When we think of warehouses, we envision vast spaces stacked with pallet racks and thousands of tons of goods. It is therefore obvious to most people that one of the most basic functions of a warehouse is to store products and shield them from unfavorable natural conditions such as rain or hot temperatures.
However, warehouses play a much larger role in the proper functioning of a company, regardless of whether the latter operates in retail, ecommerce, the food and beverages industry, or other fields. Below, you’ll find a complete list of the major functions of a warehouse, organized by two broad categories – storage and movement.
Major Storage Functions
Warehouses feature large spaces equipped to store massive quantities of goods. However, storage can take several forms and, at times, is paired with additional functions, depending on the industry.
Planned Storage. One of the most traditional functions of a warehouse, planned storage implies that the warehouse manager is aware of exactly how long each item on inventory is to be kept in storage from the moment it is received. This duration is specified when goods are deposited and can vary depending on the items in question.
Extended Storage. At times, the amount of a particular item can exceed the planned quantity. This is referred to as extended storage and can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Some products are in demand only seasonally and must be kept in storage in large quantities until they are sold.
- A company might sometimes be forced to buy an item in bulk due to available discounts. In other cases, the company can speculate low market prices on a particular item by stocking in excess. In both cases, extended storage is a likely requirement.
- During promotional campaigns, sales for a particular type of goods can skyrocket, which is why the company must stock in excess in order to prepare for the increased demand.
Protection of Goods. Less obvious that the basic storage function, the protection of goods is a secondary role of any warehouse. Some products can be stored safely under normal circumstances, while others require the warehouse to meet special requirements – such as temperature or humidity regulation.
Processing of Goods. Although this does not happen in all warehouses, some agree to take over some of the processing requirements of specific types of goods. Fruit, for example, may be kept in storage in special conditions for the amount of time they require to ripen.
Major Movement and Transfer Functions
In addition to storing, processing, and protecting goods, warehouse managers also keep track of all inventory that enters and leaves the building. They do this in several key steps, the most important of which are the following.
Receiving Goods. Warehouse personnel can assist the unloading of pallets, as well as ensure the proper transportation of goods from the receiving area to storage. The warehouse inventory is updated each time in order to provide an accurate reading of space utilization and availability.
Information Management. All available information about goods that pass through the warehouse (such as details about provenance and shipping) is kept in the warehouse database. In addition, information about the functioning of the warehouse itself is recorded so that higher management can take informed decisions regarding operations.
Order Picking. Warehouses that operate in the ecommerce industry, for example, are likely to process hundreds or even thousands of orders per day. An entire system is usually put in place by warehouse managers in order to ensure that order picking is as quick and as efficient as possible.
Shipping. Items spend varying amounts of time inside a warehouse, but they are, at one point or another, shipped to a new destination. This can include clients, another warehouse, or various manufacturers, each with different shipping requirements and timelines. Warehouse management must keep all shipping in check, as well as record shipping information, and update the building inventory.
The warehouse functions presented above are a rough estimate of the roles such a building is expected to perform within a company. These major responsibilities only scratch the surface, however, since warehouse management and employees are tasked with tens of intricate daily tasks that are specific to each industry and that are conductive to the two overarching duties of storage and movement.