The Ultimate Guide to Warehouse Order Picking

Learn about the process of order picking and the critical components that can make or break it, plus the different types of order picking.

With the rise of e-commerce, the role of warehouse operations has taken center stage in fulfilling customer orders. At the heart of these operations is order picking, a critical process that can make or break the efficiency and profitability of a warehouse. But what is order picking, and why is it so important?

warehouse workers pushing carts with boxes on them
Table of Contents

What is Order Picking?

Order picking is the process of selecting specific items from the inventory to fulfill a customer order. It involves locating the right items, in the correct quantities, and preparing them for shipping. To facilitate this process, a tool called a pick list is often used, which you can learn more about here: What is a Pick List? The aim of order picking is to ensure that the right goods get to the right customer in a timely fashion. Warehouse order picking is, thus, an essential cog in the larger warehouse operation, connecting the storage of goods to the final delivery to customers. Get started with learning about the ins and outs of warehouse operations for a more comprehensive understanding.

Why is a Warehouse Order Picking System Important?

Implementing a well-designed order picking system has several key advantages. Here are the benefits of an efficient order picking process:

  1. Reduces Warehouse Costs: Efficient order picking can reduce operational costs in a warehouse. By improving the picking process, warehouses can maximize the use of their space and labor, leading to cost savings.
  2. Reduces Errors: Accuracy is vital in the order picking process. A systematic approach to order picking minimizes mistakes, leading to fewer returns and re-shipments.
  3. Improves Customer Satisfaction: Accurate and timely fulfillment of orders directly influences customer satisfaction. An effective order picking system can ensure customers receive their orders on time, increasing their satisfaction and loyalty.
  4. Offers Convenience and Easier Workload: A well-implemented order picking system can simplify the work of pickers, reduce their workload, and increase their productivity.

Types of Order Picking

Order picking methods significantly vary in terms of complexity, cost, and suitability for diverse types of warehouses. Below, we delve into several commonly utilized types, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each method, along with identifying the types of warehouses they are most appropriate for.

Batch Picking

Batch picking is a method that focuses on simultaneously picking multiple orders. This approach seeks to decrease the time spent travelling around the warehouse.

The advantages of batch picking lie in its ability to significantly reduce travel time around the warehouse and its potential to increase productivity by consolidating picking efforts. This method often yields greater efficiency and speed, particularly when a large volume of orders contain similar items.

However, batch picking also brings about its own set of challenges. The process necessitates a well-organized inventory system to ensure the right items are picked for the right orders. Without such a system, batch picking can potentially lead to confusion and result in order inaccuracies. Additionally, if not managed effectively, batch picking can make tracking individual order progress more difficult.

Batch picking typically serves small to medium-sized warehouses well, particularly when there is a high number of similar orders.

Zone Picking

In zone picking, the warehouse is divided into distinct zones, and each picker is allocated a specific zone from which they pick all the items for an order.

Zone order picking shines in its ability to enhance picker productivity, as workers are more familiar with their designated zones. It also reduces congestion in the warehouse, as each picker operates within their own area, reducing traffic and potential collisions.

On the downside, zone picking requires a sophisticated warehouse management system capable of directing and coordinating pickers across different zones. It may also require order consolidation, as orders with items in multiple zones will need to be brought together before shipment. This can add an extra step to the process and potentially slow down order fulfillment.

Zone picking is most advantageous for large warehouses that process high volumes of orders.

Pick and Pass

Also known as the “pick-pack-ship” system, pick and pass is a variant of zone picking. In this system, orders are passed from one zone to the next until the order is fully picked.

The strengths of the pick and pass system are evident in its high picking efficiency and reduction in picker travel time, as each worker stays within their designated zone.

Nonetheless, the pick and pass method requires a sophisticated tracking system to keep track of orders as they move through various zones. Additionally, the system could face delays if one zone becomes a bottleneck, as orders cannot be completed until they have moved through all necessary zones.

Pick and Pass is a fitting choice for large, complex warehouses that deal with a high volume of diverse orders.

an order picking warehouse

Wave Picking

Wave picking combines elements of zone and batch picking. With wave picking, orders are grouped into waves based on specific criteria such as delivery route or shipping carrier.

