Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom


The global logistics industry was worth more than $8.6 trillion in 2020, making it one of the largest in the world. The global pandemic has changed how business owners and consumers look at things like logistics, fueling an e-commerce boom that has left specialists scrambling to keep up. 

What is the fire behind this e-commerce boom, and how can architects help move the industry forward?

What Is Shaping E-Commerce in 2022?

Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom

CL Warehouses by VAGA. Image Credit: Pedro Napolitano Prata

2020 may have been the beginning of the e-commerce boom, but 2021 had its fair share of challenges, from data privacy breaches to massive supply chain disruptions. That wasn't enough to slow the momentum, with some retailers reporting that 2021's Black Friday sales were up 21% year after year. 

With each $1 billion of value added to the industry, the demand for warehouse maintenance and storage facilities (MSF) increased by 1.25%. In 2019 alone, the industry added more than 100 MSF in the form of warehouses and industrial spaces. 

Architects, builders and designers play a critical role in shaping what new and renovated warehouses will look and feel like.

Urban Warehouses Become the Norm

Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom

Most consumers are used to the idea that if they order something online, it will take at least a couple of business days to arrive unless they're paying a premium for overnight shipping. 

Amazon has tried to become the industry standard with its two-day Prime shipping, but even that retail giant is subject to the whims of the shipping industry. Since the dream of delivering packages with drones is still currently out of reach, one potential solution could be to bring warehouses closer to urban centers. 

Converting urban commercial spaces into smaller, efficient warehouses provides unique new opportunities for building and design professionals. Some of these spaces will be retrofitted, bringing older commercial buildings back into operation as more modern and sustainable warehouses.

Size Does Matter — Moving Out or Moving Up

Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom

When it comes to rethinking warehouse designs, size definitely matters, but that doesn't necessarily mean these structures just need to take up more square footage. 

If the trend of moving warehouses closer to urban centers picks up steam, there will be a lot of competition for already limited square footage. Multi-story warehouses, especially those that are optimized for robotics and automation, will make more sense in the long run than building one sprawling structure.

As a result, building and design specialists are finding new ways to optimize floor plan layouts and make use of vertical space. Thinking through which warehouse functions should occur on which floor, building a parking structure for trucks in a city with limited space and other obstacles will be exciting to keep an eye on as the industry grows.

Human-Centric Design Changes

Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom

System Warehouse by Olgoo. Image Credit: Mohammad Hasan Ettefagh

Warehouse work can be lucrative and rewarding, but interior design has never been the primary focus of these spaces. With opportunities in e-commerce expanding, employers in need of a competitive edge and a happier workforce are looking to building and design professionals to craft warehouses that help employees feel comfortable and productive.

Lighting is a critical design element in an industry where shifts may cycle around the clock. Daylight exposure is especially important for employees — workers with adequate exposure to natural light sleep an average of 46 more minutes than those in windowless environments. In a cavernous warehouse, window placement and the addition of break rooms with adequate sunlight can have a positive impact on worker alertness and productivity.

Ergonomics are another design strategy to focus on. Manual labor can lead to wear and tear, but comfortable working conditions help ease this risk. Anti-fatigue matting for example, can be placed in key areas to provide cushioning for long periods of standing. Adjustable work benches and organized zones can also help employees work without too much bending or overcrowding.

Sustainability Isn't Just a Buzzword Anymore

Rethinking Warehouse Design for the E-Commerce Boom

DC New Logic III by Hung Tran. Image Credit:

Sustainability might have started out as a buzzword designed to boost sales among the eco-conscious consumer. Still, as the awareness of climate change has grown, it's quickly become a necessity in every industry. New warehouses will need to be sustainable by design rather than adding green technologies as an afterthought. This can include: 

  • Creating energy-efficient spaces, including insulation, windows and other fixtures.
  • Utilizing recycled or eco-friendly construction materials to reduce the structure's carbon footprint. 
  • Designing the building with sustainable long-term operations in mind. 

Designing the Warehouses of the Future

Storage used to be the primary focus of warehouse design. Today, as e-commerce sales continue to grow and the industry begins to shift toward a more sustainable future, large square footage numbers aren't the only thing these structures should focus on. 

Companies that want to continue thriving in the e-commerce age should consider upgrading their warehouses and storage facilities to keep up with the changing times.

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