Amazon, the online innovator that changed retailing, now has plans for a futuristic airborne fulﬁllment center where it would use drones to deliver goods. The e-commerce giant was granted a patent for the concept last month, and it has another pending for a vertical warehouse that looks more like a skyscraper than a distribution center.
The cutting-edge ideas show how far developers may have to go to address the growing demand for industrial space as more Americans shop online. Already, the ﬁrst multistory warehouses in the U.S. are scheduled to open in urban areas as developers and retailers respond to the rise in e-commerce and the need for quick delivery of goods.
Amazon and other retailers are analyzing their supply chains and shifting how developers view warehouse space. By 2028, 40 percent of all parcels will be delivered within two hours, according to a study released earlier this year by Zebra Technology Corp.
“The changes we’re undergoing right now are coming at a pace we’ve never seen before,” said Garrick Brown, vice president and head of retail research, Americas, at commercial brokerage Cushman & Wakeﬁeld. “The evolution in the next 10 years will match what we’ve seen in the last 40.”
Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, could conceivably test concepts such as the futuristic fulﬁllment centers at its planned second headquarters location, which it has said it will announce this year.
According to the patent, the airborne fulﬁllment center is designed to look somewhat like a blimp and to ﬂoat thousands of feet up in the sky where drones buzz in, pick up packages and ﬂy away to make deliveries.
Whether these radical ideas happen or not, skeptics should not dismiss the plans of Amazon or its founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, said Ben Conwell, senior managing director and e-commerce advisory group lead at Cushman & Wakeﬁeld. Before joining the brokerage, Conwell served as Amazon’s director of North American real estate operations from 2011 to 2014.
“It may not look exactly like some of these fun patents in the can, but somewhere between reality and fantasy,” he said. “In the last 20 years, a lot of people have lost a lot of money betting against Jeff Bezos.”
In the more immediate future, demand is rising for taller urban warehouses with smaller real estate footprints.
This fall, Prologis Georgetown Crossroads expected to open what its website touts as “the ﬁrst multistory warehouse in the United States” in a neighborhood minutes from downtown Seattle. The three-story, 590,000-square-foot, ground-up warehouse features 410,000 square feet of dedicated fulﬁllment space designed for e-commerce purposes. Prologis is also developing multistory warehouses in New York and San Francisco.
Similar multistory warehouse developments are planned in New York City, according to a report from commercial brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle. One was conﬁrmed late last month by Chicago-based Bridge Development Partners, which is teaming with New York City developer Dov Hertz to buy an 18-acre property in southwest Brooklyn with 1.5 million square feet of new industrial space.