What is a pick list? Picking List Definition and Best Practices

A pick list is a vital part of the order fulfillment process. But what is a picking list, how is it used, and what goes on it?

Any company that sells a physical product to a customer from an online store (aka, eCommerce businesses) must have a way to gather the items on each order and get these from the warehouse into shipping and to the customer. This process of taking an order and sending it to the customer is order fulfillment and a pick list is one component in that process.

Order picking is the part of that process (pick pack and ship) where the seller must gather items from the warehouse shelves for an order. Pick lists are a vital part of this process to ensure an accurate order fulfillment process. Without them, warehouse employees would not know what type or number of products to pick for orders.

In this article, we examine what a pick list is, and how to best put one into practice in your picking process.

A warehouse worker using a printed pick list

Table of Contents

What is a pick List?

A pick list is a document that contains all the necessary information for gathering items on a customer’s order. The pick list enables warehouse picker teams to find the appropriate location, quantity, and other pertinent information for each order. With this information, pickers can move these items onto the packing phase of the order fulfillment process. Pick lists sometimes carry the label of “picking list” or “pick tickets”.

A warehouse worker checks a printed pick list

What information goes in a pick list?

The pick list should have several key bits of information to effectively process every customer order. This information may vary from one operation to the other, but the following list is an overview of the various components that may go on a pick list. From this, you can decide which elements may work well for your order fulfillment process.

Order Number

Arguably, the most important part of a picking list is how it identifies which order and therefore which customer it is belongs to. Without the order number information, none of the other information matters.

Each order should have a unique number assigned to it. This order number must go into the pick list so that as it is processed, all the components and steps in the fulfillment are associated to the appropriate customer.

Product Details

Next to the order number, the details of the products or items on the order is most important picking list component. Obviously, without the list of items, the picker cannot gather all the necessary parts to fulfill the order. Here are all the elements that should be present in the picking list product details:

  1. SKU
    Stock keeping units (SKUs) are extremely important for the pick list, especially for products that are identical in size. The SKU number is how a picker identifies the items that go with an order. A picking list must have the SKU number listed for each product in the order.
  2. Barcodes
    The barcode is the way in which fulfillment operations digitally track steps in the pick pack and ship process. This is useful for automatically entering information about the process performed with each scan into a WMS system. These steps include documenting when, where, and what items are picked, and which order they belong to.
  3. Warehouse Location
    It’s helpful for the picking team to have the location of the listed SKUs on the pick list. This makes the overall order picking operation much faster. This is because pickers don’t have to rely upon memory or knowledge about the location of certain items. Including warehouse location in the pick list is more and more important as the size and scale of the operation increases.
  4. Quantity
    The quantity of items per SKU is necessary information for any picking list. In order for your order fulfillment to be error free, your pickers must know how many of each item in an order they should be picking. Picking lists should include this information on the same line as each unique item in the order.
  5. Picture of the Item (optional)
    Depending on the type of operation you run, it may help to include a picture of each item in the pick list. Although this is not usually necessary, it may help pickers find particular items if they are identifiable by their shape. Alternatively, including a picture of the item may also function as a secondary quality check for a picker in the field.
  6. Unit Size and Weight (optional)
    Another helpful data point for a pick list is the weights and dims of the items on the order. While not always necessary, sometimes this information can enable a picker the ability to decide what equipment may be necessary to complete the order picking operation ahead of time. If there are large or bulky items, the picker can prepare by taking a forklift, cart, or other equipment to the picking location. In addition, this may also serve as a QC step in the picking process and help keep your order fulfillment error free.

The Date and Time of the Order

An essential order data point for many picking operations to include on pick lists is the date and time associated with an order. This may include the timestamp for when the order was placed, and the due date for when the items must be picked. Order date and time is useful when you have different SLAs (service level agreement) for customers based on how quickly they need you to fulfill customer orders.

Customer Information

Sometimes it’s necessary to have the customer information visible on the picking list. However, customer information is usually only needed when the packing team manually pulls orders by ID. If you use barcodes or a completely digital system (with iPads or other devices) the packing information should automatically transfer with no need for visibility of the customer’s information.

A warehouse worker using a laptop to view order fulfillment information

2 Types of Pick Lists

While there are certainly more than 2 types of picking methods, pick lists are either grouped or discrete. The type of pick list you use is driven by your picking method.

Group (Batch) Pick Lists

If your picking method is batch picking or zone picking, picking lists group together to minimize travel time per pick. Your pickers may receive several picking lists at a time which they will need to gather in the same trip.

Alternatively, if you employ a sequential zone picking method, pickers receive a single picking list with items from multiple orders. This is usually from a warehouse management system (WMS) in which lists are generated automatically.

Discrete Pick Lists

A discrete picking list has only one order per document, and the picker must retrieve each order’s items individually.

2 Types of Picking Operations

There are two ways in which pick lists are managed. These are the traditional physical pick lists and digital pick lists.

Digital Pick List

Digital pick lists are generated automatically but never exist on physical paper. Instead, warehouse staff utilize mobile scanners and tablets for completing picking tasks. The benefit of a digital system is that it doesn’t require as much waste. The inventory management is unified in the same system that automatically tracks the picking. This allows the company to use the software for immediate view and status of each picking list.

Physical Pick List

Physical pick lists may also generate automatically from a warehouse management system. However, a WMS has no visibility into the status of an order until its manual entry into the system. If your business has quite a decent order volume, a physical pick list method of operation may slow you down.

A warehouse worker using a digital pick list

Conclusion: Picking Lists

If you run or work with eCommerce businesses, hopefully understanding of pick lists utility and creation has grown. Implementing a good picking list can create a simpler and more streamlined way to do order fulfillment. Remember, never assume that your method of inventory management or order volume will stay the same. You should plan for the most efficient way of operating with the least amount of errors possible.

Pick List FAQ

You can make a pick list by investing in a good WMS. This is the best way to generate pick lists that have the information you need. However, you can also create a pick list with an excel template if you are not ready for a WMS. Be aware, that this manual way of fulfillment introduces the possibility for more errors and definitely takes longer.

A pick list in a warehouse is the document that contains all the information necessary for a warehouse worker to collect the appropriate items on a customer’s order.

The purpose of a pick list is to create a streamlined way for warehouse workers to gather items for customer orders in volume with minimal errors and wasted time.

A picking list and packing list are two different documents for order fulfillment and inbound receiving of materials. Picking lists are for collecting items in a customer’s order before packing and shipping. Packing lists, however, go with the order to the customer’s location. The packing lists shows a list of all items that should pack in the box.

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