Less than Container Load (LCL) Definition Explained

Less than Container Load (LCL) is a terminology used in the world of transportation – both sea and land. It denotes a situation where a container is filled up with various cargos, belonging to more than one shipper. When a shipper is shipping across a small quantity of cargo that is not enough to fill up an entire container, it becomes uneconomical for him/her to hire the entire container. In such cases, it is financially worthwhile to opt for the LCL mode of shipping.

The full form of LCL is the Less than a Container Load. In plain language, LCL means the container load with less capacity.

What are the typical container dimensions?

There are 4 types of containers that are most common in the shipping sector. They are:

  • 8ft Shipping Container – 8ft (2.43m) length x 7ft (2.20m) width x 7ft 6in (2.27m) height
  • 10ft Shipping Container – 9ft 10in (2.99 m) length x 8ft (2.44m) width x 8ft 6in (2.59m) height
  • 20ft Shipping Container – 20ft (6.06m) length x 8ft (2.44m) width x 8ft 6in (2.6m) height
  • 40ft Shipping Container – 40ft (12.2m) length x 8ft (2.44m) width x 8ft 6in (2.6m) height

When should you book LCL shipment?

If you need to book your shipment at the last minute – there are peak seasons in shipping when there are severe congestions and scarcity of containers. It becomes easier for you to book a spot via the LCL mode, compared to the FCL one.

If your cargo volume is under 13 cubic meters – the shipping companies will quote you rates for your LCL shipment based on the cargo weight & volume. If the volume of your cargo is less than 13 cubic meters (cbm), then it is economical to ship the cargo via the LCL mode.

If the cargo isn’t intended for an urgent delivery – you can definitely transport your low volume cargo through air. But sending it as an LCL sea shipment would be much more cost-effective for you – if there isn’t a requirement for urgent delivery.

If the cargo volume is bigger than one but smaller than two containers – booking two containers for a shipment that is marginally more than the capacity of one container would cost you a lot of money. It makes sense for you to book one container & send it as FCL; while for the remaining cargo, opt for the LCL mode.

Benefits of LCL shipments

  • You pay for the volume that you are shipping. You don’t need to pay for a flat rate for the container, irrespective of the volume of the cargo.
  • If you ship your cargo frequently in smaller quantities via the LCL mode, you don’t need a large space for inventory. This helps is cutting the related costs.
  • It is much cheaper than the other alternative – air freight.
  • You don’t need to wait for having enough order of cargo to fill up the entire container.

Drawbacks of LCL shipments 

While LCL is a useful option for smaller shippers and those who frequently ship smaller quantities, it does have some disadvantages too. Let’s take a look at some of them.

  • The transporter needs to unload & reload the cargo from one container to another. This increases the transit time.
  • Though you pay lesser than that of a full container, the charges per cbm are higher for the LCL shipments than for FCL.
  • If there isn’t enough cargo from other shippers to fill up the container while your cargo is already in it, your shipment gets delayed. This might cause discomfort in your relations with your customer for whom the cargo is intended.
  • Transporters need to haul the LCL shipments more than the FCL ones. This increases the risk of damage during haulage.

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