November 20, 2023
November 20, 2023

10 Common Warehouse Types and Their Uses

Much like different tools in a toolbox carry out a specific function, each warehouse type serves a unique purpose. Learn the uses of 10 common warehouse types to decide which type of warehouse is right for your business.


Warehouses are the unsung heroes of the supply chain, silently facilitating the movement of goods from manufacturer to consumer. However, not all warehouses are created equal. They come in a variety of types, each designed to cater to specific needs and industries. In this blog, we'll explore the primary types of warehouses, their differences, and the factors that influence their selection.

Tailored for tasks: delving into specifics

Warehouses can be categorized into several primary types, each designed to meet specific requirements. Here are 10 common types:

1. Distribution Centers

Distribution centers are the central hubs for goods distribution. They are strategically located to reduce transportation costs and delivery times. The emphasis here is on efficiently receiving, sorting, and shipping products. These warehouses are crucial for businesses aiming to reach a wide market quickly.

An AutoStore distribution center 3-D rendering

2. Fulfillment Centers

Fulfillment centers are the backbone of e-commerce. They specialize in picking, packing, and shipping individual customer orders. Speed and accuracy are paramount in these facilities, and they often incorporate advanced automation and robotics to meet the demands of fast-paced online shopping.

An AutoStore MFC 3-D rendering

3. Cold Storage Warehouses

Cold storage warehouses are designed to preserve perishable goods at low temperatures. They play a vital role in the food and pharmaceutical industries, ensuring products remain fresh and safe for consumption. Temperature and humidity control is essential in these warehouses.

4. Bulk Storage Warehouses

Bulk storage warehouses are optimized for storing large quantities of a single product, such as grains, chemicals, or raw materials. These warehouses are often located near production facilities and are cost-effective for managing bulk goods.

5. Cross-Docking and Transloading Centers

Cross-docking and transloading centers are focused on the efficient transfer of goods from one mode of transportation to another. These warehouses minimize storage time and are crucial for businesses looking to streamline their supply chains and reduce inventory holding costs. Here are the differences:  

  • Cross-docking facilities serve as transfer points for goods, where products are quickly unloaded from inbound trucks and loaded onto outbound trucks, reducing storage time.
  • Transloading centers facilitate the transfer of goods between different modes of transportation, often connecting ocean vessels, trucks, or rail.

6. Public Warehouses

A public warehouse is a third-party storage facility or distribution center that offers storage and handling services to various businesses and individuals on a fee basis. Unlike private warehouses, which are owned and operated by a single company for its exclusive use, public warehouses provide shared storage space and services to multiple clients. These facilities are often equipped with infrastructure and expertise to handle a wide range of products and may offer services such as inventory management, order fulfillment, transportation, and more. Public warehouses are commonly used by businesses seeking flexibility and cost-effective storage solutions without the commitment of owning and managing their own warehouse space.

7. Cooperative Warehouses

A cooperative warehouse is a storage facility jointly owned and operated by a group of companies or individuals who share the facility's costs and resources. This cooperative arrangement allows multiple businesses to collaborate and pool their resources to create a shared storage space that may be more cost-effective and efficient than each entity operating its own private warehouse. Cooperative warehouses are typically used by smaller businesses or organizations that may not individually require a dedicated storage facility. The members of the cooperative often share responsibilities for management, maintenance, and operational tasks, allowing them to benefit from cost savings and increased storage and distribution capabilities while still maintaining a degree of control and ownership over the warehouse.

8. Private Warehouses

A private warehouse is a storage facility that is exclusively owned and operated by a single company for its own use. Unlike public warehouses, which provide storage services to multiple clients on a fee basis, private warehouses are dedicated to a single company's storage and distribution needs. These warehouses are designed and managed to meet the specific requirements of the owning company, allowing for greater control over operations, security, and inventory management. Private warehouses are often used by large enterprises or organizations that have consistent and substantial storage needs, and they offer the advantage of complete customization and confidentiality.

9. Contract Warehouses

Contract warehouses are a hybrid option that combines aspects of both public and private warehousing. In this arrangement, a company contracts with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to operate and manage a dedicated storage facility that caters exclusively to the contracting company's needs. Contract warehouses offer the advantages of customizability and reduced operational responsibilities while still providing some level of flexibility for the client.

