How to ship orders from China which are too small to go in a container

I sometimes get inquiries from people who have a small order they want to ship from China. And this is when they realize that the cost of overseas sourcing suddenly goes up. Simply put the smaller your order is the more expensive it is to ship. It sounds paradoxical but it is true, and for this reason: you pay a fixed cost for the container from China to the US so the more product you can get in that container, the lower your shipping cost per unit is. If for, example you are paying $2500.00 for the container (a standard rate for a 40’ container from China to the West Coast of the USA) and you are packing in 3500 pcs you will pay $0.71 in shipping costs per pc. But if you can pack in only 2500 pcs your shipping cost per unit goes up to $1.00 per pc, a substantial increase. And this is why packaging is so important and why you want to utilize space as efficiently as possible.

If you don’t ship a full container then your next option is LCL which can be expensive, bureaucratic and can subject your shipment to a sometimes lengthy delay if another shipment in the same container has to be inspected. In fact, LCL can be very slow because there are sometimes so many other shipments in the same container, all of which need to be processed in due course. The only time you may want to use LCL is when you simply have too big an order to make air-shipment viable or you want to get product to market as quickly as possible, not wanting to wait until your demand justifies ordering a full container. Let’s say, for example, that you have orders that will fill 70% of a container. You have a choice which is to waste 30% of the container, thereby adding cost to your product, or ship LCL, saving cost on shipping and probably getting your product sooner than if you had to wait for orders to fill a container.

And then there are the really small orders, that shipment of, say, ten cartons for a business just testing the waters on a product. Probably the best way to ship orders like this is to use China’s express courier EMS. EMS is China’s equivalent of FEDEX but is generally cheaper than the other major international couriers, by at least 25 % in my experience. Not only is EMS cheaper but your shipment will likely encounter few problems when it leaves China whereas if you ship one of the other major carriers e.g. DHL, FEDEX, UPS you may risk lengthy delays because China Customs is more likely to scrutinize the foreign companies. I can recall on a couple of occasions over the past four years where there was a problem using one of the above carriers because of a problem with China Customs. In one case a foreign courier had violated a Customs regulation which meant that they were not allowed to ship a certain product out of China. Needless to say, this is more likely to happen with a foreign courier than with a Chinese courier. So to be safe just use EMS, even if you have your own FEDEX or other account.

Finally if you don’t want or can’t use EMS for some reason (maybe you get a hefty discount from FEDEX for example) then my second choice would be FEDEX or DHL, simply because most vendors are familiar with them. From my experience UPS is the carrier you should avoid because many vendors have no relationship with UPS and prefer not to use them.

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