As we assist ecommerce and multichannel companies in planning their ecommerce fulfillment center expansion, we often see managers prematurely jump at the first building they see and talk about costs. In our opinion the most productive process involves outlining your requirements first, then creating a checklist to see how various facilities stack up.

Warehouse design and function vary widely. Having a requirements checklist helps you make sure the building you’re looking at has everything you need.

Below is a standard checklist as a starting point; you can tailor it to suit your particular situation.

Strategic Plan and Space Required

Start by determining your rough square footage requirements. This includes storage, dock areas, office and employee areas, customer pickup and counter sales window.

The largest portion of your ecommerce fulfillment center is devoted to storage. Often facilities don’t last as long as originally planned because product assortment – and therefore bulk storage, picking and floor locations – grows faster than anticipated.

Working with senior management and the merchandise team, plan out how the number of SKUs, types of product and storage media will grow. For example, an apparel business may decide over time to sell home décor. A home décor SKU generally requires more area and may not be conveyable like flat-bagged apparel. Or they decide to sell shoes which means dozens of SKUs (and therefore more pick faces) per base style. Have you determined the number of SKUs, the cubic feet of storage required for an average week vs. peak and extrapolated it forward for the planned life of the facility? This will require some serious number crunching which often doesn’t get done.

In your strategic planning by year, determine how the facility will need to expand its capacity to process orders, returns and value-added functions. This will give you data to plan needed square footage for staging pick carts, pack stations, returns processing and other services. Receiving and shipping are covered below.

Facility Footprint and Shape

Sometimes ecommerce fulfillment center space is odd shaped or uses mezzanines. Narrow and long buildings increase put-away and picking travel times. From a workflow perspective, trace how product would flow through the facility from inbound docks…