12 Best Picking Methods to Streamline Your Product Delivery

12/16/2022

12 Best Picking Methods to Streamline Your Product Delivery

The eCommerce industry is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s estimated that global eCommerce sales will cross $7.3 trillion by 2025.

global-eCommerce-sales-by-statista

Warehouse order picking methods are crucial for running successful eCommerce stores today. They have become an essential part of high customer satisfaction. 

According to statistics, 50% to 70% of warehouse operations costs are attributed to workers. And, nearly 50% of the order picking time goes into travelling back and forth in the warehouse. 

Order picking methods highly impact the efficiency & effectiveness of order fulfilment and consequently affect the customer satisfaction level. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the 12 best picking methods that can help you streamline your order fulfilment process. 

But, let’s start with some basics.

What is Order Picking?

Order picking is a process carried out in warehouses once customers place an order on your eCommerce portal. It involves creating accurate order pick lists, identifying the right product, and using the right order picking method to retrieve it.

What-is-Order-Picking

Here, pickers are provided with paper-printed slips or digital pick lists to collect designated items. The list can contain product SKU, quantity, delivery date, customer & order information in addition to the picking method.

The warehouse management team would employ an order-picking strategy depending on the number of orders and items to pick.  Since this strategy directly influences order fulfilment and supply chain productivity, eCommerce stores must devise an efficacious order-picking method.

Importance and Elements of Order Picking

Order picking has a great influence on warehouse operations and order fulfilment processes. The rate at which items are picked can help keep other warehouse operations on track or delay them due to inefficiency. 

Further, inadequate picking equipment, staff, and warehouse space hinder your fulfilment.

For accurate picking, it’s critical to select a method that minimises: 

  • Margin of errors
  • Frequency of order backtracking
  • Travel time in the warehouse 
  • Order delays, etc. 

Here are some elements that help you bolster your order picking and packing process:

Order Picking Method: Methods used for order picking holds a high significance to complete product retrieval on time. Small-scale warehouses can utilise traditional methods while large-scale warehouses should use advanced and automated warehouse picking methods.

Order Picking Types: It includes pick-to-tote, pick-to-carton, pick-to-cart, picker-to-part and part-to-picker. Selecting a suitable picking type is critical for picking strategy, so you must perform several iterations to find the best option.

Order Picking Technology: Integration of advanced technology like RF, voice picking, barcode scanning, robotics, and vision picking help shorten the order picking cycle. Thus, make these technologies a part of your warehouse picking methods.

12 Best Warehouse Picking Methods to Streamline Your Product Fulfilment

Best-Warehouse-Picking-Methods-to-Streamline-Your-Product-Fulfilment

A) Traditional Order Picking Methods

1. Single Order/Piece Picking

Single order, also known as a piece or discrete picking, is a method where a dedicated picker will collect items of an order. Here, the pickers work only on a single order until they are finished, and sent to logistics and shipping providers

Single-Order-or-Piece-Picking

Here, the pickers rely on printed picking slips that feature item SKUs necessary for order picking. Further, since pickers work on one order only, they don’t get other orders scheduled in advance.

Advantages of the Method:

  • Simple and works best for small-scale warehouses with low order volume
  • Easy to train pickers for order collection
  • Has fewer chances of order mix-ups

Disadvantages:

  • Inefficient for companies with high order volume
  • Increased travel time as pickers only work on one order at a time

2. Batch Picking

Batch or multi-order picking is a method where multiple orders are grouped to collect all items in batches. It’s like visiting a supermarket for your monthly shopping and picking all the items needed at once instead of visiting multiple times.

Batch-Picking.webp-1

The method when employed saves time and speeds up the fulfilment as it eliminates frequent trips to the same place over and over again.

Advantages:

  • Eliminates unnecessary trips to the warehouse for item collection
  • Time-efficient and speeds up the fulfilment process
  • Suitable for large warehouses to even use multi-batch picking

Disadvantages:

  • Effective only when the pick list contains multiple orders with a few same SKUs
  • Need order management tools to analyse and prepare pick lists, product kits, and pick routes

3. Zone Picking

Here, your warehouse is divided into multiple zones and each zone has a dedicated picker that collects all the items stored only in that zone. It’s highly efficient for warehouse managers to streamline their order fulfilment.

