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October 08, 2019

Freight Class for Ecommerce 101

What Does Freight Class Mean?

If you’re an ecommerce merchant that sells a lot of large items such as big screen TVs, canoes, kayaks, home gym equipment, mattresses, furniture, riding lawn mowers…

Parcel shipping might not meet your business needs. You may need to ship by Less Than Truckload (LTL).

The rate you pay for LTL shipping depends on the item’s freight class.

LTL freight carriers use a uniform classifying system to negotiate tariffs, rates, and charges. With thousands of products moving through the marketplace, freight classification makes the process simpler and more consistent.

What is the National Motor Freight Classification® or NMFC®?

In 1983, the Interstate Commerce Commision (ICC) created the National Motor Freight Classification system. Later, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) required participation for all shippers and carriers.

The ICC isn’t around anymore, and the STB no longer regulates freight classification. But carriers and shippers still use the system.

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) is a non-profit membership organization which publishes National Motor Freight Classification® (NMFC®). It provides a standard for carriers and shippers to negotiate freight rates. 

  • Membership. Any for-hire carrier can become a member of the NMFTA. Membership entitles the carries to -
  • Participation. For an annual fee and completion of a licensing agreement, carriers and other transportation companies can use or reference the copyrighted NMFC in their tariffs, rate schedules, and contracts.

The CCSB updates the NMFC every four months, so you’ll want to check often to see if changes affect your product’s freight class. 

The NMFTA is not a regulatory agency, so carriers don’t have to participate. But the NMFC is proprietary, so a non-participant can’t use it as a base or reference to -

  • Negotiate rates or charges
  • Determine terms of transportation, such as -
  • Packaging standards
  • Bills of lading

What Are the Different Freight Classes?

The NMFC groups goods into 18 freight classes. The higher the freight class, the higher the shipping rates. 

The product’s “transportability” determines its freight class, based upon these four traits -

  • Density. Expressed as weight per cubic foot, density is the key factor the NMFC uses to determine freight class. 
    • Multiply width X length X height
    • If measuring in inches divide the total by 1728 (the cube of12) - this is the volume in cubic feet
    • Divide weight of the shipment by volume
  • Handling. If your shipment needs some special attention, you’ll pay for a higher freight class. For example, 
    • Fragile items
    • Needs a lift gate for delivery
    • Temperature controlled
  • Stowability. This has to do with how well your freight travels with others.
    • Does it have unusual dimensions?
    • Are there protrusions that would make it difficult to stow with other freight? 
    • Do government regulations or carrier policies prevent it from sharing a trailer or dock with other kinds of freight?
    • Can the carrier stack the pallets to maximize space?
  • Liability. The value of the item and the risk of damage during the freight handling process get factored in. Higher risk of damage or theft can move the freight to a higher, and more costly, freight class.

The 18 Freight Classes

The freight classes below are expressed as pounds per cubic foot:

  1. Class 50 - 50 lbs and up
  2. Class 55 - 35 but less than 50 lbs
  3. Class 60 - 30 but less than 35 lbs
  4. Class 65 - 22.5 but less than 30 lbs
  5. Class 70 - 15 but less than 22.5 lbs
  6. Class 77.5 -13.5 but less than 15 lbs
  7. Class 85 - 12 but less than 13.5 lbs
  8. Class 92.5 - 10.5 but less than 12 lbs
  9. Class 100 - 9 but less than 10.5 lbs
  10. Class 110 - 8 but less than 9 lbs
  11. Class 125 - 7 but less than 8 lbs
  12. Class 150 - 6 but less than 7 lbs
  13. Class 175 - 5 but less than 6 lbs
  14. Class 200 - 4 but less than 5 lbs
  15. Class 250 - 3 but less than 4 lbs
  16. Class 300 - 2 but less than 3 lbs
  17. Class 400 - 1 but less than 2 lbs
  18. Class 500 - Under 1 lb

As you can see, this chart only accounts for density. But remember, handling, stowability and liability also affect freight class. 

For instance, styrofoam cups fall under Class 500, because of their low density. Gold bars, because of their high value, are also Class 500. The NMFC directory contains a list of all goods and their criteria for calculating freight class.

A change went into effect on August 5, 2017 that affects freight class for 141 density-based commodities. The breakdown of this 11-tiered system looks like this:

  1. Class 400 - Less than 1 lb per cubic foot
  2. Class 300 - 1 but less than 2 
  3. Class 250 - 2 but less than 4
  4. Class 175 - 4 but less than 6 
  5. Class 125 - 6 but less than 8
  6. Class 100 - 8 but less than 10
  7. Class 92.5 - 10 but less than 12
  8. Class 85 - 12 but less than 15
  9. Class 70 - 15 but less than 22.5
  10. Class 65 - 22.5 but less than 30
  11. Class 60 - 30 lbs per cubic foot or greater

What is NMFC Number?

The CCSB maintains a schedule of NMFC number codes. They classify all commodity types to determine freight class.

Why Do I Need the NMFC Code?

While density is the key factor, the other 3 also come into play. You don’t want to get it wrong - the carrier can reclassify and charge you a fee. That’s on top of the higher rate for a higher freight class.

With the right NMFC code, you can be sure that have the right shipping class. You can avoid costly disputes with the carrier if you include accurate information on the bill of lading (BOL) -

  • NMFC code 
  • Accurate product description
  • Freight class

How to Get the NMFC Code

To get the right NMFC code, you can contact -

  • The freight carrier. Any carrier that participates in the NMFC has access to the most current NMFC numbers. 
  • The product manufacturer. Look at their BOL - it might have the code on it. If not, you can call the manufacturer and ask to speak to someone in shipping. Most likely, they’ll know the NMFC number for your product.
  • The NMFTA. The NMFC directory is the official source for determining freight class. If you ship a wide variety of wares, it might be worth the price to - 
    • Order a hard copy of the directory from the NMFTA website.
    • Subscribe to the NMFC online directory.
  • Third party logistics (3PL). Consider working with a 3PL for your LTL shipments. They can streamline the shipping process so you can focus on other business.

F.A.K. Agreement

If you ship a lot of different items together, you’ll get the most reasonable rate with a Freight of All Kinds (F.A.K.) agreement. Instead of looking up freight class for each item, the F.A.K. agreement allows you to average out based on the density of the whole pallet.

For example, you want to ship a pallet that has a mix of different items, some class 50 and others class 100. The entire pallet’s weight per cubic foot, however, is 33 lbs. You could ask for a F.A.K. agreement and ship as class 60.

About Eniture Technology

Eniture Technology specializes in helping e-Commerce merchants grow by providing useful information, digital marketing services, off-the-shelf apps that solve common problems, and custom programming services. Please contact us if you need help growing your online business or implementing the concepts presented in this blog post.

If you are interested in offering LTL freight as an option on your online store, take advantage of our free guide on LTL freight.

LTL Freight Primer - Free Guide


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