Navigating Air vs. Sea Freight in Amazon FBA

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As a general guideline, sea shipping tends to be cheaper yet slower, while air freight offers speed at a higher cost. However, there are exceptions. Let’s explore the top seven considerations of choosing between air and sea freight for Amazon FBA.

Consideration of Speed

If you prioritize stock availability, air freight could be your best bet. Typically, goods reach their destination much quicker via air than sea. A shipment that takes about a week via air freight may require 30 to 40 days via sea freight. Air freight’s speed primarily lies in customs handling and delivery, while the flight itself usually lasts 24 hours or less.

The Aspect of Cost

Surprisingly, air freight can be cheaper for light products or smaller shipments, including larger items. For shipments over 50 kg, however, sea freight often provides better value due to fewer built-in costs.

Delivery costs from the port to Amazon’s warehouse alone can range between $500 to $1000 or more for sea freight, whereas express services like FedEx or DHL often include these costs for smaller shipments. On the flip side, massive or heavy shipments can get pricey with air freight, making sea freight a more cost-effective alternative.

Size Considerations

Airplanes offer limited space and weight capacity for freight, while large container ships can carry 3,000 or more containers per trip.

Air freight charges are based on size and weight, with the larger of the two determining the price. In contrast, a single 40-foot sea freight container can hold over 2000 cubic feet and over 60,000 pounds of weight, usually at a fixed price, irrespective of the content’s size or weight. For large or oversized items, sea freight offers significant savings.

Weight Factor

Sea freight containers have a substantial weight limit, making them ideal for heavy goods. Even a small 20-foot container can hold nearly 50,000 pounds, costing less than $0.025 per pound if the container costs $2500 to ship.

In contrast, air freight charges are based on volumetric weight, making it less economical for heavier goods. For instance, if the rate is $3 per pound, the same 50,000 pounds would cost a staggering $150,000.

Availability and Timeliness

In case of urgent shipping, air freight proves to be a sensible choice. Sea shipments depart less frequently and may take weeks to reach their destination. Also, loading the vessel can result in additional delays.

Although sea freight is cheaper, it requires more capital due to the extended time your cash remains tied up in inventory.

Choosing the Right Option

The type of products you’re dealing with can guide your shipping choice. Light, high-value, smaller products are ideal for air shipping, while larger, bulkier items are better off with sea freight.

If you need stock quickly, consider dividing your order—sending a small, urgent portion via air and the remainder by sea. This strategy balances speed and cost-effectiveness.

Working with an Agent or Freight Forwarder

Always seek multiple quotes for both sea and air freight. Utilize search engines to find a reliable freight forwarder in your nearest city. Compare services and choose one that aligns with your budget, professionalism standards, and responsiveness. Also, obtain quotes for both shipping methods from your factory.

A freight company with offices in your country, the delivery country, and the pick country can efficiently manage all shipment aspects. Additionally, ensure they can advise you on varying taxes, duties, VAT, etc., based on the marketplace.

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