What Is LCL Shipping?

By Rieva Lesonsky

Importing products from China is a great way for a small business to diversify their product offerings, stay on top of trends and reduce costs. However, in order to maintain your profit margins, it’s important to understand and manage your shipping costs. Today’s shipping lesson: What is LCL shipping, and how can it benefit your business?

LCL vs. FCL shipping

When goods are shipped by ocean freight, you have the choice to use FCL (full container load) or LCL (less than container load) shipping. Let’s look at LCL vs. FCL shipping.

Well, if you’ve ever seen shipping containers unloaded at a port, you know how massive they are. In order to use FCL shipping, which charges a flat rate per container, you’ve got to order enough goods to fill an entire container.

When you use LCL vs. FCL shipping, your shipment shares space in a container with shipments destined for other businesses. You’re charged based on the volume your shipment takes up (measured in cubic meters), rather than a flat rate.

Big companies generally use FCL shipping to take advantage of the flat rate. However, small business owners who are importing fewer products will have trouble filling a giant shipping container. This is especially true if you’re selling a product that doesn’t take up a lot of space, like smartphone cases or hair accessories. Can you imagine how many hair ties you’d have to import at once to fill a whole shipping container?

Advantages of LCL shipping for SMEs

LCL shipping offers several advantages for small importers.

Cost savings: Although per-cubic-meter charges for LCL are higher than FCL flat rates, you end up paying less because you are only using a small portion of the container space. You also save money on inventory because you buy only what you need, instead of ordering excess products just to fill a full container.

Speed: Speed matters when you’re selling seasonal products, trend-oriented merchandise, or other goods that have a limited shelf life. LCL shipping gets the products to you in time to take advantage of the demand. Manufacturers can ship the products as soon as they’re made, instead of waiting until they’ve manufactured enough to fill a full container. LCL providers use a variety of tactics to get shipments to buyers faster, including bypassing major ports in favor of smaller, less crowded ones where the goods can be unloaded faster.

Flexibility: LCL lets you get what you need quickly, when you want it, to meet market demand.

LCL shipping by Alibaba.com

Alibaba.com’s March Expo is currently underway, and one of the incentives they’re offering is 15% off LCL shipping from China to the US. It’s all part of Alibaba.com’s new logistics service, which lets small businesses take advantage of Alibaba.com’s existing infrastructure to save time, save money and simplify shipping.

Transparent and fair pricing is one of the biggest advantages of using Alibaba.com’s LCL shipping services. LCL shipping involves more parties handling your shipment than FCL shipping, and with some providers, you might end up with unexpected delays or charges after your shipment is delivered. However, Alibaba.com’s LCL shipping service gives you itemized quotes and invoices, so you always know exactly what price you’ll pay. Since Alibaba.com handles LCL shipping through one of its subsidiaries, you can be sure the price you’re quoted is the full landed cost.

You also get free online order tracking and real-time updates on the status of your shipment, so you know when to expect arrival. And, of course, you’ll get 24/7 online support from logistics professionals, with one-on-one service available for urgent issues.

Alibaba.com’s LCL service covers some 30,000 ZIP Codes in the United States. It’s easy to get started: Visit Alibaba.com or the Alibaba.com mobile app and when you find a product you want to purchase, just choose the “LCL Service” option on the product detail page.

Don’t delay: March Expo only goes through the end of the month. Your initial payment must be made by March 31 in order to qualify for the promotional price.

If you want to check out some of the deals being offered by the more than 58,000 participating suppliers, check out the deals for consumer electronics or home and garden products.

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