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How to Get FCL Shipments to Amazon On Time and On Budget

If you import large amounts of goods in small individual lots directly to Amazon fulfillment centers, consider sending full container loads or FCL shipments instead.

Sending shipments by FCL can be a more efficient and cost-effective method of importing goods for fulfillment by Amazon than sending smaller lots in mixed containers.

When you streamline your importing process, you save time as well as money.

It is important to follow all of Amazon’s rules and guidelines for how your container should be packed and delivered, otherwise your shipment may be delayed. Amazon might reject it altogether if it is not packed and prepared properly, which can soon prove very expensive.

Amazon’s rules for receiving and processing full container load shipments can be rather confusing if you are just getting started. Here at Unicargo, we have been forwarding shipments to Amazon by FCL ever since the Fulfilled by Amazon program began, so we have extensive experience in regard to this method of shipment.

In this article, we will share some guidance on how to ship full container loads to Amazon fulfillment centers successfully.

 FCL shipments to Amazon fulfillment centers

The Benefits of Sending Full Container Loads Directly to Amazon

Whilst LCL (less than container load) or LTL (less than truck load) shipments are, of course, appropriate for sellers who import smaller quantities of goods per shipment, shipping by FCL provides a number of benefits that make it worth your while.

Bulk purchasing and full container shipping are more cost-effective methods of importing goods with a total volume of over 20 cubic meters (rather than staggering multiple smaller shipments). Importing all of your goods together in one container makes them easier to trace and manage, helping to streamline the receiving process and avoid delays in transit.

This provides better security and minimizes the risk of damage to the cargo in handling. If everything goes to plan, your container will not be opened until it reaches its final destination at Amazon.

Additionally, full container deliveries tend to get to their destination faster than mixed loads. This is due to the minimal handling involved compared to shipping your goods in a container with other people’s goods. Delays at customs and throughout different legs of the journey are most often caused by problems that arise from sharing your shipping space with others.

However, when sending a full container load to Amazon, you must make sure that you fulfill all of Amazon’s requirements, or you run the risk of negating potential savings with delays and additional costs.

The Basics of Sending FCL Shipments to Amazon

Once you have decided to send a full container load to Amazon, make sure you get everything right at the preparation stage when you arrange delivery of your goods using your Amazon Seller Central account. Always remember these two main points:

  • You can only send FCL shipments directly to Amazon if your delivery is assigned to one specific fulfillment center in your Amazon Seller Central dashboard (when you create your shipment plan). 
  • Your shipment must be labeled at its origin by your supplier in order to be accepted by Amazon. Otherwise, you will have to break down and transload your goods for LTL onwards delivery.

If you want to import goods by FCL via sea freight but Amazon assigns more than one fulfillment center to you when you set up the delivery, you can’t deliver your FCL directly to Amazon.

In a situation like this, you have two options for how to proceed:

  1. Use Amazon’s inventory placement service to request just one destination fulfillment center. This means that you can deliver your FCL there directly. Don’t forget –  using the inventory placement service also attracts additional fees, which will depend on the type of products that you are sending, their weight, and their volume.
  2. Alternatively, ship your FCL to a warehouse for unloading, palletization, and processing. Then have the shipment broken up to be sent by LTL to the respective fulfillment centers you are using.

Setting up FCL Shipments Using Amazon Seller Central

Even if you are a regular user of Amazon Seller Central, having a little guidance on setting up your first few FCL shipments properly provides peace of mind and ensures that you don’t make an avoidable mistake.

Here’s how to set up an FCL shipment using Amazon Seller Central

  1. Under Section 2 “Shipping Service,” select the options LTL, and “Other Carrier,” filling in “other” in the drop-down box.
  2. On the “Box Labels” page that comes next, download your labels using the “generate box labels” button. Send them to your supplier so that they can label your shipment. Remember, if your shipment is not labeled at origin, you cannot have it delivered by FCL to Amazon.
amazon shipments

Loading Your Container: Floor-Loaded vs. Palletized Cargo 

When you import full containers of goods to Amazon, you have the choice of loading the container in either a palletized or floor-loaded formation. Floor-loaded cargo defines goods that are stacked and packed directly onto the bottom of the container. Palletized cargo is loaded onto pallets and remains on the pallets throughout the journey until it is unpacked at Amazon.

