How E-commerce is Impacting Retailers’ Real Estate and Construction Needs

E-commerce has become an important sales channel for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, which are now vying for market share from e-commerce shopping sites that have set the bar on customer experience. Specifically, retailers are increasingly adopting a “multi-channel strategy,” resulting in changes in the design, construction and development of the buildings that comprise the supply chain – for both speculative and build-to-suit facilities. Below are just a few of the ways retailers are preparing for and executing their multi-channel strategy – and it’s all about design:

Mezzanine areas are multiplying: E-commerce companies typically have large mezzanine areas, which require ceiling heights up to 36‘. Utilizing a 36-foot clear height versus the 32-foot standard can increase the pallet capacity of a building’s footprint by 12 to 25 percent. In addition, 36-foot ceilings provide extra space for mezzanine, conveyors and various pick modules that small-package consumer deliveries require.

Labor shortages promote employee-friendly design: With the rapid increase in e-commerce and logistics software development, warehouses and distribution centers are recruiting more technology-savvy employees. As a result, many companies are improving the basic design of their warehouses and distribution centers to attract high-caliber employees, and incorporating safety and comfort elements such as HVAC systems, fans, night purge ventilation and LED lighting.

More employees means more parking: As many e-commerce companies employ labor-intensive picking and packing strategies to fill online orders, they require a larger site to provide sufficient parking for employees.

Energy efficiency: Retailers are also interested in building more cost-effective distribution centers. Energy-efficient design changes have been essential to meeting these goals, including:

  • Prismatic skylights and daylight harvesting: Prismatic lens skylights scatter light rather than project a concentrated spot of light. The prisms of the skylight diffuse sunlight to provide optimum lighting for the work environment, reducing the need for electric lighting. Additionally, daylight harvesting can further reduce energy costs, especially when combined with prismatic skylights, and include photo sensors that prevent electric lighting from turning on when sufficient natural light is available. Together prismatic lens and daylight harvesting can produce a payback on their investments within one to three years.
  • Solar systems: Many companies that are developing new distribution centers are interested in solar, but are deterred by the limited return on investment for solar panel installations. As the cost per watt of solar equipment decreases with increased demand, the trend of including solar installations will likely grow. On average, it takes about six-10 years to see payback on investments, with prices averaging $2.25 to $2.49 per watt for multi-crystalline cell solar panels.

Low maintenance design reduces long-term costs: In addition to energy savings, companies are lowering long-term costs in distribution centers by including low-maintenance design elements.

  • Northern climate roofs: Recently, a condensation problem has emerged with cool roofs in northern climates, which leads to premature rust and ultimately roof decking failure. Retailers have implemented solutions to roof condensation by adding a vapor barrier, staggering two layers of roof insulation and adhering roofing membranes directly to the deck.
  • Low-shrink floors: Low-shrink floors enable saw cut control joints to be spaced further apart, resulting in less maintenance resources. A lower number of joints in a warehouse floor also decreases equipment replacement costs.

The pressure on retail companies to “work smarter” extends to all areas of their operations—including the design of distribution facilities. One thing is certain: design changes to distribution centers will continue to evolve and help industries meet growth demands and corporate objectives.


Tripp Eskridge, Senior Vice President at Jones Lang LaSalle’s Atlanta office, oversees the firm’s national Industrial Project and Development Services practice. He can be reached at