E-commerce Warehouse Picking

What is Warehouse Picking?

Warehouse picking is one of the most essential elements of order fulfillment, where the warehouse order picker takes individual items from the fulfillment facility as per the customer’s needs. In simple words, it is the process of warehouse order picking from the fulfillment facility so sellers can take the individual items to the customers. It is also considered to be one of the most expensive and labor-intensive activities in the order fulfillment process.

What is Warehouse Order Picking?

Warehouse order picking means more or less the same as warehouse picking. It is the process of taking the necessary items from the inventory and getting them ready for shipment. The warehouse order picker goes to the fulfillment facility and with the help of a handheld scanner, locates the products for that particular order.

Warehouse order picking is the first and foremost step in the process of order fulfillment. When the warehouse picker gets the right order from the fulfillment warehouse, they move one step closer to delivering the right products to the customers and attaining customer satisfaction.

Warehouse Picking Strategies

Warehouse Picking is among the first and one of the most important steps of order fulfillment, and it is necessary to do it properly. While the warehouse picker is responsible for the order picking, the manager or the supervisor derives the strategies that can be adopted for the same.

Warehouse Picking

4 warehouse picking strategies you need to know:

Batch Picking

The preparation of multiple orders at the same time is called batch picking. When this strategy is followed for warehouse picking, the warehouse order picker collects multiple orders from different clients, or as per the needs of production, in a single trip. The supply chain 24/7 has reported that almost 50% of the time used for picking is spent on travel, so this batch picking strategy is executed by the supervisors so the travel time is saved by picking multiple orders at the same time.

The batch picking strategy works best for warehouses that have a large space and have multiple clients who have requested various orders. A segmented warehouse cart should also be used to apply this strategy, where a substantial number of items can be stored in the warehouse, and the warehouse picker can keep track of the orders accordingly.

Zone Picking

The zone picking strategy is applied when there are various types of items that are to be stored in the warehouse. In this case, each warehouse picker is assigned a zone of similar orders, and that warehouse order picker is responsible for picking all the orders that are related to that particular zone.

The availability of warehouse automation systems makes it best to work with the zone picking strategy. It can divide the facility into different sections categorized based on product description, the demand for the products, or any other criteria whatsoever.

Wave Picking

With this strategy, the warehouse order picker moves around the entire fulfillment facility to pick up orders of different clients and various items from different zones under the supervision of the supervisor or warehouse manager. Therefore, wave picking is also called the strategy that combines batch picking and zone picking.

To practice the wave picking strategy, the warehouse should be large enough to prepare the individual orders to properly execute order preparation. Also, devices like barcode scanners help the employees to pack the products for the clients efficiently.

Voice Picking

Voice picking is the newest strategy for picking warehouses where the technological involvement is at its highest. Here, the warehouse picker has a device on his wrist and is provided with a headset where the orders or products that need to be picked are displayed on the wrist device, and they select the orders accordingly from the fulfillment facility.

Voice picking works well with other strategies as it facilitates data visibility for batch picking and reporting for zone methods. Therefore, voice picking is not only a strategy on its own but also helps in other strategies.

Combined Warehouse Picking Strategies

To refine warehouse picking, the supervisor may combine two or more order picking strategies. The combined warehouse picking strategies are stated as follows:

Zone-Batch Picking

A hybrid structure automatically gets created when batch picking and zone picking strategies are combined, in which the warehouse picker is responsible to carry out batch picking in a specified zone that is assigned to them. This hybrid structure works best when there is a large warehouse and is ideal when the client’s requirements include different kinds of orders.

Zone-Wave Picking

In zone wave picking, the large warehouse is divided into different zones and each of the warehouse order pickers is assigned to a different zone. Here, they use a wave picking strategy within the zone to fulfill the order requirements. The warehouse pickers follow the process of one order at a time in this method, within their zone.

Zone-Batch-Wave Picking

This is a relatively complex process that combines the two hybrid strategies; zone wave picking and zone batch picking, respectively. This method works best in a large fulfillment facility with different kinds of orders that are not similar. Here, each warehouse picker is assigned to a particular zone where they carry out their order fulfillment process using both the wave picking and batch picking strategies as and when required, as they have to collect multiple orders simultaneously.

Warehouse Picking

Warehouse Picking Best Practices

No matter which line of fulfillment you’re in or which industry you cater to, some of these best warehouse picking practices will help you increase your efficiency and effectiveness.

