When mailing a letter, delivery options are abundant—whether you’re shipping First Class or Priority, various size, weight, timeline, and cost considerations influence your decision.
When you’re shipping large packages or cargo in bulk, these same considerations apply. However, you must also consider whether the size of your shipment qualifies for LTL or parcel shipping.
In this article, we’ll cover LTL vs. parcel shipping, their package dimensions, and when one delivery option makes more sense than the other.
What Does LTL Stand for in Shipping?
LTL shipping—or “less than truckload”—refers to a transportation option that consolidates multiple businesses’ cargo to fill a truck. The items are collected from each location, combined, and then driven to their various destinations along an optimized route.
Before LTL shipping solutions were available, businesses would either have to wait until their collective items comprised full truckloads (FTL) or pay for the unused cargo space. The former impacts customer satisfaction and logistical considerations while the latter significantly increases operating expenses.
However, with LTL freight shipping options, businesses can immediately find and schedule a truck for partial freight loads. This allows them to transport their individual goods weighing over 150 lbs. or mid-sized collections that fall under the 10,000 lb. recommendation for FTL transport.
The Advantages of LTL Shipping
LTL shipping’s primary advantage is that it’s a quick and efficient transportation method for items that exceed parcel size but cannot collectively fill an entire truck or shipping container.
Beyond providing a shipping option for small to medium-sized cargo loads, benefits of LTL shipping also include:
- Optimized routes based on pickup and dropoff locations
- Lower costs than paying for FTL shipping
- Faster delivery, as companies aren’t suspending pickup until FTL minimums are met
- Increased visibility through tracking systems and checkpoints used by LTL shippers
- Reduced environmental impact from less unused cargo space or on-road trucks
Items that are well-suited for LTL shipping include appliances and furniture. Generally, if the transported item requires a pallet and forklift to position it onto the truck, it’s likely destined for LTL (or FTL) shipping.
What is Parcel Shipping?
“Parcels” refer to smaller individual packages that businesses need to ship—the type that people might head to the Post Office to send. Because of their size, parcels:
- Complete shipping processes more quickly, like scanning and sorting at hubs
- Pass through more checkpoints for increased visibility and security
- Can be picked up or dropped off at any location, including inside buildings
- Can be transported in a higher volume
- Cost less per item shipped
- Face a greater damage risk due to stacking or being lost
If one person can easily lift the package, it’s likely considered a parcel.
Is a Parcel a Package? What Qualifies?
Not every carrier will adhere to the same maximum dimensions for the parcels they’ll transport, but the US Postal Service’s specifications provide a solid frame of reference. Per USPS, their maximum parcel shipment dimensions are:
- A combined length and girth of less than 108” in total
- Packages delivered via USPS Retail Ground cannot exceed 130” in total
- 70 lbs.
- Broader industry limits on parcel weight are commonly 150 lbs.
What is the Difference Between Freight and Parcels?
The term “freight” applies to the bulk transportation of any goods. This means LTL shipment, FTL shipment, and a truckload of individual parcels are all considered freight.
The Advantages of Parcel Shipping
The number of hubs that parcels move through may result in slower delivery, but the regular scanning will also provide greater tracking visibility if that’s a concern. Because of the automated processes and larger shipment volumes, individual costs will also be lower for parcel shipping.
The one significant downside of parcel shipments is that smaller packages can be damaged more easily during automated processing, truck loading, and transportation.
When to Choose LTL or Parcel Shipping
Generally, your choice between LTL and parcel shipping will be determined for you according to the package’s weight or size. You’ll need to choose LTL freight shipping if you’re shipping a package that exceeds 150 lbs. or specified carrier dimensions.
If either method is available for your package, the final location will affect the total shipping cost. Parcel delivery will not charge to deliver inside a building and on higher floors. Similarly, the fees for residential delivery of parcels are lower.
However, there are two circumstances where businesses often choose LTL shipping for packages that qualify as parcels: when shipping larger quantities of parcel-sized items to the same destination (or multiple close locations) or if they’re oddly shaped or fragile.
This is because much of the parcel scanning, sorting, and other logistical processes are automated, which can increase the risk of damage. In contrast, items shipped via LTL transport are likely positioned on pallets and moved with forklifts or pallet jacks, which provides greater care and handling.
Optimize Shipping Choices with Shipware
As both LTL and parcel shipping provide situational advantages on cost and delivery timelines, it can be difficult to choose which method is better for a given item. And one method may not always be better than the other for recurring shipments of the same size and weight due to cargo space availability and route optimization.
To ensure you always make the best choice when it comes to LTL vs. parcel delivery, you need a software solution linked to a network of carriers that lets you compare real-time availability, pricing, and delivery dates. Fortunately, Shipware’s 3-in-1 management solution and managed services do exactly that. So whether you choose a parcel service or an LTL freight carrier, you can rest assured you’ve optimized your shipping.
To find out how you can optimize your shipping practices with real-time insights and extensive partner networks, contact us today and find the best eCommerce shipping solutions for you.
- SCM EDU. LTL Shipment. https://scmedu.org/ltlshipment/
- UPS. Shipping Dimensions and Weight. https://www.ups.com/us/en/support/shipping-support/shipping-dimensions-weight.page USPS. How to Prepare and Send a Package. https://www.usps.com/ship/packages.htm