FCL Vs LCL - How to Get the Cheapest Shipping Rate


Cargo ship docked holding sea containers

Shipping costs are one of the biggest concerns for importers. The costs depend on the volume of the goods and can alter the landed unit cost dramatically depending on whether your goods fill a Full Container Load (FCL) or are Less than a Container Load (LCL).

Even identical shipments one month to the next may not have the same freight costs. Each consignment is different depending on the freight market. That’s before you take into account currency fluctuations!     

FCL and LCL Shipment Definition

There are a few shipping terms you should be familiar with before you organise a shipment from China.  

FCL Shipping

Full Container Load (FCL) means your shipment is the only one in the container. Your container is delivered faster because it can come off the ship and be delivered straight to you for unpacking.   

LCL Shipping

Less than Container Load (LCL) means your shipment is smaller than a full container and needs to be mixed with other importers’ orders. LCL is more expensive per unit price than FCL. When multiple shipments are included in a container, various documents need to be processed and the goods unpacked and sorted at a warehouse before they can be delivered to or collected by buyers.  

Container Shipping Costs - LCL Vs FCL?

Shipping costs vary depending on the method of freight and how it is organised.  

FCL Isn’t Always Cheaper

While the unit price is lower with FCL cargo, your shipment needs to be more than 15 cubic metres (in a 20-foot container) for it to be more economical. If the volume is smaller than 15 cubic metres, then it will be cheaper to use LCL because you are sharing the cost of transporting the container with other importers.

LCL Shipment with Like Goods

It’s a long trip from China to Australia, so you will want some peace of mind that your shipment is safe during its travels. Shipping containers can be tossed around in heavy seas, so damage is a threat to every shipment.  Use a reputable agent that will ensure your goods are packed correctly and aren’t placed in the same container as hazardous materials or liquids that can spill. Heavy products can squash and destroy your lighter goods.

Even if you take out insurance for your order and the products are destroyed, the cost of replacing and shipping may be covered, but your business could be damaged by not supplying products to customers on time.

Shipping Rates Change Depending on Demand

Shipping rates don’t stay the same. The cost changes depending on supply and demand. There are a few times during the year that there is a high demand for goods to be shipped from China. Many customers aim to have their order filled before factories close down for Chinese New Year in late January or February, so peak demand for shipping occurs before this time every year. There is also a high volume of goods being exported from China before Christmas to fill stockings around the world, so this also places pressure on the available ships and containers.

Use an Import or Shipping Agent

DIY (Do it Yourself) can save money in some areas, but when it comes to shipping, you are often better off leaving it to an agent. If you have an LCL order, the agent will organise for your shipment to join with other orders. The agent is then responsible for sorting the goods, distribution to clients and ensuring the container is returned to the dock before demurrage charges begin. Even with an FCL, a shipping agent will have better contacts and most likely access to cheaper rates than a low volume buyer. There is also the risk of making a mistake on the paperwork which results in the buyer paying more than they should.    

If you want to ensure you achieve the best possible unit cost for your goods, speak to Vara Allied. We’ll organise the product sourcing  or manufacturer sourcing and shipment of high quality goods from China. Ask for a quote by calling (08) 6115 0118 or contact us.