These are the following warehouse picking best practices that you can follow to improve your performance:

  • Organize your warehouse and focus on the facility flow.
  • Establish a receiving process that focuses on the visibility of shipment and their scheduling.
  • Utilize bins and dividers when preparing to dispatch the orders with particular labels.
  • Reduce the walking time from the facility area to the warehouse.
  • Improve ergonomics while applying the goods-to-person technology.
  • Choose the appropriate warehouse picking strategy per your order descriptions and the size of your warehouse.
  • Utilize the voice and screen technology as per your requirements to save time and to see efficient results.
  • Prioritize the shipment of frequently picked items so that warehouse pickers are always on the go.
  • Use a consolidation area with a combination of static and automated equipment.
  • Invest in automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) to reduce costs.
  • Properly slot and group inventory to improve inventory profiling.
  • Establish a returns management process to help organize and speed up the process.
  • Introduce automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) for scan verifications.
  • Pick the orders directly into shipping cartons rather than picking them into reusable plastics first.
  • Implement key performance indicators to measure the accuracy of the process and the performance of laborers.

Why is a Warehouse Order Picking System Important?

Warehouse order picking is fundamental as it is a part of the process of fulfilling customer orders. When customers place an order, they expect to receive their order as soon as possible. An effective warehouse order picking system ensures that the orders are picked and shipped smoothly.

As it is a significant part of the fulfillment process that involves enormous costs and affects the level of customer satisfaction, there has been a considerable amount of improvement that focuses on this particular part of order fulfillment.

Therefore, the importance of a warehouse order picking system is duly stated as it is essential to fulfilling customer orders quickly and accurately.

The Different Types of Warehouse Order Picking

There are a lot of warehouse picking ideas, and four have already been discussed in the warehouse order picking strategies segment. Batch picking, zone picking, wave speaking, and voice speaking are also the types of warehouse order picking in addition to being the warehouse picking strategies.

Apart from these four types of warehouse order picking, there are other approaches as well that are stated as follows:

Single Order Picking

In single order picking, the warehouse picker moves through the warehouse to pick one order at a time to meet one client’s requirement only.  This process is labor-intensive and very time-consuming. It does not prove to be efficient in large warehouses, but it does good in small warehouses.

Cluster Picking

This cluster Picking system is used when there is a need to fulfill multiple orders simultaneously. Warehouse pickers pick several items according to the picklist by moving to and fro in the warehouse and then placing them in separate racks or containers where each container is associated with the individual orders. This method is beneficial in saving travel time. It also removes the need for sorting because the warehouse pickers do it themselves.

Multi-Batch Order Picking

The multi-batch order picking system works in a mechanical way where the warehouse picker picks multiple orders at a time to reduce the time of picking. In this method, the warehouse order picker generally uses huge picking carts with multiple tiers to move through the fulfillment facility and pick the desired products as per the picklist. This picking method is beneficial as it reduces the picking time and increases efficiency.

Tried-and-True Methods Used in Order Picking

The types of pick and pick warehouses mentioned above are the methods used in warehouse order picking for all the warehouses. These are based on the kind of orders the company receives and the size of the warehouse.

Some supporting factors like these are also needed to implement these methods:

  • Ensure to offer competitive and guaranteed shipment dates to customers.
  • Make sure that your production unit allows for 100% availability of inventory.
  • Implement and plan your shipping roots carefully and always keep in touch with your picker.
  • Ensure velocity-based slotting that makes the customer aware of the current product velocity.
  • Invest in the futuristic approach of smart automation that promotes accurate and time-efficient picking.
  • Assess the factors that best fit the needs of your business for further growth.
  • Make sure to keep a record of all your error data so you know where exactly it went wrong.
Warehouse Picking

Best Practices for Improving Warehouse Picking Productivity

Warehouse picking efficiency is an integral part of the whole process, especially when they use all manual warehouse order picking. Although the warehouse picking best practices have already been stated in this piece in the above segment, apart from that, there are other practices for improving warehouse picking productivity as well that can be stated as follows:

  1. Do not mix the numbers and the order items at the time of segregating each order from their containers.
  2. Avoid shipment errors by carefully examining each one of them, especially when the product’s size or appearance is similar.
  3. Do not compromise on the efficiency of the process just to save some extra space.
  4. Schedule your picking list properly to the warehouse pickers, so they do not need to move to and fro in a large warehouse.
  5. Availability of inventory should always be there, and be smart about your inventory management.
  6. Distinguish and pick the suitable racks of the warehouse for your products as per the order list.
  7. Floor rackspace should be used for the pickers walking on foot whereas elevated racks can be used by the warehouse pickers who are on the order picking carts.
  8. Invest in radio frequency identification (RFI) for mapping the inventory location and position in your warehouse.
  9. Select the appropriate storage medium and space for your inventory according to the ordered products. 
  10. Slower moving inventory should be reduced and investment in elevated racks and moving carts should be encouraged for increasing efficiency.