Zone-Picking.webp

The pickers are provided with digital pick lists to avoid constant back and forth for the physical pick list, which improves the picking efficiency.

Advantages:

  • Pickers can simultaneously collect items belonging to multiple orders
  • Reduces constant back and forth
  • Helpful to consolidate orders with multiple discrete items

Disadvantages:

  • Few zones may get higher order volume than the rest
  • This leads to uneven picker distribution

4. Parallel Picking

The parallel warehouse order picking method provides you with more flexibility. It’s an advanced version of the zone picking method where multiple SKUs of multiple orders are allotted to pickers in different zones.

Parallel-Picking

Each picker will collect, sort, and prepare items parallelly to save time before sending those parcels for shipping.

Advantages:

  • High performance in picking operations
  • Shortens the order preparation time
  • Quick fulfilment of large orders

Disadvantages:

  • Suited only for spacious warehouses with large order volume
  • Requires high technical skills from pickers
  • Order distribution may not always be optimal

5. Wave Picking

Warehouses with maze-like gigantic structures can adopt and implement wave picking. It’s created by combining the batch and zone warehouse picking methods for faster, smoother, and efficient picking.

Wave-Picking.webp

The only difference here is that orders are picked and scheduled into waves. The orders are picked during specific time frames only for better shipping and follow-up activities.

Advantages:

  • Warehouse managers can align all fulfilment operations
  • Reduces constant roaming around the warehouse for item picking

Disadvantages:

  • Need to rely on the warehouse management system
  • Pickers and picking equipment need to wait until one wave completes before moving to the next one

6. Cluster Picking

Cluster picking is a warehouse picking method where pickers get a combined list of orders to retrieve items in a single run. Each item can belong to different orders collected in separate bins or containers for reduced frequent trips.

Cluster-Picking.webp

B) Advanced Order Picking Methods

7. Pick-to-Light

Pick-to-light is an automated system where a series of coloured LED lights and display screens are attached to product shelves. These LED lights start blinking when a picker scans the barcode and indicates the shelf location.

Pick-to-Light

The screen will also display picking quantity along with other information. Once items are picked, the light turns off and the display will show that the picking task is completed.

Advantages:

  • It can be used for picking, sorting, and assembling
  • Enhances warehouse operations and reduces labour costs to a great extent
  • Easy to integrate and quick to understand for pickers

Disadvantages:

  • Reduces potential throughput
  • Expensive and not ideal for large, complex warehouses
  • Lack of flexibility as lights are not easy to reconfigure in warehouses with continuous re-slotting

8. Voice Picking

Voice picking is another advanced warehouse order picking method where pickers are equipped with hands-free equipment for real-time instructions. The only thing they have to do is follow the voice instructions for item picking.

Voice-Picking

Some voice-enabled picking systems allow pickers to give feedback on completion of picking the right item or quantity.

Advantages:

  • Thanks to the hands-free method, pickers can work efficiently and effectively
  • RF scanners integration can further improve accuracy and productivity

Disadvantages:

  • Pickers need to wear headphones or a special vest throughout the day
  • Not suitable for warehouses with noisy background

9. Mobile and RF Scanner Picking

In mobile and RF-based warehouse picking methods, pickers are provided with hand-held devices for scanning each item before picking. These hand-held devices direct pickers to the item and pick the item in the right quantity.

Mobile-and-RF-Scanner-Picking

Pickers would scan the barcode of an item to pick and check if it belongs to the designated pick list. This method is designed to eliminate manual errors in warehouse order picking.

Advantages:

  • Eliminates the human error in picking
  • Improves accuracy of picking the right item
  • Increases overall productivity of order fulfilment

Disadvantages:

  • All products are required to have a unique barcode
  • The increased cost of implementation
  • Extra care is needed to protect barcodes from physical damage

C) Evolutionary Picking Methods

10. Robots for Order Picking

The use of robotic machines in warehouses can increase the efficiency of your order fulfilment process. They help automate the movement in the warehouse and assist pickers in their order-picking activities.

Robots-for-Order-Picking

Robots like automated guided vehicles, automated mobile robots, drones, etc. work in collaboration with the order management system to locate and retrieve SKUs.

