When most manufacturers and retailers think about shipping, they think about moving individual box-sized goods — including goods that require very large boxes — across air, water or land. What most of these shippers are imagining is parcel shipping. That’s the movement of goods more or less one at a time.

There is a whole additional shipping in the industry that thinks about goods in much larger quantities: whole pallets, whole truckloads or whole shipping containers. This is freight shipping.

Although these may seem like very similar services, the transportation methods, levels of service, and price structures can be very different in parcel vs. freight shipping.

For example, in the shipping industry venn diagram, freight and parcel shipping only partially overlap. Some companies, like FedEx, offer both types of service but at very different price and service levels. Some, like the U.S. Postal Service, only offer parcel shipping; others, like Con-Way, only move freight.

Is your company using the right service type for its needs?

Related: What Goes Into The Rates You Pay With FedEx and UPS

Freight vs Parcel Shipping

What is Freight Shipping?

Freight shipping involves large quantities of goods. Whenever you think of “cargo” rather than “parcel packages,” you’re probably thinking of freight.

For UPS, FedEx and DHL, parcel shipments max out at 150 pounds. Anything larger than that is considered a freight shipment. (And parcels smaller than that will still incur over maximum limits or large package surcharges.) There are size restrictions, too: UPS and FedEx both move parcels larger than 108 inches by 165 inches to freight.

Freight shipments are sized according to how much space they take up in a shipping container. Full truckload shipments fill a full truck trailer, which is generally about eight feet wide, 13 feet high and between 40 and 53 feet deep. Weight limits are typically between 35,000 pounds and 45,000 pounds, depending on local regulations.

Less than truckload shipments (LTL) take up less than a full truck bed, typically weighing in below 10,000 pounds. Freight carriers like Con-Way and YRC Freight move LTL shipments through their networks on their way to their final destinations.

Partial truckload shipments don’t fill the whole truck, but are typically larger than LTL shipments and are subject to less handling.

Freight can be moved by trucks, cargo planes, ships, or trains, and most likely some combination of the four.

Related: What is UPS Surepost?

What is Parcel Shipping?

Parcel shipping is the type of shipping most retailers are familiar with. Parcels are typically moved one at a time via ground or air shipping, using a small parcel carrier like UPS, FedEx, USPS, or DHL.

Generally speaking, any parcel that weighs less than 150 pounds can be moved by a parcel shipper, but most parcel shipments are under 70 pounds. Parcels are not shipped on pallets, and parcel packaging is usually supplied by the shipper or the carrier.

Related: What is FedEx Smartpost?

Who Should use Freight vs. Parcel?

Freight shipping is typically used for very large quantities of goods that are all moving to the same destination. Distribution facilities that receive freight shipments must be able to handle thousands of pounds of goods, which means freight usually arrives in ports or extremely large warehouses.

Further, since freight moves via ship and train and passes through these huge facilities, freight shipments may be more likely to encounter unexpected delays. And freight parcels themselves are typically packed in pallets, which are not easy to protect from damage.

For all these reasons, freight is almost exclusively used by commercial shippers. Businesses along a supply chain, who are moving thousands of components to an assembly facility at once, are well suited for freight shipments.

Residential and small or medium-sized retail shippers, on the other hand, almost always use parcel shipping, unless they are moving very large goods. These shippers are unlikely to move enough volume to make freight more cost-effective than parcel. They are more likely to ship to many disparate locations, which requires more nimble service. And their packages are typically closer to the end of the supply chain, which means there’s more pressure to arrive on time.

There can be gray areas. Packages heavier than 70 pounds but lighter than 150 pounds can go either way, depending on shipment volume and destination. If you are shipping large enough volumes of identical goods to a single destination, it may be possible to package them on pallets and ship them via freight.

On the other hand, if you consistently ship small LTL loads with freight, it may be time to review your parcel shipping options — especially if your individual packages are on the smaller size.

Some shippers offer exclusively freight or parcel service. But some of the biggest players in both fields provide both types of service — including FedEx and UPS. It’s important to note that while these companies offer both freight and parcel, these service types are typically separate branches of the company that negotiate separate contracts.

If you have an existing contract with a carrier, you are not likely to be able to add freight service into that contract.

If you are a parcel shipper interested in exploring freight, or vice versa, let Reveel help. Our expert consultants have worked inside those shipping companies and deeply understand their services. We can help you do a detailed review of what your company ships and help you understand the best solutions and what your service options are. If you realize that adding freight or parcel service to your portfolio would be a good option, we can also help you negotiate that contract.

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