Take Your Pick: Which picking strategy is right for you?

 In Best Practices, Inventory Management

What picking strategy should you use?

The right picking strategy for your warehouse can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the way your business operates. It helps keep your warehouse safe and organized for your employees. And more than that, it improves the customer experience—leading to valuable repeat business.

Why does picking strategy matter for your warehouse?

Identifying the ideal picking strategy helps in several ways. When you track down the perfect method for your company, here are a few things you can expect to see:

  • Improved picking speed and accuracy – The perfect warehouse gets orders picked correctly on time, every time. Using the wrong picking method for your operations will keep you from realizing the full potential of your warehouse and crew.
  • Time savings – Your picking method determines how fast you can get orders out the door. And when customers have learned to expect their orders in a matter of days, saving time on each order is a big deal.
  • Increased profits – If you’re saving time like we mentioned above, technically you’re already “making” more money, but let’s take it a step further. When you pick orders faster, you can get more orders picked in the same amount of time. More orders in the same time frame means an increase in order processing capabilities, and an increase in profit.

It takes all sorts: Types of picking strategies

While we don’t have time to cover every picking method out there, we’ll hit on a few of the big ones to give you an idea of the sheer variety. We’re not saying you have to go with one of the ones we have listed here either. Something as significant as your picking strategy requires a lot of research and evaluation. It’s worth your while to take a deep dive into your warehouse to find which method is right for you.

With that out of the way, here are a few selected strategies for getting those orders picked.

The classics:

Single Order Picking

Arguably the most common type of picking, single order picking provides the warehouse employee with one order at a time. The employee then retrieves each item on the list before completing the order. This is one of the easiest methods for employees to learn, however, it’s also one of the least efficient. To pick just one order, employees make a full trip through the entire warehouse. This can be optimized with warehouse management systems, though the amount of travel time for each order is still higher for single order picking than for other methods.

Batch Picking

Batch picking is where groups (or batches) of orders are picked at the same time. Like with single order picking, the picking is done one SKU at a time, but with batch picking, many orders include the same item numbers. This means that each picker walks to one location to pick one SKU, picking as many of that SKU as is required to fill all orders in the batch. This strategy minimizes repeat visits to the same bin location, reducing travel time significantly.

Picking an order

The up-and-comers:

Zone picking (pick and pass)

As its name suggests, zone picking, also called the pick-and-pass method, divides the warehouse into several zones. Companies then assign workers to work only within a specific zone. If an order originates in zone A, a worker adds all the SKUs required from that zone before it passes onto zone B. Pickers repeat this step until all the items are shipped. With zone picking, many pickers pick orders at the same time, allowing large orders to be fulfilled quickly. Zone picking also eliminates warehouse crowding and congestion. Because pickers have their own zones, they don’t get in the way of each other while working.

Wave picking

Wave picking is a picking strategy where teams of employees pick all of each individual inventory item needed to pack all of the orders going out that day. During a “normal” fulfillment process, pickers fulfill one order at a time. For the first order of the day, an employee picks items A, B, and C. Once complete, they’ll pick items A, C, and D for the second order. Then items A, D, and E for the third. You get the idea.

When using wave picking, you assign a team of employees to pick all of the A items that you need for all three of these orders. Another team picks all the B items, another the C. This saves your warehouse workers a lot of time and energy by reducing the number of trips made through the warehouse. This can also help improve your overall pick-and-pack efficiency.

Wave picking is similar to batch picking, but there are some key differences between the two. In batch picking, you don’t typically assign different teams of warehouse employees to different items. Batch picking tends to work better for smaller businesses whose orders typically don’t include a large assortment of different items, businesses who have a limited SKU count, or businesses whose inventory does not require much physical space (jewelry, for example).

The fancy stuff:

Pick to light

Pick to light is a picking strategy designed to improve picking accuracy and efficiency while keeping labor costs low. Instead of using printed pick lists, it uses an alphanumeric display and buttons at storage locations. When a light is on, an employee knows to pick an item from the corresponding bin. Initial overhead costs might deter some companies from using this method, but ease of use and increases in speed, accuracy, and output quickly counteract these costs. When that equates to more happy customers, the cost can pale in comparison.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)

More of a technology upgrade than just a picking strategy, automated storage and retrieval systems allow workers to remain in one location while horizontal and vertical carousels deliver the required SKUs to the worker.

AS/RS solutions use a variety of computer-controlled systems for placing (and replenishing) loads from and to bins. Businesses turn to AS/RS when they wish to:

  • Move a high volume of loads in and out of storage
  • Maximize storage density due to space constraints
  • Replace heavy equipment (forklifts, hi-los, etc.)

Because opting for an AS/RS solution requires a complete rework of your warehouse, it’s a solution that necessitates a ton of consideration.

There’s more to the picking strategy story

Improving your order picking process takes time, and sometimes, you just don’t know what you don’t know. Without an efficient order picking process, you risk losing time, money, and even happy customers. However, with a little help and a lot of elbow grease, you can find the right solution for getting all those orders fulfilled.

If your warehouse still isn’t up to snuff, you can take a look at our ebook on how the right warehouse layout offers increases in efficiency too.

Warehouse layout ebook

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