7 Warehouse Picking Strategies to Improve Efficiency

Warehouse picking is an important part of any eCommerce business that is big enough that you have to store products in a fulfillment facility. Your goal is to choose the most efficient method for your warehouse picking process. Factors to consider include optimization of safety for warehouse workers and warehouse managers and increasing warehouse efficiency to reduce operating costs.

Warehouse Picking Strategies

There is not one single best warehouse picking strategy for every business or every warehouse.  For some types of products, such as perishable or nonperishable foods, it makes sense to use a first in, first out (FIFO) strategy to reduce waste, with the caveat that the warehouse pickers check the expiration dates on the food packages and ensure that the product will reach the customer before the expiration date. Last in, first out (LIFO) could be a better strategy if the products are not food and if the product line changes quickly, with new products being the most popular.

What Is Warehouse Order Picking?

Warehouse order picking is the same thing as order fulfillment or product fulfillment. It is where warehouse workers, with the help of technology, find the items requested in a customer’s order in the warehouse and prepare them for their trip to the customer.

Why Is a Warehouse Order Picking System Important?

Choosing the best picking methods has a major impact on supply chain logistics. When you organize your warehouse so that warehouse workers do not have to travel to different areas and zones to find the pallets they need, the order fulfillment process goes much more quickly.

Makes Pickers’ Jobs Easier

A well-thought-out order picking system makes warehouse workers more productive and improves worker morale. It is also safer. When workers are not going back and forth between different areas in the warehouse, there are fewer possibilities for accidents and injuries.

Improves Customer Satisfaction

The less time it takes warehouse pickers to find the pallets they need, the sooner the products can leave the warehouse and continue their journey to the customer. The fewer steps the warehouse has to go through to ship the products, the less expensive the shipping is for the customer. Competitive shipping costs are important to the success of any eCommerce business.

Reduces Warehouse Costs

The benefits of an efficient warehouse picking system are obvious for businesses that have their own warehouses. If you use efficient picking methods, you will be able to fulfill orders quickly with fewer errors.

The 7 Top Warehouse Picking Strategies

These are the seven most popular picking methods in the order fulfillment process. Which method you should choose varies according to the layout of your warehouse and the types of products you ship.

1. Zone Picking

Zone picking is a popular picking strategy. To implement this picking method, you must divide the warehouse into zones and dedicate each zone to a certain category of products. Items that customers often order together should be near each other in the same zone. For example, mouthwash should go in the oral care zone, because customers often order it with toothpaste and dental floss. It should not be in the “liquids in plastic bottles” zone, because customers do not typically order mouthwash in combination with pancake syrup and salad dressing.

2. Batch Picking

Batch picking is a practical picking strategy for large warehouses. The warehouse managers assign a group of similar orders to a given employee for a given day. The effect is that each employee spends most of the day within one zone or within several adjacent zones.

3. Discrete Picking

Discrete picking is a great way to reduce errors if you have a small warehouse with a limited number of SKUs. A warehouse employee just goes through the list of items in the order and picks them one by one, even if it means traveling among different areas of the warehouse in a non-linear way. It is efficient and error-proof because human workers find it intuitive, like following a grocery shopping list.

4. Wave Picking

In the wave picking method, an employee might be assigned to pick items from many different zones to fulfill all of his or her orders for the day. In wave picking, however, the management divides the day into “waves,” which are time slots during which certain employees are in certain zones. If Brenda is assigned to zone A from 9:00 until 10:30, she picks all of her zone A items for all of her assigned orders for the day during that time slot. Then she goes to zone B during the next wave and gets all of the day’s zone B items. This method is efficient because it reduces travel and errors. At the end of a wave, warehouse workers can double-check their lists to ensure they have picked all the necessary items from the relevant zone.

5. Zone-Batch Picking

This order picking process is a combination of zone picking and batch picking. The warehouse managers divide the warehouse into zones. They also base each employee’s daily assignments on limiting that employee’s movement among zones during his or her shift.

6. Zone-Wave Picking

This fulfillment method is a combination of zone picking and wave picking. The management divides the warehouse into zones. They also assign each worker to spend certain time blocks throughout the day in certain zones.

7. Zone-Batch-Wave Picking

This warehouse picking strategy combines the zone method, the batch method, and the wave method. The warehouse has different zones for different items. The workers can go to different zones at different times of the day if their orders require this. Meanwhile, in any given shift, some workers are assigned to fulfill orders where all the items are in the same zone.

Warehouse Picking Efficiency Best Practices

Choosing an efficient picking strategy is just one of the ways that you can improve the efficiency of your warehouse and your entire supply chain. Your choice of technology and the instructions you give to workers for implementing your chosen strategy also make a difference. Efficient management of a warehouse comes down to choosing the best strategies for managing time, space, and resources.

Use the Right Tools

Using the right technology makes the order fulfillment process more effective. For example, devices that respond to voice commands can help employees find their items quickly and keep their eyes focused on one piece of equipment at a time. You should also provide multiple ways for employees to enter SKU numbers, in case one method experiences a glitch.

Did you know that faulty equipment contributes to a large share of workplace accidents? Proper maintenance of pallets, forklifts and other pieces of equipment in the warehouse can prevent injuries that lead to costly workers’ compensation claims and, in severe cases, to OSHA fines.  When you revisit your picking strategy, also be sure to inspect your warehouse equipment.

Set Productivity Goals

Goal setting has clear advantages in every industry, including warehouse fulfillment. Setting productivity goals for individual employees can help the entire warehouse perform more efficiently. Setting unattainable goals makes worker morale worse. Collect data to see how many items, on average, one employee can retrieve from one zone during one wave. If it is less than you had hoped, the solution could be to change the layout of the zone or even the length of the waves. Productivity should not just be a buzzword; managers should facilitate worker productivity instead of just bossing their employees around.

Minimize Walking Time by Optimizing Warehouse Layout

The warehouse layout is one of the factors that can reduce travel time and increase fulfillment speed. Another factor is the picking strategy you use, such as zone picking or batch picking.

Strategically Place Frequently Picked SKUs

The most frequently picked SKUs should be in easily accessible locations. This way, workers can reach them quickly, and the workers who replace the empty pallets of these products will not have to get past a lot of other pallets to replace them.

Key Takeaways

Warehouse logistics requires a lot of planning. Choosing the right layout for your warehouse and the right picking method can help you fulfill the greatest possible number of orders accurately and safely.

Warehouse Picking Strategies FAQs

These are some common questions that warehouse managers ask about warehouse picking methods and the benefits of each method.

How Can I Improve My Pick Rate?

You can improve your pick rate by setting up an error-proof layout in each zone. This way, employees in that zone can quickly learn which items are where.

What is the Most Efficient Order Picking?

Discrete picking is most practical for small warehouses with a limited inventory. Larger warehouses should use zone picking, batch picking, wave picking, or some combination of these.

How Do You Pick and Pack Faster?

Picking and packing quickly takes practice. It also helps to have the most efficient warehouse picking method for your fulfillment center.

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