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Amazon’s Plans for Massive Warehouses Go Forward Amid Logistics Review

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Amazon’s Plans for Massive Warehouses Go Forward Amid Logistics Review – WSJ

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The e-commerce giant has some of its biggest distribution centers in the works while it pauses some projects and reconsiders its aggressive expansion

A rendering of Amazon.com Inc.’s planned 3.1 million-square-foot, five-story distribution center in the Town of Niagara, N.Y., from papers filed with the Town of Niagara Building Department.

Photo: JB2 Partners

Amazon. com Inc. is making room for big new warehouse projects even as the e-commerce giant reins in its aggressive logistics expansion.

The e-commerce giant recently won local approval to build a five-story, 3.1 million-square-foot distribution center in western New York, and has even bigger sites in the works in Southern California and Colorado as it bolsters a network aimed at getting more goods faster to more Americans.

The projects signal that the sprawling warehouses that anchor Amazon’s U.S. logistics network still have a place in the company’s strategy following its announcement in May that it was slowing the build-out of its logistics network and planned to sublease some existing space following its slowest quarterly revenue growth in about two decades.

“These facilities, because the capital investment is so high, are long-term bets,” said Gregg Healy, executive vice president and head of the industrial services group in North America at real-estate services provider Savills PLC. “Considering they had kind of an all-in strategy just to get coverage before in these markets, this new iteration for strategy indicates that they are refining it, and certain core markets, they want to make sure they have the right footprint.”

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The approval of a $550 million warehouse last week by a planning board in the Town of Niagara, N.Y., makes the site one of the first new Amazon distribution projects to move forward since the company said it was rethinking its logistics network.

The facility will be what Amazon calls a sortable fulfillment center, considered a “first mile” facility, where goods are transported in bulk to middle-mile and last-mile locations for final deliveries to customers. Employees at those warehouses work alongside robots to pick, pack and shop customer orders for items like books, toys and housewares.

The company is also pressing ahead with a 4.1 million-square-foot, five-story facility under construction in Ontario, Calif., and a 3.9 million-square-foot, five-story project in Loveland, Colo. Both of those would be among the company’s largest warehouses ever.

Amazon accelerated its aggressive logistics expansion during the pandemic, adding tens of millions of square feet of warehouse space, buying up trucks and vans and hiring tens of thousands of workers to keep up with increased demand from homebound consumers. The company’s warehouse space jumped from 165 million square feet prepandemic to 379 million square feet by May 2022, according to data from MWPVL International Inc., a Canadian supply-chain consulting firm.

The Prologis Georgetown Crossroads building in South Seattle, pictured in 2020. Amazon leased 500,000 square feet of space in the multistory warehouse.

Photo: Paul Christian Gordon/Zuma Press

E-commerce growth has more recently stalled as Americans have returned to in-person shopping, and the highest inflation in decades has pushed suppliers to raise prices and weighed on consumer markets.

Amazon has canceled some warehouse projects and delayed others, but experts say the big projects moving forward suggest the pause in logistics expansion is targeted at specific types of facilities and that the broader efforts to build up capabilities are still under way.

“This is not a year where they’re slamming on the brakes by any stretch of the imagination,” said Marc Wulfraat, founder and president of MWPVL International.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company weighs various factors when deciding where to add warehouses.

“It’s common for us to explore multiple locations simultaneously and make adjustments based on our operational needs,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Amazon so far this year has canceled, closed, listed for sublease or put on hold more than 25 delivery stations and fulfillment centers across the U.S. and has delayed opening 15 more, according to MWPVL data.

At the same time, Amazon is expected to open some 250 more facilities in 2022, according to MWPVL.

Those facilities would add to Amazon’s logistics network at each stage of the order fulfillment process as the company works to get packages onto customers’ doorsteps.

Some are massive, hulking distribution centers, where goods are stored and then transported in bulk to interim stations. Others are smaller sites closer to population centers where orders are sorted by destination and moved onto trucks, The company has also been building smaller delivery stations closer to 100,000 square feet or less near population centers and focused on the last-mile stage of getting packages to residences.

Atlanta-based real-estate firm JB2 Partners LLC is developing the warehouse in the Town of Niagara, a community of some 8,000 residents north of Buffalo and near the U.S.-Canada border. The site is currently farmland, next to the Niagara Falls International Airport and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Amazon plans to employ about 1,000 people at the warehouse. The ground floor will hold material handling and sorting equipment, according to documents filed with the Town of Niagara Building Department, while the upper four floors will have a limited number of employees and will use a large automated storage system with shelves moved by low-profile robots, the filings said, with about 1,500 robots in use per floor.

Such multistory warehouses are relatively rare in the U.S., and most are in relatively densely populated areas to take advantage of limited space where land is expensive, said Mehtab Randhawa, global lead of industrial research for real-estate investment services firm JLL.

MWPVL expects Amazon to open 21 big, multistory fulfillment centers totaling some 62.3 million square feet this year, although some of those could be pushed back under the company’s logistics review.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at,” Mr. Wulfraat said. “These guys are still on an incredible build-out.”

Write to Liz Young at liz.young@wsj.com

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