Warehouse – definition and meaning

A warehouse is a large building used for storing goods before they are sold, sent to the shops, exported or imported, or used. Put simply, it is a large place for storing things.

In the UK and some other English-speaking countries, warehouses may be large retail stores, as in: “We bought our dining table and chairs from a large furniture warehouse 10 miles out of town.”

As a verb, it means to keep something in a warehouse, to store it, as in: “They only managed to sell 2,000 of the 10,000 units in January, leaving 8,000 units warehoused and unsold.”

Manufacturers, wholesalers, exporters, importers, customs agencies, transport companies, and many other types of businesses have or use warehouses.

The physical and administrative functions related to keeping materials and products in a warehouse is known as warehousing.

Automatic storage warehouseAn automatic storage warehouse for small parts. Warehouses today are becoming increasingly automated – where robots do the work that humans used to. (Image: Wikipedia)

Warehouses common in industrial parks

They are generally very large plain buildings in the industrial parts of towns or cities, or out of town but close to major road, rail, air, or sea connections.

Warehouses usually have a loading dock, where goods are loaded onto and unloaded from trucks. In some cases the goods are loaded directly onto train wagons, airplanes, or ships.

Goods stored in warehouses include raw materials, spare parts, packing materials, components, finished products, and goods associated with manufacturing, production and agriculture.

Large warehouses may have cranes for moving goods – most of them have forklift trucks.

Etymology of ‘warehouse’

According to the Online *Etymology Dictionary, the noun ‘warehouse’ first appeared in the English language in 14th century Britain, by combining the noun ‘Ware’ with ‘House’. It came from either Dutch Warenhuis or German warenhause. With the meaning a ‘large impersonal institution’, the word emerged colloquially in the United States in 1970.

* Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the evolution of their meanings over time.

In 1799 in Britain, people started using the verb ‘To Warehouse’ with the meaning ‘to deposit or secure in a warehouse’.

Warehouse in LeedsThis huge, 7-storey warehouse was built in 1827 by the Aire and Calder Navigation company in Leeds, northern England. During the industrial revolution, warehouses were often great works of architecture. (Image: leodis.net)


Video – Working in a warehouse

This video looks at what a career in warehousing and distribution is like. Dave Mason talks about warehousing and logistics in New Zealand, a country that depends on reliable and flexible warehousing and distribution businesses to ensure that hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods are moved efficiently and accurately.