Oftentimes, the terms freight and shipping are used interchangeably. While both of these terms have an overlapping meaning, there are some aspects that sets them apart from each other. 

Both freight and shipping revolve around the practice of transporting goods from one location to another by various modes of transport (typically sea, road, rail or air freight). However, shipping has been generalized as more of a consumer-based term, whereas freight tends to have more of a commercial application. 

There are several other aspects to consider when tackling the freight vs shipping debate. In this article, we’ll be exploring  both concepts in more detail, in order to illustrate what aspects set them apart.

What Does Freight Mean?

As with most terms, freight can have various meanings in different contexts. Firstly, it can be understood as the commodity, cargo, goods, merchandise, or item that is being transported. In this context, freight refers to the subject of the shipping process. 

For example, in the negotiation of service contracts, there is an abbreviation called FAK – Freight All Kinds. Simply defined, it’s a rate that is applied to different types of commodities. What is important to understand here is that the term freight in this context refers to the actual commodity. 

Secondly, it can mean the process of moving goods from one location to another. However, this terminology is more commonly used with commercial intent. 

For example, companies who launch a Request for Quotation (RFQ), Request for Proposal (RFP) or general quotation requests are looking for a pricing proposal for the movement of cargo (typically on-going business arrangements).

In this context, they would normally refer to sea freight or air freight RFQs. As you can see, the commercial intent revolves around the process of cargo transportation from one place to another. 

This also means the emphasis and context is commercial, which is more commonly used in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios. In that sense, the term freight is more often used in an industry context and revolves around moving larger quantities.

What Does Shipping Mean?

It was during the late 15th century, where term shipping was applied to the movement of goods by ship. Nowadays, the term shipping has evolved to include various modes of transport (commonly sea, air, rail or truck).

In light of its etymological evolution, the term shipping is now generalized and revolves around the process of moving cargo from one location to another, regardless of the mode of transportation. 

For example, on most e-commerce platforms you’ll be able to find the terms “shipping method” or “shipping & returns”. In this context, shipping refers to the process of moving the purchased items from the seller to your doorstep.

Therefore, the focus is placed on the purchase of the goods, whereby shipping is a mere subcomponent of the purchase experience. It’s generalized to mean the transportation process, regardless of the shippings mode.

While it is also used in business-to-business scenarios, it’s more commonly used in consumer-to-consumer (C2C) or business-to-consumer (B2C) contexts. The term shipping typically revolves around small consignments and is more often used in common parlance.

What are the Differences and Similarities between Freight and Shipping?

Based on the definitions given above both shipping and freight refer to the general transportation of goods. However, freight usually indicates a form of commercial intent, whereby shipping is more often used by consumers.

As freight can refer to the physical cargo or the transportation process, shipping only refers to the latter. 

Another important aspect that distinguishes both terms is that freight more commonly refers to larger quantities. This is due to the fact that it’s mostly used in business-to-business contexts, which typically deal with moving larger quantities of freight. 

On the other hand, the term shipping is mostly used to describe smaller consignments, such as a purchase on an e-commerce platform. Therefore, it’s also more commonly used in consumer-to-consumer or business-to-consumer scenarios. 

Here is a quick comparison on shipping vs freight:

Definition (physical cargo)YesNo
Definition (transportation)YesYes
DenotationCommercialCommercial and

Common Freight and Shipping Modes

There are several modes of transportation. Below is a list of the most common freight and shipping modes:

Sea Freight

Transportation by sea via an ocean vessel.

  • FCL – Full Container Load (Containerized cargo)
  • LCL – Less-than-container Load (consolidated cargo)
  • Bulk – Shipments in bulk (non-containerized cargo)
  • RoRo – Roll-On/Roll-Off (for vehicles)

Air Freight

Transportation by air via an aircraft.

Road Freight

Transportation by road via a vehicle.

  • FTL – Full Truck Load (cargo that can fill a truck’s capacity)
  • LTL – Less than-truck Load (cargo that is consolidated with other cargo)

Rail Freight

Transportation by rail via a cargo train.

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.