LCL Shipping – How Does It Work?

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If you ship small consignments of goods on an ad-hoc basis, you’ll probably want to do this in the most cost-effective way possible. LCL (less-than-container load) shipping can be a good way of achieving this. But what is LCL shipping and how exactly does it work?

What is LCL shipping?

LCL shipping is a method of shipment where the cargo doesn’t fill a full container – in other words, it takes up ‘less than a container load’. When shipping your goods this way, they will share container space with other shipments, so you’ll only pay for the space you use.

LCL vs FCL – what is the difference?

The main difference between LCL and FCL (full container load) shipping is the amount of container space used. With LCL shipping, multiple smaller shipments are consolidated in one container, whereas FCL shipments will take up the whole of the container on their own.

However, there are other differences between LCL and FCL that are worth considering when it comes to deciding which shipping method is the best option for you.

Cost of shipping

LCL is typically a more cost-effective way of shipping small volumes of goods. This makes it ideal for small businesses that aren’t yet ready to import full container loads.

With LCL shipments, the shipping cost is based on the volume of space your goods occupy within the container. This tends to be calculated in cubic metres (CBM). With an FCL shipment, you will pay a flat fee for the full container space.

While the cost per cubic metre is more expensive for LCL shipping, it will still work out cheaper than FCL if you’re using a small amount of container space. However, if you start to ship more regularly or need a higher volume of container space, it may be worth doing some calculations to work out which is cheaper out of LCL and FCL.

Delivery of goods

Another difference between LCL and FCL shipping is the way your goods are delivered to you.

With FCL shipments, goods are delivered in the shipping container, which will be fixed to the back of a large truck. Unless you have paid more for a Hiab or side-loading truck (a truck which can lift the container to the floor and back onto the truck), the container can’t be lowered onto the ground for unloading.

You’ll usually have three hours to unload your goods from the container – six feet above the ground – before the truck drives away, meaning you’ll need a forklift (or extra personnel) for assistance. Alternatively you could source a warehouse to unload the container and transport the goods to you on pallets in a standard curtain-sided trailer or similar vehicle to suit your requirements.

On the other hand, LCL shipments are usually delivered using a standard curtain-sided trailer and will usually be palletised, which makes them easier to unload. You’ll also have the flexibility of requesting a smaller truck for delivery if your premises has restricted access, or a tail-lift delivery for lowering goods to the floor, if you don’t want to unload by hand or have a forklift.


FCL shipments are only handled by yourself and the supplier (if you’re importing) or customer (if exporting). The goods will be loaded into the container, which is then sealed, and the container is then delivered, still sealed. This minimises the chances of goods being damaged in transit, so FCL may be your best option if you’re transporting fragile cargo.

LCL shipments are handled at various points through the shipping process. They are first loaded onto a truck at the point of collection, then unloaded into a warehouse at the port before being loaded into a shared container. When they arrive, this process happens in reverse.

How LCL shipping rates are calculated

As mentioned above, the cost of shipping LCL is primarily calculated by volume, usually in cubic (CBM). This means the more space you need in the container, the more you will pay.

LCL shipping rates also take weight into account; however, this typically has less of a bearing on the overall cost than volume, simply because container ships can handle huge amounts of weight.

A quote for LCL shipping will generally include the following:

  • Pickup: the cost of collecting your shipment from the pickup point, which may be a warehouse, factory or other premises.
  • Loading: this may also be labelled as ‘origin’. It covers the loading, or ‘stuffing’, of containers with other shipments at a Container Freight Station (CFS).
  • Shipping: the cost of the sea journey itself, from port of origin to port of destination. This will vary depending on the shipping line used and other factors.
  • Deconsolidation: when arriving at the destination country, LCL shipments will stop at another CFS, so the containers can be ‘unstuffed’ or deconsolidated.
  • Delivery: the cost of transporting your goods to their final destination, as well as unloading if you will not be doing this yourself.
  • Documentation and Customs Clearance: there will also be costs associated with the documents and processes for getting your goods through customs.

When should you ship LCL?

This ultimately comes down to the volume of goods you are shipping and how soon you need them delivered. There are also other factors to consider, including the fragility of the cargo and whether you have enough space in your warehouse to accommodate a full container load.

Ultimately though, LCL is a good bet for smaller consignments of low-value goods, or companies that are starting to test the water with importing or exporting. Not only does it tend to work out cheaper than FCL, but it also gives you the flexibility to top up your stock as and when you need it, although you need to take into account the lead times of shipping.

Book an LCL shipment with Hemisphere

At Hemisphere Freight Services, our team can organise an LCL shipment on your behalf, while offering further advice on the options available to you. Drawing on our global partner network, we’ll book container space according to your needs and can even organise onward transport from the port, providing a full door-to-door service. Please get in touch to discuss your requirements further.

LCL service to Australia

We also offer a dedicated fortnightly LCL groupage service from Felixstowe to Sydney, Australia. The container is loaded at our own premises and shipped no matter how full it is, minimising any delays. For more information about this service, please email