Palletized Containers

Palletized containers make your goods safer in transit and easier to process at the fulfillment center. Consequently, palletized containers have fewer rules and restrictions than floor-loaded containers. This reduces the risks of delays or having your shipment turned away due to errors in packing. The ease of unpacking palletized cargo may mean that your goods are processed faster as well.

Palletized containers usually get earlier delivery appointments with Amazon because they are faster and easier to unload – however, using pallets costs valuable cargo space within your container due to the added dimensions of the pallets themselves.

Floor-Loaded Containers

Floor-loading allows you to make the most efficient use of the container’s space. Amazon fulfillment centers do accept floor-loaded containers, but these must be packed and transported very carefully. You want to ensure that they comply with Amazon’s requirements so that they are not turned away at their destination.

Floor-loading your containers is the most popular choice for most Amazon sellers because it allows you to make the best use of your container’s available space. However,  if you have room in your container to palletize your cargo, this is the best and easiest approach to take in terms of reducing its chances of rejection.

Packing Requirements for Full Containers Sent to Amazon

If you are sending a full container of goods to Amazon on pallets, you must fulfill Amazon’s packing requirements, as follows:

  • The pallets themselves should be standard or EUR pallets of GMA grade “B” or higher for regular items. CHEP pallets that meet GMA grade A or B are also acceptable, but plastic pallets will be rejected. 
  • All pallets must be in good condition, with no broken or damaged slats.
  • Pallets should be 40” by 48” and with four-way access.
  • The height of any single pallet should be no more than 72.” Pallets can be double-stacked, but the stack height should not exceed 100,” nor should any single stacked pallet measure more than 50” high. All of these measurements include the height of the pallet itself.
  • The maximum allowable weight per pallet is 1,500 lbs or less.
  • Cartons or boxes must not overhang the pallet by more than 1” on any side.
  • Pallets should be built with carton labels facing outwards so that they can be scanned for their barcodes without the need to break down the pallet.

If you are sending a floor-loaded container instead, here are Amazon’s packing requirements:

  • Boxes or cartons should be stacked in columns with at least 3” between the columns and the walls of the container.
  • There must be 3” clearance between the top of the cargo stack and the container’s roof.
  • Cartons that weigh more than 50 lbs may be refused for safety reasons.
  • Cartons must not be bundled together with straps, tape, zip ties, or any other accessories to support their integrity.

How to Secure Your Cargo Inside the Container and Meet Amazon’s Requirements

It’s crucial to ensure that your cargo is properly secured in transit and will not fall over when moved. Amazon mandates that, in order to accept your container shipment, load bars and tension straps be used as necessary to secure both pallets and floor-loaded cargo.

Spacers should also be used between stacks where necessary to keep your cargo from shifting.

If your container arrives with the cartons all scattered within the container or with some of the cartons being unstable, Amazon will refuse your delivery for safety reasons.

Amazon Container Unloading

Amazon Container Unloading Methods and Requirements

When Amazon unpacks your container at their fulfillment center, they may use any of three methods: hand unloading, forklift, or clamp truck. Palletized deliveries are unpacked by forklift, but floor-loaded cargo may be processed by either clamp truck or by hand unloading. 

Where possible, palletizing your cargo is preferred by Amazon, but even if you floor-load your container, you must pack it so that it can be handled by clamp truck and does not require hand unloading can expedite the process, and reduce the chance of delays or refusal of your delivery.

When Unicargo (or any other freight forwarder) schedules an FCL delivery with Amazon FBA, we need to categorize the cargo of a floor-loaded container as either “clampable” or “non-clampable.” Cargo categorized as “clampable” must be fully clampable and not have any cartons or components that need to be unloaded by hand. 

Freight categorized as non-clampable can only be unloaded by hand.

Packing guidance for clampable cargo:

  • Items that weigh over 49 lbs or that have a side greater than 17” must be clampable.
  • Cartons must be at least 24” wide, but no more than 72” long in order to be clamped – and your cargo must be packed in such a way as to ensure that the clamp truck can reach and clamp every carton without the need for manual rearrangement or hand loading.
  • There must be at least 6” of space between the cargo and the roof of the container, and 6” clearance at the back of the container to permit the clamp truck to operate.
  • Each stacked tier should be aligned and uniform, although different stack heights are permitted.

