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Break Bulk vs Cross Docking: Glamorous Ways To Ship

Rolled up plastic material on a flatbed truck
Break Bulk vs Cross Docking: Glamorous Ways To Ship
Break bulk and cross docking are two extremely useful services that are great for specific types of freight. Figure out which one is right for you.
By Jacob Lee
 | September 20, 2022
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Last Modified: June 1, 2023

Break bulk vs cross docking are two services that shippers use when they need goods delivered quickly. Unfortunately, many new shippers get these terms confused with one another due to their similarities. While they both have unique advantages, the service that makes one better than the other all comes down to the type of freight that needs to be moved.

Break bulk vs cross docking are excellent at getting goods to their destination in short amounts of time all while saving you money. However, break bulk is a service that is better to use when you need to ship oversized freight. Cross-docking, on the other hand, is used for shipments of conventionally shaped freight. 

We’ll explain the basic functions of break bulk vs cross-docking, as well as each of their benefits so you can more easily decide which one to use.

A warehouse worker operating a forklift and moving pallets

Break Bulk vs Cross Docking: Which Service Should I Use?

When you try and figure out whether you should go with dry bulk vs cross-docking, you should ask yourself what type of freight you need to be transported. If you’re shipping oversized goods, then dry bulk shipping is the way to go. 

Dry bulk shipping is a service specifically designed to transport oversized cargo across the ocean. For palletized and non-palletized freight, cross-docking is the service that you’ll need. This service is tailored for ground shipments of standard types of freight.

We can break down a few more details of each service so you can make the best decision for your business. 

A semi truck hauling an oversized load airplane wing with an escort vehicle behind them

The Basics of Break Bulk

Essentially, break bulk shipping is a type of service that transports freight that is too large to put inside a regular shipping container

This type of service is used to transport these types of freight:

  • Barrels
  • Drums
  • Casks
  • Reels and rolls
  • Steel grinders
  • Wind turbines
  • Construction vehicles

Typically, oversized shipments like these have to be broken down into smaller parts for them to travel inside a container. However, break bulk shipping transports the oversized freight as one entire piece.

Palletized barrels in a warehouse

The Basics of Cross Docking

Cross docking is a fairly straightforward process. Essentially, an inbound truck will arrive with freight at a cross-dock terminal. After it arrives, staff at the facility will unload the inbound truck and reload the freight into an outbound truck.

By constantly transitioning freight from inbound to outbound transport, shipments of freight leave cross-docking terminals fairly quickly. In doing so, there is no need to store goods at the terminal for long periods. 

Cylinders contained in metal frames that are secured to a flatbed trailer

What Are the Benefits Of Cross Docking?

As you have seen, the cross-docking process is fairly simple. Despite its simplicity, there are numerous benefits that shippers can reap from using this service. 

These benefits include:

  • Shorter shipping times
  • Reduced likelihood of goods being damaged
  • Cost-Effective
  • Reduces retail surplus

While these benefits sound easy enough to understand, it’s important to recognize how they will help you with shipping your freight.  

Shorter Shipping Times

One of the pillars of cross-docking is that it shortens shipping times exponentially. Cross-docking by its nature creates a fast turnover rate for freight. Since freight is constantly coming and going from cross-docking terminals, shippers can get their freight to customers much faster than they would without cross-docking. 

Goods Less Likely To Be Damaged

The reason goods are less likely to be handled during cross-docking services is that the goods won’t be handled very often at all. Most cross-docking facilities teach a two-touch policy to their workers. 

This means that goods are touched once when they’re unloaded from an inbound trailer and then touched again when they’re placed into the outbound trailer. If you were storing goods at a warehouse, you would have to consider all the other times your freight will be handled.

If your goods are handled more frequently, there’s a higher chance that your goods could sustain damage from careless warehouse workers or honest mistakes. Cross-docking reduces this possibility by getting goods to and from the facility with little to no storage at all. 


Storing goods inside a warehouse costs money. The longer your goods stay within a warehouse, the more money you will have to pay to keep the freight there. As we’ve established, storage is bypassed with cross-docking services. Bypassing this process will save you some extra money.

Reduces Overstock and Out-Of-Stock

If you’re a retailer, cross-docking is especially useful because it reduces retail surplus. Having products laying around that you haven’t sold equates to wasted money. Not having enough goods for your customer can be a problem.  Fortunately, cross-docking will allow you to ship goods directly to the customer in just the right amount. 

Preventing overstock and out-of-stock is important because of how much money it can cost retailers as reflected in the table below. 

Percentage Of Money Retailers Lose To Overstock and Out-Of-Stock

Percentage Of Revenue Lost To Overstock3.2 Percent
Percentage Of Revenue Lost To Out-Of-Stock4.1 Percent

Data from Retail Wire

At Transload Services USA, we offer cross-docking services. Fill out your quote below and let us help speed up your supply chain.

Looking to ship and store items seamlessly?
Let Transload Services USA be your partner.
Get a quote
Palletized drums in a warehouse with warehouse workers discussing the benefits of break bulk vs cross docking.

What Are the Benefits of Break Bulk?

Shipping heavy goods is more difficult than shipping conventional types of freight. Thanks to the convenient advantages of break bulk shipping, moving freight of this caliber doesn’t have to be as stressful. 

Some of the more notable benefits of using break bulk shipping are that:

  • Goods don’t need to be broken down
  • Goods can be delivered to any port
  • Break bulk is more convenient for customers
  • Shipping times are also faster

Will give you some details each of these break bulk benefits. 

Goods Don’t Have To Be Broken Down

As we noted, most oversized freight has to be broken down into smaller pieces and then placed in multiple shipping containers. With break bulk shipping, the oversized freight can be shipped as one complete shipment. This reduces getting other shipping containers to move your goods. 

Can Enter Just About Any Port

One of the great things about breaking bulk shipments is that they can enter any port in the world. Certain ports do not have the technology or equipment that allows them to load or unload containers. 

If you are trying to avoid the most heavily congested ports that focus on container ships, this could be of great benefit. 

A port won’t need that type of technology to get break bulk freight off a ship. Some break bulk shipments can be removed from a ship using a high-capacity deck crane. Other types of break bulk shipments like construction equipment can be driven off the ship. 

More Convenient for Customers

From a customer's perspective, break bulk shipments are much more convenient. This is because break bulk shipments are delivered to the customer in one piece. Normal oversized shipments would require the customers to accept multiple deliveries and then piece them back together. 

While necessary, this can be a pain for customers and likely take up a lot of their time. Break bulk shipments allow customers to avoid this whole process. 

Shorter Shipping Times

Break bulk shipping also makes waiting times for customers much shorter compared tocross-docking services. This goes back to the fact that break bulk cargo is not broken down into smaller parts. Deconstructing and reconstructing this type of freight takes time. 

Break bulk bypasses both of these processes, allowing for this type of freight to be loaded, unloaded and sent straight to the customer. This speeds up the supply chain and allows customers to get their shipment of large cargo a bit more quickly.  

One service similar to break bulk is bulk liquid transloading. Check out our article on the topic if you’re trying to transport large quantities of liquid.

Transload Services USA Can Handle Your Cross Docking Needs

At Transload Services USA, we provide not just transloading, but cross-docking services as well. Our cross-docking facilities keep a tight and organized schedule of inbound and outbound trucks that ensure a continuous flow of freight. We have a well-trained team of workers that will handle your goods with care.

Our full suite of services includes:

Regardless of what service you desire, call the team at (866) 757-1109 Transload Services USA so they can help you and your supply chain needs.  

Looking to ship and store items seamlessly?
Let Transload Services USA be your partner.
Get a quote
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