Automated Warehouse Picking Systems

Automated warehouse picking systems are based on modern-day technologies and are generally helpful for the warehouses that have been built in recent times. As discussed above, the voice picking system is one of the automated warehouse picking techniques introduced by technological changes and is mostly used in current warehouses.

Let’s explore some commonly used automated warehouse picking systems, apart from the voice picking system, which is stated as follows:

Pick-to-Light Picking System

In this method, it is necessary to install the pic to light LED and barcode scanners that will be placed on the racks and shelves in the warehouse. When the warehouse picker is picking the products as per the order list, they scan the barcode on the product, and all the relevant order details are mentioned there, with which they can differentiate and put the products on the racks and shelves accordingly.

Mobile Scanner Based Picking System

For this system to work, it is necessary to have a unique barcode on all the products in the warehouse facility. With this system, the accuracy of the order list will be fulfilled as the warehouse order picker will only pick those products on the picklist and scan the products according to the list. If the warehouse picker picks some product that is not on the list, then the mobile of the picker will buzz with a notification that this product is not on the list.

Collaborative Mobile Robots System

Recent times have seen increased use of robots in every field of work, especially in manual tasks. In warehouse picking as well, robots are used where they are controlled and function in such a way that they do all the manual tasks of picking the orders according to the order list. The human operators of the warehouse facility operate these robots to run to and fro in the warehouse to collect the orders according to the picklist. This system helps to save time and manual labor in the process. 

How to Choose a Picking Method for Your Business?

First, You need to analyze your type of business to choose a picking method for it. As stated in the above segments, there are various order picking ways, but which one is best for you is for you to decide.

If you have a large business that requires a large warehouse and has various orders from different clients, you may opt for zone picking or wave picking methods. You can also go for the hybrid order picking methods in this case, as they will help you cater to the various kinds of order picking needs.

On the other hand, if you have a small business with a tiny or cramped warehouse, you may resort to batch picking or single order picking methods to address your order picking needs.

Warehouse Picking

What Leads to Warehouse Picking Inefficiency?

Warehouse picking inefficiency is a big problem in order fulfillment, and there are various causes for the same. Here are the top 7 reasons:

  1. Improper placement of the item in the warehouse for which the warehouse picker has to spend more time to find it.
  2. When the warehouse picker picks the wrong item or quantities for the order.
  3. When the orders are not prioritized according to the picklist.
  4. When labor-intensive order picking is preferred over machine-intensive order picking.
  5. When there is no particular location assigned for the half-picked orders.
  6. When you do not maintain a proper database to track the location and quantity of the items in the inventory.
  7. When you are only picking one item or order in one pick trip, it leads to wasted time.

Warehouse Operations: Optimizing the Picking Process

As no one strategy or technique fits every case, it is essential to keep the optimization of the picking process as flexible as possible.

Here are a few of the optimization tips for the warehouse operation:

  1. It is vital to conduct constant ABC analysis, also known as order profiling.
  2. Selecting the correct order picking methodology that will suit your business is essential.
  3. It is necessary to use technology such as barcode scanners and order picking robots to be effective and efficient.
  4. Increase productivity and accuracy with the help of computers and database management.
  5. Reduce the data entry errors to minimize the wrong order picking problems.

These are some of the ways you can implement in your warehouse operations to optimize the picking process.

Warehouse Order Picking Tips

Warehouse order picking is an internal part of order fulfillment. You can adhere to the following tips for the betterment of your warehouse order picking system:

  1. Analyze the functions and importance of the warehouse picking process.
  2. Take a look to inspect your organizational tools.
  3. Focus on reducing the travel time and increasing efficiency.
  4. Increase effectiveness and efficiency by shifting your attention to ergonomics.
  5. Allocate storage space properly and choose your picking strategy wisely.
  6. Develop your Picking routes that enhance your Picking strategies.
  7. Make better inventory space and guarantee 100% availability of inventory.
  8. Reassess your cycle counting processes and your warehouse management system.
  9. Identify the flawed components and try to rectify them.
  10. Opt for a robust slotting tool to maximize efficiency.

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FAQs

A warehouse picker is an operator who is responsible for the grouping and picking of the items according to the order picklist.

The process of taking out the right items for order fulfillment is the process of warehouse picking, regardless of the method you choose for picking.

Order picking is important because it results in increased efficiency of your picking operations and enhancement of order accuracy, ultimately boosting customer satisfaction.

A warehouse picker is responsible for picking and packing orders from a warehouse, and is responsible for loading and unloading trucks, keeping the warehouse clean and organized, and so on.

Warehouse picking can be improved by following several steps like maintaining product slotting, using different storage strategies, selecting accurate order picking methods, etc.

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