Picking and packing play a key role in your order fulfillment process. While they may seem simple and straightforward at first, the truth is that picking and packing quickly becomes complicated as your business grows.
Proper picking and packing is the first and foremost requirement of a sound order-fulfillment strategy. Improving order fulfillment enables you to increase sales, boost customer satisfaction, and optimize your workflow.
A well-thought-out inventory management strategy will also allow you to complete orders quickly and cost-effectively. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different picking and packing methods used by e-commerce businesses. The information will help you decide which approach best fits your specific needs.
What Is Picking and Packing?
When a warehousing facility receives a customer order, warehouse staff initiate picking and packing processes. They use an auto-generated packing slip to locate each product in the warehouse and determine how much of it is required, i.e. product quantity.
Packing involves putting items into boxes – along with packing materials, inserts, or product documentation – after which it’s sent to the packing station to be labeled and readied for shipment. Optimizing your picking and packing can help you minimize fulfillment costs and increase the efficiency of your warehouse staff.
Of course, you also need to ensure that items don’t get damaged during handling. For this reason, it’s essential to use the right-sized box to pack products. Doing so will also help you keep your shipping costs low. Similarly, you’ll also benefit from using a warehouse management system to track and manage customer orders effectively.
Whether you handle your warehousing and logistics operations in house or have outsourced them to a 3PL service provider, the core aspects of the picking, packing, and shipping process is similar – regardless of the type of products you offer.
Receiving the order. Most e-commerce businesses use multiple sales channels to sell their products, including online stores, affiliate sites, social media sites, email, and comparison engines. Orders placed at these channels are sent to your warehousing facility where order fulfillment software generates a packing slip.
Picking the order. In this phase, the warehouse workers locate and select the items specified in the packing lists from different locations in the storage facility. It is the most crucial step of your order fulfillment process. You need to make sure the pick and pack approach you use meets the specific needs and requirements of your business.
Packing the order. In the final stage in your pick-pack-ship service, the picked items are packed. Workers move the items to packing stations where they are properly packed and labeled ready to be sent for shipment.
Now that you know what picking and packing are let’s look at some of the different picking and packing methods used by e-commerce businesses.
4 Pick and Pack Methods
Managing your warehousing operations involves improving your order fulfillment process. By choosing the right picking and packing approach, you’ll be able to optimize fulfillment operations, increase efficiency, and complete orders efficiently.
#1: Piece Picking
Piece picking is one of the most widely used picking and packing methods. It can easily be carried out and is the perfect option for small online businesses that don’t receive a large number of orders daily.
In piece picking, your fulfillment staff will pick products from the warehouse for a single order at a time. Once they’ve collected every item mentioned on the packing slip, the items are sent to the packing station for the orders to be packed and moved out for shipment.
If you handle your warehousing operations internally, your staff will collect the items of an order as soon as it’s received, pack them, and wait for the next order. While small merchants commonly use it, piece picking isn’t the most efficient or most productive way to pick and pack. As a result, this method can’t be used to execute large scale order fulfillment.
#2: Zone Picking
Zone picking is a popular (and efficient) approach to picking and packing, which is used primarily by large scale e-commerce businesses that have complex warehouse layouts. As the name suggests, it involves assigning picking staff to different zones in the warehouse.
When customer orders reach the warehouse, each picker finds the item mentioned in the packing slip located in their zone, picks it, and sends it to the pickers in the next zone. The chain continues until all orders in the packing slip are complete. Then the collected items are moved to the packing station.
This approach requires a significant amount of control, coordination, and access to warehouse software to ensure error-free order fulfillment.
Zone picking is different from other pick pack methods because it focuses heavily on the efficiency of warehouse staff working in different parts of the facility. In simple words, workers in a zone will only have to pick and pack items located in their zones, and the same approach is adopted by staff in other zones.
The goal of zone picking is to improve the efficiency of the whole pick and pack process, which makes it an ideal option for large-scale operations but not the right fit for small businesses.
#3: Batch Picking
This approach involves picking customer orders in batches and sending them to the packing stations all at the same time. This method requires pickers to go around the storage facility most efficiently and complete multiple orders simultaneously.
Batch picking is independent of the scale of your business. The end goal is to increase productivity and help staff focus on the bigger picture right from the start.
It’s easily the most efficient and cost-effective way to pick and pack orders. It also makes for a great way to simplify order fulfillment if you handle fulfillment operations in-house. While piece picking doesn’t fit the needs of large businesses, this approach takes individual items into account instead of the entire order listed in the packing slip. Because of this, your warehouse workers don’t need to make unnecessary trips around the storage facility repeatedly,
Although batch picking is great for completing just about any type of order, it isn’t the best possible solution when it comes to picking large or heavy packages or orders with many SKUs.
#4: Wave Picking
Wave picking is the perfect pick and pack method for fulfilling orders because it brings with it the productivity and efficiency of batch packing while incorporating order assignment as is done in zone picking.
In this method, the warehouse staff picks all the items in batches simultaneously located in their zones. After selecting the ordered items, they’ll move them to the following zone staff who will repeat the same cycle. They continue the process until every item specified in a batch is picked. Then workers send the items to the packing station.
Wave picking has a lot to do with the way customer orders are organized for picking and packing. Similar orders will be included in the same batch and are completed during scheduled periods (or waves).
Orders can be grouped based on:
Delivery deadlines i.e., when the order needs to be shipped.
Items stored nearby each other in the warehousing facility.
Similar SKUs commonly ordered together.
This approach can be useful regardless of the size of the business but is particularly ideal for large companies that receive high order volumes daily.
Picking and packing play a crucial role in your order fulfillment process. Identifying the approach that best meets your specific needs will enable you to increase the efficiency of your warehouse staff, fulfill orders in a timely and cost-effective manner, and improve customer satisfaction.
Do you handle warehousing and order fulfillment operations in-house? If so, which pick and pack method are you leaning toward and why? Let us know by commenting below.