Advantages:

  • Eliminates the need to walk around the warehouse for order picking
  • AI can further aid robots in providing optimised pick routes and tasks in real-time
  • Can work in collaboration with other picking methods

Disadvantages:

  • Very high implementation expenses
  • Increased maintenance costs
  • Less flexibility and ingenuity

11. Vertical Lift Modules

Vertical Lift Module is an automated storage and retrieval system comprising vertical trays with an inserter and extractor system. It’s a completely automated system to retrieve and deliver items to the picking window.

Incorporating such a system eliminates the need to walk down aisles for picking frequently ordered items. And if space permits, vertical storage space can go higher than your standard shelf heights.

Advantages:

  • Increase in productivity by 2X
  • Reduced human involvement
  • Improves overall warehouse operation and fulfilment

Disadvantages:

  • High implementation and maintenance costs
  • Not suited for storing heavy or bulky items

12. Smart Glasses

Smart glasses are a revolutionary tech that gave birth to ‘vision picking’ and is used by major carriers worldwide. It’s an evolutionary warehouse picking method compared to RF, voice and other picking methods.

Smart glasses enable pickers to view picking information within their field of view. They provide instructions to find items and scan barcodes right from glasses instead of using hand-held devices.

Advantages:

  • Higher productivity levels when combined with any traditional picking method
  • Improves pick rate and accuracy

Disadvantages:

  • Not ideal for small-scale warehouses
  • Longer employee training that leads to initial mis-picks and mis-ships in order picking

Warehouse Order Picking Best Practices

While every eCommerce and warehouse manager wants to get the most out of their order picking, certain practices help optimise the picking tasks. Here are some best practices for quick and accurate item picking:

  • Along with the right and suitable warehouse picking method, you also need the right picking equipment to enhance efficiency, safety, and automation.
  • Implement systems to track warehouse picking productivity and then tailor your order picking strategy.
  • Improve and optimise your warehouse periodically for efficient picking routes, storage locations, and equip new instruments.
  • Outsource your order fulfilment processes to a third-party logistics (3PL) partner for greater efficiency and accuracy in picking, packing, and shipping. 

Tips to Optimise the Order Picking Time

Since order picking is essential for successful order fulfilment, it is important to optimise the picking time. Here are some tips you can consider when preparing a pick list for optimised picking time:

Accurately Slot Products for Easy Picking

Product slotting and location have a high impact on the product picking time.

Thus, ensure the products are not placed in the wrong slot or location to not slow down the productivity of picker staff.

Select a Suitable Method that Reduces the Picking Time

The picking method has a great influence on the time taken for picking items and sending them for sorting and dispatch.

Use a suitable method as described above and even try some advanced methods for the optimal picking time.

Train Staff for a Better Understanding of Pick List

The product picking efficiency can go down if the picker staff don't know how to read or understand it to pick the right product.

Train the staff on what each aspect of the pick list is and how to identify the correct product.

Create Hot Pick Zones for Faster Picking

Consider creating hot pick zones that only contain top-selling SKUs and are located as near and advantageous positions as possible to facilitate quicker picking.

This reduces travel time significantly for pickers and minimises labour expenses.

Boost Staff Motivation with Incentives

Since picking is a labour-intensive task, it requires the manpower involved in picking to work extremely hard for long hours.

Thus, consider rewarding them with incentives apart from their regular wages to boost their motivation for work.

Change the Product Location as Per the Seasons

Demand for certain products increases or decreases depending on the current season.

Thus, practice keeping products that are high in demand in a particular season together for easy picking.

Stack Products that Go in the Same Combo

Products that go along and are often ordered together, or are listed as a product kit on your website must be stacked together.

This will allow pickers to collect the product combo efficiently without roaming too much in the warehouse.

Final Thoughts

Here, we have provided you with a guide on the best warehouse picking methods that help you streamline your product delivery process. Select the method based on factors like the type of warehouse, frequency of orders, skill sets & number of pickers, etc.

Order picking is one of the vital facets of order fulfilment that also affects several other aspects like order packing and shipping. While it's crucial to select the right picking methods, taking care of your shipping processes is equally important.

So if you want a comprehensive order fulfilment solution, consider working with a fulfilment partner like PACK & SEND.  We’ll be able to help you with all your order fulfilment requirements with our vast network and logistical expertise. 

Post by Topic