Wave picking can boost picker productivity by allowing them to focus on a specific wave of orders at a time. It also allows for efficient scheduling of pickers and dock activities based on the grouping of the waves.

However, wave picking requires advanced planning and may necessitate order consolidation, much like zone picking. The need for careful coordination and planning can potentially make this method less flexible in responding to changes or last-minute orders.

Wave picking proves to be suitable for large warehouses dealing with diverse orders and multiple shipping routes.

Single Order Picking (Discrete Picking)

Single order picking, or discrete picking, involves picking one order at a time. This method is the simplest form of order picking.

The advantages of discrete picking include its simplicity and high order accuracy. It’s easy to track and manage and reduces the chance of order mixing.

However, the method’s simplicity can also be a disadvantage. Discrete picking can result in low productivity and high travel time for pickers, especially in larger warehouses, as pickers need to travel around the warehouse for each order.

Discrete picking is typically best for small warehouses dealing with a lower volume of orders.

Cluster Picking

Cluster picking involves picking multiple orders at once using a multi-tote cart.

The advantages of cluster picking are that it reduces travel time and provides high picking efficiency by allowing a picker to fulfill several orders on a single trip.

Despite its strengths, cluster picking requires a complex warehouse management system capable of managing and coordinating the picking process for multiple orders at once. Additionally, there is a risk of order mixing if the picker or the management system confuses items from different orders.

Cluster picking is most beneficial for medium to large warehouses that deal with high order volumes.

Case Picking

Case picking involves picking and moving entire cases of goods instead of individual items, making it an ideal method for bulk orders. It’s a strategy that can dramatically increase efficiency in scenarios where customers are ordering products in large quantities. You can learn more about this method from this detailed blog post.

a warehouse order picking system

Tips for Choosing an Order Picking System

Choosing the right order picking system can be a complex task. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:

  1. Consider the size of your warehouse and inventory: Larger warehouses may benefit from more complex systems like zone or wave picking, while smaller warehouses might find discrete or batch picking more suitable.
  2. Think about your number of pickers: If you have a large number of pickers, zone picking or pick and pass systems can help manage the workflow better.
  3. Analyze your data: Understand your order profiles, peak periods, and bottlenecks to select a system that best addresses your needs.
  4. Consider combining multiple systems: In some cases, a combination of different picking systems may yield the best results.
  5. Explore automation options: If your budget allows, consider automated picking systems for increased efficiency and accuracy.

Why it's Important to Choose the Right Order Picking System?

The importance of selecting an appropriate order picking system cannot be overstated, as it forms the backbone of your warehouse efficiency, operational costs, and ultimately, your level of customer satisfaction. A system that doesn’t align with your warehouse’s needs or operational structure can cause a cascade of issues, including inflated costs, increased errors, and unnecessary delays. These repercussions can not only strain your internal resources but also impact your reputation among customers, potentially causing dissatisfaction and loss of business.

Conversely, a thoughtfully chosen and effectively implemented order picking system can revolutionize your operations. By enhancing efficiency, reducing errors, and streamlining the picking process, you can optimize costs and resources. The ripple effects of these benefits extend to your customers, translating into prompt deliveries, accurate orders, and heightened customer satisfaction, which invariably strengthens your brand’s reputation.

In conclusion, warehouse order picking is not merely an operational aspect of your warehouse – it’s a critical strategy that shapes your overall business performance and customer experience. Deep understanding and careful analysis of what order picking involves, the various methods available, and the key considerations when choosing a system, can markedly improve your warehouse operations and broader business outcomes.

For more insights and strategies to further augment your order picking efficiency, refer to this comprehensive blog post. For tailored solutions and a professional assessment of your warehouse needs, feel free to get in touch with us. Our experts are dedicated to guiding you towards the optimal warehouse solutions that best suit your unique requirements.

Need warehousing help?

Let AMS’ Warehouse Services Do It for You

Related Content

Looking for a warehouse partner?
Trust our classic customer service.

There was a time when businesses revolved centrally around the customer and their needs. Decisions were made based on what is best for the customer first. People did what they said they would, and jobs were completed on time. AMS carries on the tradition of customer service today.