What is an LTL shipment?
Simply, this is when you ship pallets of goods to Amazon via truck, instead of sending individual boxes via UPS. When you start increasing the volume of items you handle, and especially if you deal with large items, you may want to start receiving them in 20′ shipping containers — they will generally arrive floor-stacked (see the photo below) — and it will be up to you to load them onto pallets and get them shipped to Amazon.
The process can seem intimidating at first; hence this guide. After a couple of shipments you’ll be a pro.
You will almost definitely save money going with LTL instead of UPS.
One of our products (an oversized item) costs on average $3.45/unit when we ship it 3-per-case in the largest boxes that Amazon will accept via UPS. (We used to ship those items to Amazon individually, but that cost us almost $5/unit!)
That same item costs $2.62/unit when we inbound via LTL — nearly a 25% savings over the best option we were able to find via UPS, and 45% cheaper than the individual shipping option that we started with.
(This is the name of the game when selling on Amazon… keep looking for ways to optimize over time — to save time, improve your product/packaging, and increase your margin.)
Run the numbers for your product to see if it will be cheaper for you, of course. As a point of comparison, my last LTL shipment was 8 full pallets, split across 3 different FCs, and came to $975 in total fright cost. Sending more than 8 pallets would bring the per-unit cost down a bit more.
Any Downsides to Using LTL?
Really, just time.
LTL shipments take longer to get to Amazon; especially those that are cross-country. Figure on it taking 3-7 days longer from shipment to check-in than you are used to from your Small Parcel (UPS) shipments… 3 days more for a FC that is “near” you, and up to 7 more days if cross-country.
Sometimes FCs also get backed up; which can add to your shipment time.
Building a load of pallets takes a few hours at most, and you’ll also need to plan to be at the loading dock for a while to receive the trucks that will pick up your goods.
You’ll also need access to the right equipment to build and handle pallets.
Supplies You’ll Need (Access To)
- Pallets (40″ x 48″ 4-way pallets in reasonably good condition)
- Pallet Jack — Some warehouses / storage units will have one you can use. Ask around!
- Loading Dock with Dock Plate, unless you request a truck with a lift gate (which costs a bit more)
- Hand-held Stretch Wrap
- Work Gloves
- 6-per-page stickers (optional)
- Packing Tape
- A laser printer (optional; but it will be much cheaper over the long run than an inkjet)
(I linked to the best prices I know of for these items… anyone have a better option for one of these?)
Finding Used Pallets
You basically have two options; spend time or spend money.
If you don’t mind spending the time, many retail outlets receive goods on pallets and no longer have any use for them once they’re unloaded. Look around for stacks of pallets, and ask if you can take some… often the answer will be “sure why not”.
Don’t have a truck? 6 pallets will fit in a minivan. 🙂
Your other option is to save time by spending a bit of money. Google “used palettes [your city]” and see what you find… there are folks who essentially cruise around and pick up all the free pallets they can find (option #1 above) and will sell them to you at a reasonable price.
In my city I found a group that does exactly that in order to support their non-profit while providing jobs to some needy folks… they delivered decent used pallets to my door for $6.25 each. Not too shabby.
Planning Your First LTL Shipment
Before you go to Seller Central and start your inbound shipment, it’s useful to first do a practice build.
Get a pallet and see exactly how many cases of your product you can stack, while keeping the total hight (with pallet) at 72″ or less. Amazon says you can let the boxes extend up to 1″ off the sides, if you need to — but that can lead to damage in transit. Keep them entirely on the pallet if you can.
Now, measure the height of your full pallet and note your “ideal” per-pallet quantity. You’ll need these numbers later.
After building an “ideal” palette, see how many cases you could fit with one less layer, and again measure the height. Repeat as necessary so you have a reference of the various heights your pallets could end up at, depending on how many units you get to stack on each.
In my case, for example, I know that my full pallet is 70″ high (42 units), and a 36-unit pallet is 56″ high.
Remember, Amazon may split your order up among 3 different FCs… so you won’t always get to build each pallet with the ideal full number of cases.
Unfortunately there is currently no way to tell Amazon “my pallets are always 40 cases each”.
Setting up a LTL Shipment in Seller Central
This is actually very similar to setting up a Small Parcel shipment. The first 4 steps are identical…
When you get to the “Prepare Shipment” screen, below, things get a bit different.
NOTE: If you are shipping from somewhere other than the address Amazon has on file for you; for example if you have your office address listed but you are shipping LTL from a warehouse, be sure to click “Ship from another address” (note #1) and enter the correct address. Otherwise a truck may just show up at your office looking to pick up your pallets. (Yes, this happened to me. Oops.)
When you select the “LTL” shipment (note #2) the options further down on the page will change.
I now just go with the “Amazon-Partnered Carrier” (note #3). Initially I called around to try to beat their rates; but it ended up not being worth my time. Amazon’s partner rates are very competitive; and using their partner ends up being less work. With this option you also don’t have to worry about payment, as the freight cost is automatically deducted from your Seller account.
Before You Proceed…
Take a minute to see if you can optimize your pallets, using the “Review and modify units” option (note #4).
For example, my ideal pallets are 42 units. Recently Amazon split up my shipment such that 45 units were to go to one FC… which would have meant a couple of really sparse pallets. You essentially get charged per-pallet (floor space you take up in the truck), so this would have been a waste.
I clicked “Review and modify units” on this shipment and removed 3 units… later I did the same on the shipment for the other FC, and added 3 units.
You will probably find that you have a few ideal pallets plus one partial, for each FC. In that case, assuming you have more units on hand, you might as well add as many units as Amazon will allow to the partial pallets.
Optimize optimize optimize!
