Facility Type Facility Attributes Locational Attributes
E-Fulfillment Center Large-sized facility (half a million to one million square foot). Cross-docking configuration common. High racks storage. Push towards automation. Low land costs. Proximity to highway. Access to a major parcel hub.
Parcel Hub / Sortation Center Large-sized facility (half a million square foot). Cross-docking configuration for handling trucks. Automated and semi-automated sortation. Low land costs. Accessibility to regional distribution.
Parcel Delivery Center / Urban Logistics Depot Medium-sized facility. Cross-docking configuration for loading vans. Periphery of metropolitan areas.
Freight Station / Pickup Location Small or micro-sized facility. Store-like facility (pickup location). Locker banks (freight station). High density neighborhood locations.

Source: Adapted from: Jones Lang Lassalle (2013) E-commerce boom triggers transformation in retail logistics: Driving a global wave of demand for new logistics facilities.
Logistics Facilities Supporting E-commerce
The growth of web based retail sales triggered the development of new logistics structures through a process of functional specialization, particularly since e-commerce is based on parcel deliveries. This implies the setting of four particular types of facilities, each addressing the freight distribution of parcels at a specific scale and scope.
  • E-fulfillment centers are large facilities assembling individual online orders. Due to the high number of items that are held in inventory, such centers tend to have high racks storage. In recent years, many of these facilities have become partially or fully automated, with robots able to quickly assemble orders and place them into parcels (envelopes or boxes of different sizes). The mere size of these facilities and the number of delivery vehicles accessing them incite their setting in low land cost locations that remain accessible to highways. Since orders are shipped through parcel services, access to a major parcel hub is an important locational attribute.
  • Parcel hubs and sortation centers arrange shipments by their regional/local destinations. Due to their sortation function, these facilities rely on the cross-docking model where inbound flows arrive on one side and outbound flows on the other. Further, depending on the strategy of the online retailer, they call also act as e-fulfillment centers, particularly for goods that are in high and regular demand. Like e-fulfillment centers, low land cost is an important locational attribute, but the facility is located with the aim of maximizing accessibility to a regional distribution system.
  • Parcel delivery centers and urban logistics depots are medium-sized cross-docking facilities mostly to sort parcels on specific local delivery routes. Since the deliveries are mostly within an urban setting, the parcels are usually loaded into delivery vans or other specialized urban delivery vehicles (electric vans and even cargo bicycles). These facilities are usually in the immediate periphery of a metropolitan area.
  • Pickup locations and freight stations are used when deliveries are not made directly to the customers’ residences. These small scale facilities, located at accessible high density locations, are serviced with urban adapted vehicles. In most cases, a store-like facility is used, but an emerging trend has been the usage of freight stations composed of locker banks where customers can pick up their parcels by using a code (e.g. credit card, QR code).
In standard e-commerce distribution chains, e-fulfillment facilities are usually owned by the online retailer while parcel hubs, sortation centers and parcel delivery centers are usually owned by third party logistics providers. However, consolidation (vertical integration) trends are emerging as large online retailers are opening their own sortation centers. Some are also getting involved in the transportation segment of their distribution with urban delivery vehicles and trailers to move cargo between e-fulfillment and sortation centers.