The Delivery Appointment Process for Amazon FCL Shipments

When it comes to making your delivery appointment for an FCL shipment, Amazon needs to know that you are sending a full container load rather than a smaller shipment. It takes more time and planning to unload a full container, and Amazon’s delivery scheduling reflects this.

You cannot send a shipment of any type other than those categorized as SPD (small parcel delivery) directly to an Amazon fulfillment center without an appointment, or your shipment will be rejected. 

If your shipment arrives 30 minutes or more outside of its appointment time, once more, it will be rejected, so it is important to get things right.

Your freight forwarder will then need to request an appointment for your full container delivery, which must be scheduled no less than 24 hours beforehand with the fulfillment center. Remember, palletized containers usually get faster, earlier appointments than floor-loaded containers.

colorful containers at a shipping port

Potential Risks and Additional Costs When Shipping FCL With Amazon FBA

Providing that you follow Amazon’s rules on how to pack and ship your container for delivery to a fulfillment center, Amazon should accept and process your goods without issue. However, even a small error on your part can lead to potentially expensive penalties in terms of wasted time and delays. This can, of course, lead to additional fees and unexpected knock-on costs.

Amazon’s terms of business state that they reserve the right to reject any shipment without giving a reason; but if you fulfill their guidance, this is unlikely to happen.

However, even for properly prepared shipments, problems can and do arise from time to time. Knowing about some of the most common problems and how they might affect you can help you make an important decision. Do you schedule a full container load for delivery direct to Amazon, or would you be better off breaking your shipment down into smaller loads for forwarding to Amazon at the final stage of the journey?

Here are the main risks and additional costs that can accompany FCL delivery to Amazon.

Drop Trailer

If your Amazon fulfillment center doesn’t have the time and resources to unload your container immediately or in a timely manner, they may ask the driver to leave the loaded container with them for later handling at an unspecified future date. 

This can cause both delays and additional costs because your Amazon freight forwarder will need to arrange for the truck that delivered your cargo to return another time to collect their container. You must now pay for two truck journeys as well as the per-day costs for the use of the container.

Driver Waiting Time or Detention Time

When you use a freight forwarding company to transport and manage your shipment, the company will allocate a certain period of time for the driver to wait whilst your goods are unloaded before they can leave again with their truck. This window of time will be included within the price your freight forwarder quotes to you and can range from one hour to three hours of free waiting time on average.

However, if your cargo arrives at Amazon’s fulfillment center and they will not accept the delivery at your specified appointment time or if unloading takes longer than predicted, this will lead to additional charges from your freight forwarding company (to reflect the longer driver waiting time).

Refused Containers

While this problem is rare, it can cause major problems for importers. If Amazon refuses your container for any reason, they may instruct you to unload the container at your own warehouse and return with the goods as an LTL or less than truckload shipment.

Container Per Diem Costs

The container used to transport your goods will be allocated to your usage for a set period of time, but if reception or unloading of your cargo is delayed at the fulfillment center for any reason (such as those outlined above), this will lead to additional “per diem” or “per day” charges being levied by your shipping company.

Storage Costs

If you must wait some time for your Amazon reception appointment, you will have to pay an additional fee to store your container in the interim, before you even get to the fulfillment center.

Is FCL Shipping the Best Choice for Importers Selling via Amazon?

Shipping imported goods by FCL to Amazon is almost always more cost-effective than sending smaller loads, providing that you follow all the rules and don’t face any problems along the way.

However, making even a small error or oversight at any stage of the process can have potentially expensive implications in terms of delays and additional costs. These implications make importing FCL to Amazon slightly riskier if you are not fully confident in your process.

Unicargo works hard to keep up to date with Amazon’s requirements and has sent thousands of successful FCL shipments to Amazon fulfillment centers.

If you need help or advice on sending an FCL shipment to Amazon or if you are trying to decide if FCL or LCL is more appropriate for you, learn more in the author box below.

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