Order picking is the process of selecting a specific amount of inventory from a fulfillment center, then preparing it to fulfill an order that is placed by an individual end customer. Order fulfillment—along with shipping, storage and receiving—is an integral part of any ecommerce company’s supply chain and inventory management process It is often cited as being one of the most labor intensive and expensive activities associated with running a business that sells physical goods; it can be done by people, or in some cases by automation or robots. And the importance of getting it right (shipping the correct, or the incorrect product to a customer) can determine a customer’s loyalty and impact future sales. Picking errors in manufacturing warehouses can slow-down production lines, while inefficient order picking in DCs weighs down profits. Adding to the cost pressure, companies like Walmart and Amazon are forcing other retailers and distributors to adapt to free one day or same day shipping. Therefore it is necessary to understand the different types of order picking methods to be able to make informed decisions to optimize your fulfillment operations and enhance your customer satisfaction.
Order Picking Methods
Depending on the needs of your business and physical size of the products that you sell, there might be order picking systems that are more efficient and cost effective. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of the different types listed below. If you work with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider they can help assist you in making navigating the best ecommerce fulfillment options for your business.
1. Single Order Picking
The most common form of order picking is single order picking (also known as discrete order picking) and it is used across most 3PLs and warehouse operations. The order picker is given one order at a time, and they go through the warehouse to find each individual item that is part of a customer’s order. Once all items from the order are all picked they are boxed and sent to shipping. A drawback to single order picking can be lack of speed—sometimes the sequence of finding items to pick, and routes that are given to find the items within the warehouse, are not optimized and take longer than other methods. If you or your 3PL uses a warehouse management system (WMS) it can help streamline the routes that the picker takes which can help to reduce time inefficiencies and cut down on labor costs.
2. Batch Picking
With batch picking the order picker will pick multiple orders at a time, with a manual process or an automated one. The manual order picking process allows SKUs to be picked for multiple orders at once. With automated picking, the worker stays in one physical location while both horizontal or vertical carousels deliver the various products in the orders to the worker.
3. Multi-Batch Order Picking
For situations that require multiple smaller orders, multi-batch picking is often the best option. This order picking method is used for orders where products need to come from different areas of a distribution center and can therefore need the time necessary to pick numerous orders simultaneously. It is effective for workers that need to go to different areas of a fulfillment center because it can help to reduce the time for processing multiple products.
4. Zone Picking
The zone picking method starts by dividing the fulfillment center into zones. Then a dedicated warehouse picker is assigned to an individual zone and only operates within that specific area. An order that requires picking from multiple zones will be passed along between zones as it move through the fulfillment center. Alternatively, orders can be sent to a specific location, once picked, before they are sent to the shipping department.
5. Wave Picking
Wave picking involves grouping orders by various criteria in order to increase picking productivity a fulfillment center. Because all zones complete picks simultaneously it can cut down on the time it takes to complete an order. After pickers have finished picking the items, they are sorted into individual orders. It can be advantageous for warehouses that contain a wide selection of products and needs to fulfill a large number of orders per day. In these instances, fulfilling orders one at a time as they come in is a time-consuming process. Sometimes severe congestion occurs when multiple pickers require access to the same area in order for each to pick his or her particular order.
6. Pallet Picking
A pallet is a wooden platform that holds an arrangement of products in a warehouse. Depending on the size of a pallet, it can hold one large item, or several smaller ones. So pallet picking is when one entire pallet of items is picked and sent to the packing area.
7. Case Picking
Case picking is similar to pallet picking except here, only a part of the pallet is picked and sent to the packing area. This form of picking is used when there is a large number of SKUs with fewer items per SKU
8. Pick & Pass
This is a specific method of zone picking, where orders are passed from one zone to another as it moves along the fulfillment process. If the first product is in zone 1, then a worker will pick all of the SKUs from the pallets and then pass it along to zone 2 and so forth until the entire order is ready to be moved on to shipping. If a 3PL utilizes order management software (OMS) they can help to optimize the picking sequence so that it takes the least amount of time and increases productivity.
9. Cluster Picking
Cluster picking involves a single picker compiling multiple orders at a time, usually dealing with a variety of SKUs. This method can give you an advantage when it comes to speed, but you will need to integrate special technologies and resources to make it successful in your warehouse.
10. Order Consolidation
Order Consolidation is often used as an alternative to pick and pass. Order consolidation uses the zones set-up, however after each zone picks the necessary items required for an order, they are sent to a consolidation area until all of the other products from the various zones are delivered. Once all of the products have arrived in the consolidation area they are grouped to the corresponding large orders and combined to finalize a single order.
“The fact that DCL has so many customers that are dealing in high value electronics, it’s incumbent that this is a very clean and white-glove approach to direct-to-consumer pick, pack, and ship. And that was a validator for us.”
The options for the picking process in order fulfillment can range from simple such as single order picking, to more complex ones like pick and pass and consolidation. Once you understand how each of these order picking methods work, you can make a better and more informed decision on which would be the best fit for your business. If you rely on a 3PL for your logistics support they are a great resource to help you decide what is the most cost efficient option for your situation.
If you are looking for help with your order fulfillment operations we’d love to hear from you. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow.