1. Introduction to Order Picking in eCommerce
Warehouses are a crucial part of the e-commerce ecosystem. With delivery speed becoming crucial for customer satisfaction, the order picking methods adopted by warehouses play an important role in the company's growth.
Order picking methods involve using different operational strategies to complete the first step of the order fulfillment process. The order picking strategies are an amalgamation of WMS, technologies, and automation. With an optimized order picking strategy, warehouses can achieve faster and more accurate delivery of orders.
2. What is Order Picking?
Order picking is the process of retrieving inventory or a specific number of products from the warehouse to fulfill individual customer orders. The order-picking process is the first step in order fulfillment. It impacts delivery time and order fulfillment accuracy.
Order picking is a labor-intensive process. The individuals who retrieve the items from the shelves are generally known as pickers. The speed and accuracy of these pickers can make or break the supply chain of an e-commerce business.
Earlier, the warehouses had to rely on the skill sets of these pickers to improvise and accelerate their order fulfillment process. But, with technological advancements, e-commerce businesses have significantly improved in accelerating the order-picking process.
Nowadays, warehouses and fulfillment centers use high-technology equipment and picking methods to optimize eCommerce order picking. Robotics, automation, RF scanners, and software dedicated to expertly managing inventory have greatly perfected order picking. Still, the use of different order-picking methods continues to remain popular.
The reason entrepreneurs and warehouses put so much attention to picking methods and developing a system prevails largely on their benefits:
- An effecient order picking system reduces warehouse costs by limiting labor-intensive processes.
- Automated picking lists can group orders intelligently and assign them to pickers for faster fulfillment, saving both time and cost.
- Order picking determines order accuracy rate, an important KPI of customer satisfaction. So, investing in an order picking system can enhance customer lifetime value by ensuring picking accuracy.
- An effective picking system ensures pickers can work smoothly, reducing picking errors and boosting speed.
Now that we understand the value of order picking strategies let’s look at the best order-picking methods in e-commerce. We have listed a blend of prevalent and advanced picking methods that have proven to help optimize the order fulfillment process.
3. Top 10 Order Picking Methods for eCommerce
Delivery speed is a major contributor to customer satisfaction in online business. Therefore, e-commerce companies constantly develop new order-picking strategies to optimize their order fulfillment process.
Picking methods can be classified into two broad categories based on the techniques adopted to optimize warehouse operations. The prevalent methods are commonplace in warehouse management that save travel time and effort.
3.1) Prevalent Methods
The picking methods listed below usually optimize warehouse operations through different techniques. These methods' main focus is ensuring that labor power and warehouse resources are utilized efficiently. Some of the most prevalent order picking methods for eCommerce fulfillment are:
3.2) Single Order Picking
The single order picking method is one of the most popular methods employed in warehouses and fulfillment centers. In this 'discrete' method, a picker retrieves SKUs from the warehouse shelves to fulfill a single order at a time.
This is one of the simplest methods which suits warehouses that handle low volumes of orders with a few items on the shelves. Pickers usually follow a picking list with a single SKU, reducing the chances of mix-ups. However, it suffers from the disadvantage of the massive increase in travel time across the warehouse.
3.3) Batch Picking
Batch Picking involves retrieving SKUs in bulk to fulfill multiple orders simultaneously. Typically used in warehouses stocking the same SKUs, the method is designed to reduce travel time and speed up the fulfillment process.
Alternately, batch picking is also known as a multi-order picking method, where SKUs are categorized into different batches. A single picker is assigned to retrieve similar or unique SKUs featured in each batch. Usually, they use a bin, cart, or tote.
Though this method eliminates the need to repeat picking the same item repeatedly, it is only feasible for small item SKUs. Batch picking of heavy objects is cumbersome. The process can be streamlined by utilizing an Order Management System that can intelligently create product bundles and batches and determine picking routes.
3.4) Multi-Batch Order Picking
Multi-batch order picking method is used in large warehouses where the pickers retrieve multiple SKUs for multiple orders simultaneously. The system is designed to reduce the overall travel time as multiple orders are fulfilled in one trip. The workers use multi-tier picking carts to retrieve multiple SKUs for different orders simultaneously.
3.5) Zone Picking
This method divides the warehouse into zones by categorizing its inventory with dedicated workers assigned in each zone. Each picker gets a consolidated pickup list for items within the zone. Once all the SKUs are retrieved from the particular zone for an order, the order container is passed to the following zone for other SKUs.
The process is repeated until all the items in the order are retrieved. This method is useful in warehouses that handle high volumes of inventory. By demarcating zones housing specific SKUs, zone picking tackles the problem of picker congestion. Moreover, it is methodical and can resemble an assembly line combining other methods like order consolidation.
3.6) Wave Picking
Wave-picking is another popular warehouse order picking method. One can think of it as a blend of the zone and batch-picking methods. The method is especially useful for handling multiple high-volume orders. Here, warehouses create a schedule to fulfill orders in waves throughout the day.
The orders are grouped into waves according to various factors. The pickers retrieve multiple SKUs from multiple zones and are sorted into individual shipments.
