Freight 101: Introduction to Cargo & Freight Shipping for Your Ecommerce Business

Freight is the transportation of goods in bulk via road, intermodal transport (rail and road), ship, or air. Freight shipping is an integral part of many ecommerce businesses’ operations. In this article, we’ll cover the freight basics, including what classifies as freight and the different types of freight shipments.

What is freight shipping?

Freight shipping is the transportation of cargo across the globe via air, land, or sea that takes place between a freight broker and merchant. Freight shipping serves as the backbone for many US industries that require goods, parts, or any other aspect of their supply chain from foreign countries.

The freight shipping industry in 2019

Many consider the freight industry to be the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. In 2017, the United States spent $21 billion and transported 2,326 billion ton-kilometers in just domestic transportation. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as of June 2017, there were  777,240 for-hire carriers, 700,591 private carriers, and 80,247 other carriers on file. 91% of all carriers operate 6 or fewer trucks.

And the industry is only getting bigger! In the US, overall freight tonnage is predicted to grow a total of 35% between 2016 and 2027. Truckload volumes are predicted to grow 2% annually between 2016 and 2022, while less-than-truckload volume (explained below) will grow 3% year over year through 2022. Finally, private carrier volumes will grow 2.3% annually until 2022.

Overall, it’s clear that the freight services industry will continue to grow in the years to come, which is why it’s so important to get familiar with how it works.

What classifies as a freight shipment?

Any shipment that is larger than 30 inches by 30 inches by 30 inches or weighs over 150 pounds is considered freight. Shipments under these dimensions would typically be more cost-effective to ship via parcel.

Freight delivery shipments can either be loaded onto a truck on pallets or floor-loaded. Floor-loaded trucks need to be unloaded by hand, while inventory loaded on pallets can be easily loaded/unloaded using a dock or forklift.

A standard truck can transport a maximum of 26 pallets. The typical dimension of a pallet is 48 inches wide by 40 inches long, with a maximum height of 80 inches. Any pallet exceeding 48 inches in height is considered a double-stacked pallet.

Truck beds and containers are typically 4 feet off the ground. In order to load/unload the truck, warehouses are equipped with an elevated dock. If the warehousing and storage facility isn’t equipped with a dock, an alternate solution is to load/unload the truck by using a forklift or loading equipment. If any pickup/drop-off location does not have a dock or forklift, a truck with a lift gate service can be booked for an additional cost.

What are the different types of freight shipments?

There are three types of freight shipments: full truckload (FTL), less-than-truckload (LTL), and partial truckload (PTL).


1. Full truckload (FTL)

A full container is available for transporting inventory. Full truckload freight shipments can be moved via road or rail. Most FTL containers can transport 24 to 26 pallets. FTL shipments are direct shipments from the pick-up location to the destination (for example, from the manufacturer to a fulfillment center).

2. Less-than-truckload (LTL)

A less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment is between 1 and 6 pallets. LTL shipments are the most common type of shipments. In LTL freight shipping, the inventory is often transferred onto different trucks on the way to its destination.

3. Partial truckload (PTL)

Finally, a partial truckload (PTL) shipment is between 6 and 12 pallets. For PTL shipments, once the inventory is loaded onto the truck, the possibility that the inventory will be transferred to a different truck during the journey is low.

How does freight apply to ecommerce order fulfillment?

When working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider for order fulfillment, ecommerce businesses use freight shipping to send inventory to the 3PL’s fulfillment centers.

Many 3PLs help their clients book freight shipments with external providers, as well as walk them through the necessary shipping processes and freight shipping rates to ensure that inventory arrives at the fulfillment center safe and sound.

For example, ShipBob helps clients book freight shipments in the United States and Canada by working with a dedicated Freight Expert for a custom freight quote. If a client has international shipping needs, ShipBob partners with Freightos to book international shipments to any ShipBob fulfillment center.

Learn more

To learn more about shipping freight and fulfilling orders for your online store through ShipBob, including how we help clients book freight shipments through freight carriers, read about our ecommerce fulfillment services and fulfillment software.

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Freight shipping services

Picking a quality freight company to ship your products means on-time deliveries, safely shipped packages, and overall less of a headache. Here are some of the most well-regarded shippers in the freight industry.