Arvato AutoStore system Grid for Ritual Cosmetics in the Netherlands
Arvato provides 3PL services to European e-commerce retailer Rituals Cosmetics using an AutoStore Grid customized with a unique bunker facility for safely storing gases, aerosols, and flammable liquids.

10. Bonded Warehouses

A bonded warehouse is a specialized storage facility that is authorized and regulated by the government to store imported goods before the payment of customs duties or taxes. These warehouses are often used to facilitate international trade and customs clearance processes.

The right fit: how businesses choose the right warehouse type

Strategic location decisions play a significant role in determining the type of warehouse a business needs. Proximity to suppliers, customers, and transportation infrastructure all influence this decision. A company distributing fresh produce may opt for a cold storage warehouse near farms, while an e-commerce giant might choose fulfillment centers strategically located to cover major urban areas.

Moreover, the nature of the goods stored is a key factor. Perishable items require cold storage, while small, high-demand items are best suited for fulfillment centers. Understanding the volume, dimensions, and turnover of goods is essential to make an informed choice.

Cost implications

Different warehouse types come with varying cost structures. Fulfillment centers with high automation, for instance, may require significant upfront investment but can lead to long-term cost savings through improved efficiency.

Environmental and sustainability concerns

Environmental sustainability is gaining prominence in warehouse design. Businesses are opting for eco-friendly practices, including energy-efficient lighting, insulation, and environmentally responsible material handling.

Standouts in storage: real-world examples

Amazon's Fulfillment Centers

Amazon, the e-commerce behemoth, has a vast network of fulfillment centers across the globe. These high-tech facilities are equipped with robots to pick and pack orders, ensuring swift and accurate deliveries to customers.

Lineage Logistics' Cold Storage

Lineage Logistics is one of the largest cold storage companies, serving the food industry. They operate state-of-the-art cold storage warehouses to maintain the freshness and safety of various food products.

Kesko's MFC

Finnish e-grocer Kesko operates an AutoStore micro-fulfillment center (MFC) in Helsinki that consists of two AutoStore storage systems: one for ambient products and another for chilled goods. The innovative system has doubled daily delivery capacity, reduced same-day delivery times to six hours or less, and reduced in-store picking staff by 80%.

Walmart's Distribution Centers

Walmart's distribution centers are strategically positioned to support the retail giant's vast supply chain. They efficiently distribute products to Walmart stores, ensuring shelves are well-stocked with a wide range of goods.

Best Buy's Regional/Local Warehousing Network

To keep pace with explosive e-commerce demands, American consumer electronics retailer Best Buy installed eight AutoStore systems in various locations — five in regional distribution centers and three in metro e-commerce centers. These new systems have helped Best Buy offer next-day delivery to its 50 million customers and get orders out to its stores on time.

A Best Buy employee picking goods from an AutoStore Port
Best Buy operates AutoStore systems in two types of warehouses — regional distribution centers and metro e-commerce facilities.

The evolution ahead: anticipating the next wave of warehouse innovations

Technological advancements have had a profound impact on warehouse design and operations. Automation, robotics, and AI are increasingly integrated into warehouses to enhance efficiency. Drones and autonomous vehicles are being tested for tasks like inventory management and last-mile delivery. Here are some other innovations that should have a major impact:

Automated cold or frozen warehouses

Automated cold or frozen warehouses offer several benefits, particularly in the storage and management of temperature-sensitive goods, such as frozen foods, pharmaceuticals, and other perishable items. Some of the advantages of automated cold or frozen warehouses include:

