Is Air or Sea Freight More Suitable for Clothing Retailers?

At the beginning of 2020, supply chain disruptions affected multiple industries. With airports closed and workers stranded at home, it became nearly impossible for retailers to obtain their ordered goods.

Clothing retailers saw some of the biggest disruptions to their shipping logistics during this time. What was thought to be a short-term shift in the supply chain turned into an ongoing concern that needed to be addressed.

In the past, air freight was a preferred shipping option for apparel because of its speed and secure infrastructure. Now, some brands are choosing sea freight for express delivery options to maintain manufacturing connections and product availability as pandemic restrictions ease.

Here are the considerations to determine which choice works better for your business needs in today’s environment and tomorrow’s unpredictable economy.


What Are the Benefits of Choosing Air Freight?

Air freight offers the fastest way to receive an order. If a clothing retailer has an unexpected series of sales on specific merchandise and needs more from the factory, this option provides a fast and accurate delivery date.

Strict regulations are enforced at airports and customs facilities. There is a lower risk of damage or theft when choosing this option vs. sea freight for express shipping needs.

Airplanes can reach numerous locations, so you can have an order delivered wherever it makes the most sense for your company. Even if you need the items in Hawaii or another island destination, you can receive the new apparel and distribute it quickly.

Since an airplane offers a controlled environment, factory packaging requirements are often less stringent for air freight. If you’re placing a large apparel order, the overhead reduction in this category can deliver significant savings.

Businesses don’t need to worry about shipments getting stuck in ports when using air freight. Full containers were stuck in Chinese ports during the pandemic because of the logistics issues that took place in March and April of 2020. Airplanes deliver the goods, the items are processed through customs, and then they get sent to your address of choice. Air freight typically carries lower insurance rates since it requires less support and transit time.


Are There Disadvantages of Choosing Air Freight?

Turbulence is a significant factor when using air freight for apparel deliveries. Although this risk is minimal for some items, there could be issues for orders that include adornments. Shipments can experience this potential problem without adverse weather in the area.

The cost profile of this option can be a challenge for some clothing businesses, especially if an express order is desired. Apparel can get heavy when grouped into containers, increasing overhead expenses that might have to get passed along to the customers. Since fuel prices have risen in 2022, additional surcharges to air freight could be included in some deliveries.

Are There Disadvantages of Choosing Sea Freight?

Although sea freight is exceptionally reliable, your business could experience significant delays if something happens. If your cargo container gets dislodged during transit and falls into the ocean, recovering it could be impossible.

Time is another element to consider. Express shipments by air can be delivered overnight, even from China, with fewer weather disruptions to manage. Sea freight has bottleneck issues that air freight can bypass. Even if everything is shipped on time and transported efficiently, a lack of port space can cause significant delays.


What Are the Benefits of Choosing Sea Freight?

When businesses order apparel from Chinese factories, they need information to understand where each shipment is to prepare for delivery. Although the exact location during transport isn’t always easy to verify, you receive a consistent timeframe that allows you to plan to restock shelves and racks.

The primary benefit of choosing sea freight is its cost. Since a cargo ship has plenty of space to store clothing and apparel, the fuel costs are split between more brands and businesses.

You also have the freedom to choose the weight and size of the containers used for the shipping process with sea freight. This benefit usually means fewer restrictions exist when taking care of the order logistics between you and the factory. [[1]] Shipping by sea usually entails fewer risks while offering high-quality delivery results. Apparel companies with concerns about their carbon footprint can look at this freight option to see if the associated fuel expenditures can move them closer to being a more eco-friendly business.


Documentation, Duty & Taxes

Whether sea freight or air freight, the documents they require are basically the same, commercial invoices with HS/commodity codes. When shipping personal items, a pro forma invoice and packing list are required. Depending on the destination country and the nature of your goods, you will need to provide further specific documents.

As far as Duties and Taxes are concerned the very same percentages apply to both modes of transport, so the requirements are roughly similar. Taxes are basically VAT in Europe or GST in the USA, Australia, etc. But when the tax is applied to the value of the goods plus the costs, when the costs are higher, the result is that relatively more of the value of the tax needs to be paid.

It’s also worth noting that the list of prohibited items for air freight is much broader than for sea freight. For example, anything containing batteries, magnetic substances, gases, or anything flammable or explosive cannot be shipped by air.


Air vs. Sea Freight: Which Is Better?

When time is on your side, it makes sense to evaluate the advantages of sea freight as a clothing retailer with its affordability.

If your business needs something immediately, air freight is the best option.

Each model has specific benefits that work for some companies, but not others, so these factors must be evaluated locally. That way, you have the logistical support that keeps your customers happy.

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