, they can avoid holding large inventory stocks. This can improve cash flow and minimize storage costs, which is particularly relevant for e-commerce businesses that operate on a just-in-time inventory model or have limited warehousing capabilities.


On the other hand, FCL shipments may not be as suitable for e-commerce owners due to their smaller shipping volumes. FCL shipments involve the use of an entire container, which may not be cost-effective or necessary for e-commerce businesses with lower shipping volumes.


In summary, the difference between LCL and FCL for e-commerce owners primarily lies in the cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and scalability of the shipping options. LCL shipments provide a practical and cost-effective solution for e-commerce businesses with smaller shipping volumes, offering flexibility, reduced costs, and the ability to adapt to changing demands.


Easy China warehouse specializes in LCL consolidated containers.  We focus on specifically consolidating containers and directing shipments to Amazon FBA warehouses all around the world.  With ECW’s economies of scale we can offer the lowest landed cost to any FBA warehouse around the world.  Contact us know to learn more.