Woman picking groceries from Kesko AutoStore Grid in Finland
Kesko's chilled storage AutoStore Grid has helped improve delivery capacity and reduce same-day delivery times to six hours or less.
  • Enhanced safety: Working in cold or frozen environments can be physically demanding and pose health risks to employees. Automation reduces the need for human involvement in these extreme conditions, leading to improved worker safety and reduced instances of injuries associated with cold environments.
  • Energy efficiency: Many automated cold or frozen warehouses are designed with energy-efficient features, such as optimized refrigeration and lighting systems, to reduce energy consumption and operating costs. This not only benefits the environment but also helps control operational expenses.
  • Temperature control: Automated systems can maintain consistent and precise temperature levels, reducing the risk of spoilage, product degradation, or loss due to temperature fluctuations.
  • Improved product quality: Cold or frozen storage automation helps preserve the quality and freshness of products, ensuring that they meet quality and safety standards.
  • Space optimization: Automated systems can maximize storage capacity by utilizing high-density racking, narrow aisles, and efficient storage algorithms, making the most of available space. This is especially beneficial in cold or frozen warehouses where space is at a premium.

Hybrid warehousing

The trend of hybrid warehouses with distribution and fulfillment centers is driven by the need for flexibility, efficiency, and responsiveness in modern supply chains. As consumer expectations continue to evolve, businesses are finding that combining these two functions offers a competitive advantage and helps them meet the demands of the e-commerce era while optimizing operational costs. Reasons for going hybrid include:

  • E-commerce growth: The exponential growth of e-commerce has transformed consumer shopping habits and supply chain logistics. Retailers and e-commerce companies are increasingly relying on warehouses that can support both distribution and fulfillment functions to meet the demands of online shoppers.
  • Faster order fulfillment: Consumers have come to expect shorter delivery times and efficient order fulfillment. Hybrid warehouses are strategically positioned to facilitate quick order processing and same-day or next-day deliveries by integrating distribution and fulfillment capabilities in a single location.
  • Inventory management: Combining distribution and fulfillment centers can lead to more efficient inventory management. Retailers can reduce overall inventory carrying costs, improve demand forecasting, and minimize the risk of overstocking or understocking products by optimizing stock levels in a hybrid warehouse.
  • Geographic reach: A network of strategically located hybrid warehouses allows companies to extend their geographic reach and reach a broader customer base. These warehouses can serve both local and regional markets, reducing transportation costs and delivery times.
  • Seasonal flexibility: Hybrid warehouses are well-suited for businesses with seasonal fluctuations in demand. During peak seasons, they can ramp up fulfillment operations, and during slower periods, they can focus on distribution and inventory management.
  • Cross-docking: Cross-docking is the process of moving goods directly from receiving to shipping with minimal storage in between. Hybrid warehouses can efficiently facilitate cross-docking, reducing handling and storage costs and expediting product flow through the supply chain.
  • Cost savings: Operating a single hybrid warehouse instead of separate distribution and fulfillment centers can result in cost savings. This approach minimizes redundancy in infrastructure, labor, and technology while increasing operational efficiency.

Environmental concerns

Environmental and sustainability concerns are also driving change. Energy-efficient warehouse designs, recycling programs, and eco-friendly packaging are becoming more prevalent. An example is the new 650,000-sf Medline facility in Hammond, LA, a LEED-certified facility with state-of-the-art, energy efficient systems that include AutoStore.

Additionally, a focus on resilience and disaster preparedness will become crucial as warehouses face the challenges of climate change and global disruptions.


In conclusion, the world of warehouses is a fascinating one, where order accuracy, location, technology, and sustainability intertwine to keep the supply chain moving efficiently. The choice of warehouse type depends on the specific needs of the business, and the future promises even more exciting developments as technology and environmental concerns continue to shape this critical industry.


What are the various types of warehouses?

The 10 primary types of warehouses include:

  • Distribution Centers
  • Fulfillment Centers
  • Cold Storage Warehouses
  • Bulk Storage Warehouses
  • Cross-Docking and Transloading Centers
  • Public Warehouses
  • Cooperative Warehouses
  • Private Warehouses
  • Contract Warehouses
  • Bonded Warehouses

What are the four major types of warehousing?

The four major types of warehousing are:

  • Private Warehouses
  • Public Warehouses
  • Contract Warehouses
  • Cooperative Warehouses

What is the most common type of warehouse?

The most common type of warehouse varies depending on the industry and location, but distribution centers and fulfillment centers are often the most prevalent in the modern supply chain. These types of warehouses are essential for efficiently receiving, storing, and shipping products, especially in the context of e-commerce and retail distribution.

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