A distribution center for a set of products is a warehouse or other specialized building, often with refrigeration or air conditioning, which is stocked with products (goods) to be redistributed to retailers, to wholesalers, or directly to consumers.
Goods arrive and are stored in a distribution center in varying types of storage locations and containers suited to the product characteristics and the amount of product to be transported or stored.
Another way to look at a distribution center is to see it as a production or manufacturing operation. Goods arrive in bulk, they are stored until needed, retrieved, and assembled into shipments.
The following is a list of some of the names and characteristics of common storage containers:
- Shipping containers are used for the efficient transportation of goods. Standards specify the volume and dimensions of containers to facilitate efficient handling.
- Pallets are one of the most commonly used means to store and move product in a distribution center. There are many specialized devices used to handle pallets (forklift truck, pallet jack, and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS). Pallets are stored on the floor, may be stacked, and may be stored in pallet racking.
- Cases and Cartons are boxes usually containing many items. In distribution centers there is a generally accepted distinction made between the terms "carton" and "case", although both are boxes. Goods are received and stored in cartons, while goods are shipped in cases.
- Totes are reusable containers used to hold and transport goods.