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What’s the Difference Between Cargo vs. Shipment?

Alex Selwitz

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Cargo and shipment are shipping terms that are sometimes used interchangeably but have slightly different meanings. It’s essential to understand the difference so you use the correct terms when you communicate about cargo vs. shipment with your eCommerce fulfillment service and other providers.

Cargo vs. shipment definitions

Shipment can describe either the action of shipping goods or a set of goods constituting a shipment. Meanwhile, cargo always refers to the merchandise being shipped. Let’s drill down into cargo vs. shipment.

What is cargo vs. shipment?

Today, cargo most often refers to the containers in ocean shipping, but shippers can transport cargo by airplane, truck, or train as well. Cargo is a generic term for all the items onboard a container ship or other form of transport. 

You can refer to all the containers on a ship as a shipment, but it’s more often used to denote the transport of a specific product or products. For example:

We received a shipment of shoes from our factory in China.

The shipment contained stock for four different SKUs.

What is freight?

Freight refers to shipments of bulk goods. Cargo and freight are generally the same. A package delivered to a customer’s door is rarely freight (though some oversized deliveries may come via residential LTL freight). Freight may be less-than-truckload (LTL) palletized stock, full-truckload shipments, or full-container loads. 

In general, freight refers to the bulk shipment of products or raw materials, usually to and from manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, and fulfillment warehouses that accept shipments of commercial goods in large quantities.

What is a freight shipment?

A freight shipment is a single bulk shipment. The freight shipped can be an LTL pallet of goods or FTL or FCL shipments.

Modes of transport for cargo

You can send a cargo shipment by a variety of different transport modes. Shipments in international trade are almost always intermodal, with shipping containers transferred from truck to container ship to train or other modes.

Cargo ship

Cargo ships carry approximately 95% of the world’s cargo by volume. Most cargo ships transport their cargo in shipping containers, which allow more efficient loading and unloading because of standardized sizing. Metal shipping containers also protect products from damage and exposure to the elements during shipping.

Cargo shipping isn’t the fastest way to transport goods, but it is often the most economical. Ship cargo may also be called ocean freight.

Cargo plane 

Cargo planes provide faster transport for goods over long distances. Air cargo is more expensive but more secure and, therefore, often used to transport high-value items. Air freight carries about 35% of the world’s cargo by value.

dry vans stuck in a traffic jam due to logistics and border challenges

Freight trucks and trains 

Supply chains rely on intermodal transportation for the road transport of cargo shipments. For example, a shipment of a single SKU might get loaded into a container at a factory in Vietnam. A freight truck transports the container to the nearest port, where it’s loaded onto a cargo ship bound for the Port of Los Angeles. The container continues its journey in LA via a freight train loaded with dozens or hundreds of containers. A freight truck will then probably pick up the container at the train depot to take it to a distribution center or warehouse.

What’s in a shipment?

A shipment can contain a single SKU or multiple SKUs. Distribution centers often sort and repack products to ship a mix to a retail outlet or fulfillment warehouse. 

When you send a shipment to your order fulfillment provider, you’ll fill out an advance shipping notice (ASN) so the 3PL knows precisely what to expect. At Red Stag Fulfillment, we check the items in each shipment against the ASN to ensure our clients get the products they expect from their manufacturers or distributors. An ASN and careful vetting of inbound shipments also keeps stock counts accurate.

Types of shipments

As mentioned above, there are two primary types of freight shipments: FTL and LTL. Each has a different journey to its final destination.

Full-truckload or full-container load

Large enterprises or companies that sell oversized products often have shipments large enough to fill an entire shipping container or semi truck. The advantage of FTL and FCL shipping is that you may get better freight rates to transport your cargo. If you’re a high-volume freight shipper, you may be able to secure quicker passage on a cargo ship rather than waiting in line for space. And LTL truck transport tends to be faster and more direct.

Less-than-truckload or less-than-container load

LTL freight is an excellent way to ship products secured on pallets. During LTL shipping, a pallet may be loaded and unloaded to different trucks several times before it reaches its destination, so it can take longer than FTL shipping.

Fulfillment companies can use LTL freight for oversized eCommerce shipments that the major carriers can’t deliver. Residential LTL deliveries can transport anything from appliances to exercise equipment to cars.

Receive shipments faster when you work with an excellent fulfillment company

Red Stag Fulfillment guarantees to move your inbound shipments from dock to stock within two business days, ensuring that our segment of your bulk cargo journey is fast and efficient. We work with our clients to connect them to the services they need to improve supply chains and ensure cargo shipments arrive on time to replenish stock.

If you’re looking for a 3PL that can help you with shipping, fulfillment, and customer satisfaction, call Red Stag.

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