Freight and Shipping – What’s the Difference?

It doesn’t take a genius to see where the term “shipping” came from or what it originally meant. Ships have been around for a little longer than trucks or planes (try 10,000 years) and constituted the only mode of international cargo transportation for centuries. Today however the term has been expanded to encompass other forms of transport. Your Amazon order – even though it only goes by road – is of course “shipped”. Indeed, it has become the industry standard term.

Nevertheless, there is another industry standard term, and that is freight. This also originally only referred to sea travel (a “freighter” being a type of cargo ship and “freight” referred to any ship’s cargo) but this meaning has also been expanded in the modern day. Both terms are indeed now standard, but why are there two terms? Contrary to what many think, they are not simply interchangeable, although they are closely related. Moreover, as you’ve probably guessed by now, they are interconnected.

Preferred Shipping, a DHL authorized reseller and one of the best international shipping companies, have the word shipping in their name. Yet they offer express air freight. What we can conclude here then is that although the two terms are distinct, you won’t find shipping without freight – and vice versa.

So, what’s the difference? Let’s look at each term in turn.

What is Freight?

Freight does not refer to the method of transport, but to the actual goods themselves. The term is associated however with how the goods are transported, and thus there is sea freight, air freight, and land freight. Therefore, it is a category of cargo, and it is usually subdivided into further categories that describe what type of freight is being transported.

This all depends on what the goods are, the size of the shipment, and how long the goods will be in transit. This means that although freight refers to the goods and not the shipment method, the shipment method will determine the type of freight. The usual categories are things like express, household goods, parcels, and so on. These are all considered freight designations.

What Is Shipping?

Shipping refers to the transport of goods, not the goods themselves and is either commercial or non-commercial. Again, it doesn’t always mean that the goods are being transported by ship, and thus we have terms such as truck shipment, air shipment, and so on. An important detail contained within the term shipping is that the goods are being transported in bulk.

Think again about that Amazon order. Shipment refers to the large trucks transporting the goods, yet the final transportation to your front door in the postman’s van is not shipping. This is instead referred to as delivery. To see the distinction even clearer, consider how a letter is “sent” or “posted”, but it is not “shipped”. Shipping always refers to bulk transport. Shipping can also be used to refer to the vessels in which they are shipped, for example a “shipping container”.

A Matter of Semantics

It might look at this point that this is just a matter of semantics, or industry terminology. In one sense, it is. Nonetheless, it is also important to make the distinction because each term suggests a different type of shipment. For example, freight might refer to the goods themselves, but we would hardly use the word for smaller quantities. Here we would say “shipment”.

It can sometimes be confusing to use the correct term in the correct place as they are so interconnected, but successfully navigating the wider logistics industry relies in a big part on a distinction being made between “freight” and “shipping”.