One other note (#5) on this page: as of now you can choose “Skip providing box contents” if you are just sending in pallets of a single SKU. However Amazon recently indicated that they want sellers to move away from using this option. If you have multiple SKUs or you just want to play it safe, choose “Use Web Form” (image below).
Entering Shipment Info in Seller Central
Based on the # of units Amazon wants sent to each FC, figure out (based on your test builds) how many full pallets and how many partials you will have. Write these down for use in building pallets later!
You’ll need to enter the height for each pallet; this is mainly just to tell Amazon whether these are “full” or “stackable” pallets… only consider stacking if your goods are packed exceedingly well.
You’ll need the weight of each pallet as well.
Simply multiply the # of cases times the per-case boxed weight… then add 50 lbs for the pallet itself.
(Pallets weigh 30-70 lbs based on the type of wood and dampness; 50 lbs is a safe number to use. Remember that you’re basically being charged for floor space in the truck, so the weight doesn’t need to be spot-on.)
Once you’ve gone through this once, you will have a handy reference sheet where for any given # of units you know exactly what to enter for height and weight of pallet.
Freight Ready Date
The last thing you need to tell Amazon is when the cargo will be ready. In my experience, the pickups have almost always been scheduled for the day after the freight-ready date I have given Amazon.
After you enter that and click “Calculate” you’ll see the $ total as well as the carrier that they have assigned — look to the left of the dollar amount. Note the carrier(s) for later reference!
You’ll need one “box label” on each case you send in, and 4 “pallet labels” on each, well, pallet.
These are all printed 6-per-page.
You can print these all on regular paper and tape them on, of course… I just find the stickers to be worth it as they are quicker to apply. (6-per-page stickers)
Anyway… print these labels out as you work the shipments in Seller Central, and add post-it notes to each set to help keep them organized when you’re building pallets.
Important: If you are sending multiple SKUs, note that the case labels are specific to the SKU. Make sure to put the correct label on each case!
The Pallet labels are not specific to the SKU; just to the Fulfillment Center / shipment.
How to Build Pallets
Here’s where the prep you did earlier will make your life easier.
If you have a ton of room to work with, you can build a bunch of pallets all at once… otherwise it’s easiest to do each one from start to finish, working near your stock, and then move it where you want it to be staged/stored.
For each pallet, the steps are pretty simple:
- Stack the correct # of cases on the pallet, based on your notes
- Add one “box label” to each case.
- Wrap the pallet, bottom to top, with stretch wrap. You’ll want to wear work gloves while doing this, otherwise it gets uncomfortable after a while. You will get dizzy. Make sure the stretch wrap is tight, to protect your goods, and try to include the top of the pallet itself in the wrap so that your load won’t shift/tip off the pallet as easily.
- Add 4 “pallet labels”, one on each side, around eye height if possible.
- Use the sharpie to mark the pallets, to help you and the shipper keep them straight. For example: FL (1 of 3)… TX (1 of 2)… etc.
A quick video of a properly built and wrapped pallet is below (from Amazon).
Actually Shipping Your Pallets
Around the freight-ready date you specified, Amazon will email you that your Bills of Lading (BOL) are ready. Access these in Seller Central (Inventory >> Manage FBA Shipments >> Track Shipment) and print out 2 copies of each BOL.
One copy will go with the driver, and they will sign the other and leave it with you.
For some reason, the BOLs from Amazon sometimes print with some minor information missing; specifically the text descriptions next to the # of units, total weight, etc. Write these in to be kind to the shipper, at least on their copy.
NOTE: On rare occasion, Amazon does not get the BOL ready in time. If this happens, the carrier should also be able to print out 2 copies and bring them when they pick up… you just need to ask them to do so.
Communication from the shippers is sometimes lacking. You may or may not get a phone call to schedule an appointment window — most carriers do this, but not all.
In some cases, a truck will just show up unannounced at the pickup address… UPS Freight, for instance, does not seem to call in advance.
TIP: Your best option is to contact the carriers in advance (you might have to Google to find their number — try for example “Estes dispatch [your city]”) and see if you can schedule a pickup window.
If you don’t want to sit at the dock waiting as long, try asking the shipper to give you a call when the driver is actually on the way… then hoof it on over to the warehouse when the phone call comes in. Most shippers can do this for you.
LTL pickups almost always happen at the end of the day. Trucks go out for deliveries in the morning, and the last thing they do before returning to the depot for the night is pickups. This means you can, if you want, build pallets in the morning on the day of your shipment — that way you can just leave them on the dock after building, rather than having to store them away and get them out again later. Plan to be at your warehouse from mid-afternoon until evening on a day you are sending out LTL shipments. (Bring some snacks, drinks, and work to do so you don’t go batty.)
Quick Tip: The carrier name will be on the BOL, but since you only get that at the last minute here’s how to look it up in Seller Central, in case you missed it while initially working on the shipments — find the Shipment in Seller Central, click over to the Summary tab, and click the almost-impossible-to-notice “show more” link in the bottom-right.
Most drivers are friendly and helpful. At least that’s been my experience. But there are a few who are somewhat protective of their trucks.
My advice is: don’t just assume it’s OK to unlatch their truck or that they want you to load the pallets yourself… ask first. They’ll appreciate it if you take a “your truck, your rules” approach.
That said, most will be happy for you to help load. Just ask where they want the pallets loaded in the truck.
You do not need to provide any payment or ID during the pickup; the driver just needs the bill of lading.
If they go way above and beyond the call of duty, I like to “buy ’em a beer” by slipping them $20.
Hopefully you’re ready to get going with your own LTL shipment. You’ll boost your margins by saving on shipping, and it’s nice to essentially put in one big day’s work building and shipping, and then not need to touch that product again for weeks.
Since you’re here:
Do you sell multiple products on Amazon? AmDash can make your life easier and help you increase profits.
Any additional questions about LTL or AmDash? Let us know!