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Mastering Warehouse Picking Strategies for Efficient Order Fulfillment. Optimize Your Process with Smart Warehousing Solutions
Smart WarehousingAug 11, 2023 2:42:00 PM4 min read

Picking 101: Definition of Picking and Picking Optimization

When a person or business orders a product, that product must be taken from a warehouse, packaged accordingly, and then delivered to the buyer’s preferred location. With millions of orders coming in at warehouses across the country every day and billions of products being moved through warehouses and shipped from A to B, this process is anything but simple.


Definition of Picking

What is the definition of picking? A critical part of the fulfillment process, “picking” is the process of pulling one or more inventory items off of shelves in a warehouse or fulfillment center to fulfill orders as they come in. With so many single-item orders coming in through online shopping these days, picking is an essential part of any warehouse management strategy. Picking strategies can make or break warehouse efficiency.


Four Common Warehouse Picking Methods

Because warehouses, businesses, and the types of orders coming in vary, so do their methods for order picking. Let’s explore five common methods to consider for your picking strategy:


1. Single Order Picking

While single order— or “discrete”—picking is the most common order fulfillment method, it is also the most time-consuming. Warehouse workers using this method focus on only one order at a time. When they receive an order, they go into the warehouse and pull the product or products off the shelves to pack for the order before moving on to the next one. While this may reduce the risk of mixing up orders, what it makes up for in accuracy is lost in efficiency, resulting in a significantly slower fulfillment process.


2. Batch Picking

Instead of working on one order at a time, warehouse workers using the batching method focus on one SKU at a time. The advantage? Batch picking allows them to pick and prepare multiple orders at once that involve the same product SKU. For example, if a warehouse for a toiletries company receives three orders that all include one or more of a specific bar of soap, the packer can go to the shelf where those soap bars are stored and grab all the products they need to fulfill those three orders.

Batching is an excellent method of picking because it allows employees to prepare multiple orders at once, while reducing their own foot traffic, leading to more optimized fulfillment.


3. Zone Picking or “Pick and Pass”

Similar to servers who are assigned to a specific section of tables to wait on in a restaurant, zone picking (also known as “pick and pass”) is when warehouse employees are assigned to a specific section of the warehouse, only picking products for their given area. Employees pick products in their zone for an order before passing the box, cart, or bin to the next zone.

The zone picking or “pick and pass” method allows for multiple sets of eyes to check an order as it is prepared through the fulfillment process, but it also may be easier for orders to get lost in the shuffle as they change hands multiple times.


4. Wave Picking

Great for warehouses with a large variety of products, the wave picking method groups similar orders together on a schedule throughout the day, rather than prioritizing orders based on when they come in. Wave picking can keep the warehouse on a more organized schedule with more reliable shipping times, but it can also mean orders that come in earlier in the day are delayed for later picking.


How to Optimize Warehouse Order Picking

Regardless of your preferred picking method, efficiency is crucial. Here are some strategies to optimize your warehouse’s order picking, as well as the entire fulfillment process.


1. Use a Warehouse Management System

A warehouse management system provides a great solution for many common fulfillment issues, including the difficulties of picking! With a warehouse management system that connects your ordering directly with your warehouse, orders can be automatically organized and distributed to warehouse employees according to your picking and packing methods, making it easier to track orders throughout the fulfillment journey.


2. Manage Inventory with Slotting

Slotting organizes your warehouse strategically to help simplify fulfillment once it’s time for picking. By slotting inventory according to product type, SKU, and other characteristics, warehouse employees will always know where to look when picking products for an order. Think of it as the Dewey Decimal System but for warehouses instead of libraries!

Fastest moving to the front, or move straight from delivery truck to last-mile carrier on the dock without ever bringing into the warehouse for picking if they move super fast


3. Optimize Fulfillment with a 3PL

Third-party logistics providers integrate everything you need into managing your fulfillment process, from warehouse storage to picking and packing, and even replenishment! Smart Warehousing gives our customers access to complete visibility of their products and orders, data-driven insights, and the latest technology and automation to ensure your business has the best fulfillment support on the market! 

Contact us to learn more about what you can expect when you pick Smart Warehousing as your 3PL.