The goal is to fulfill certain orders or batches of similar products and pick them up during a specific timeframe to coordinate the rest of the shipping activity. For example, when warehouses fulfill same-day deliveries. A cluster of orders is picked first to suit the time frame when a carrier comes to pick them up at a certain hour for a certain region.
The advantage of wave picking is that it streamlines all warehouse operations, easing business operations. However, you will require an OMS or a WMS to create schedules and maintain order. This can be an added cost for some.
3.7) Cluster Picking
The Cluster Picking method used sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems to optimize and assign multiple orders to a picker. The picker goes around the warehouse to retrieve the SKUs and places them in separate bins and bags according to the order, eliminating the need for sorting.
Cluster picking typically requires technological equipment like mobile-held computers or a wearable barcode scanner. These devices ensure that picking multiple orders have accuracy and speed. Some warehouses also use vertical lift modules or vertical carousel modules for a mechanized picking schedule.
3.8) Advanced Methods
Although the traditional methods optimize the order-picking process, these methods are not without their limitations. They depend heavily on the pickers to find and retrieve SKUs from the warehouse shelves.
To tackle time and accuracy constraints and further optimize the process, e-commerce businesses rely on technology to streamline the order-picking process.
3.9) Pick To Light
The Pick To Light system uses the barcode scanners and the information stored to light up the relevant LEDs on the warehouse shelves. The pickers then follow these LEDs to retrieve the SKUs for the individual order. The method allows pickers to find the items quicker and avoid manual errors while identifying the correct SKUs.
The Pick-to-light systems are easy to integrate, and the workers can learn to use the systems in about 30-45 minutes. Along with optimizing warehouse operations, these systems can also help reduce the operational cost of the warehouse to a great extent.
3.10) Voice Picking
The Voice Picking method uses an order management system to dictate the picklist to the pickers using wireless headphones. The picker issues a verbal confirmation once the order pickup process has been completed. The audio communication allows the pickers to receive clearer instructions and speed up the picking process without compromising accuracy.
These systems particularly come in handy when the workers have to operate heavy machinery or carry larger items. With the hands-free approach of the system, it creates a safer work environment while improving operational efficiency.
3.11) Mobile Scanner Based Picking
The Mobile Scanner-Based Picking method is designed to avoid manual errors in the order-picking process. For this method to be implemented, each item in the warehouse must have a unique barcode.
The pickers use mobile scanners that display the pickup list as well as the location of the SKU. Once the item is retrieved from the shelves, the workers must scan the barcode to check if the product is on the list.
The error-detection feature of the system allows for improving the accuracy of the order-picking process. The method can be further optimized by using a Warehouse Management System to optimize pick-up routes to reduce travel time.
3.12) Collaborative Mobile Robots
The use of Robots in the warehouse has significantly increased the efficiency of the order fulfillment systems. The robots in the warehouse are generally used to automate the movement around the warehouse and assist in order-picking activities. The robots receive a pick-up location from the order management system.
The worker then places the SKU retrieved from the shelves into the bin or container of the robot. Therefore, the robot eliminates the need to walk around the warehouse manually.
With the help of artificial intelligence, these robots can also optimize pick-up routes and tasks in real-time. They can also be programmed to work with the existing order pick-up methods in the warehouse.
Choosing the best order-picking process that suits your operational needs is very important. Order management and fulfillment are the backbones of every e-commerce business.
With the integration of advanced technologies in the Order Picking process, these businesses can optimize their entire supply chain operations to enhance their customer experience. Using suitable order-picking methods will also allow for faster deliveries and fewer wrong orders.
The method that is chosen should be compatible with the future goals of the companies as well as the automation technologies. These technologies will reduce manual labor costs and increase your warehouse's accuracy and efficiency.
Automation technologies also allow you to scale your operations at an accelerated rate without worrying about the increased pressure on supply chain operations.
5.1) How to optimize the order-picking method?
Order picking is the collective effort of both the pickers and the technology they employ. For an optimized order-picking system, it is inevitable that you build a strategy that focuses on both.
First, find ways to make picking easy. Sort and store the SKUs in racks, totes, or bins and label them accurately. This saves time for the picker and increases the picking accuracy.
Second, you can ensure that travel time is reduced by utilizing technologies. Whether VLMs or vertical carousels, automation reduces the clumsiness of static shelving.
Third, focus on replenishing stock, especially items that are popular and frequently in demand. Fourth, design and designate zones carefully so that high-volume inventories are kept close.
Fifth, designating and setting KPIs will allow you to set a benchmark for the warehouse order-picking process and look into areas of improvement.
5.2) How to choose the right warehouse order-picking method?
Order picking is innately related to a business' warehouse setup and order volume. There isn’t a particular method that will fit all business sizes and types.
Start with examining certain factors like order volume, SKU sizes, weight, inventory, labor force, and technologies. Henceforth, you can decide on the type of order picking that suits your present condition.
Typically, single-order and batch-picking are methods that are used by most businesses effectively. But, as you scale, you can move towards advanced methods like wave picking, adding technologies like voice picking for greater efficiency.