Choosing the correct pick-and-pack method is a must for any successful e-commerce store or business. This post will discuss pick and pack—what is it? What does it mean?
Pick and pack is an order fulfillment strategy, which e-commerce sellers commonly use to ship small orders. It works by choosing a customer’s orders before putting them into a shipping box. This allows retailers to skip repacking. Thus they save money and reduce packing time.
Read on to learn more about the pick-and-pack method: what it means and what it is all about.
What Is Pick and Pack?
Pick and pack involves a series of processes, which start when a consumer places an order on an e-commerce retailer’s website or through an online marketplace. This order fulfillment process is necessary to ensure efficiency, consumer satisfaction, and revenue growth.
The pick and pack fulfillment system has two distinct components:
When picking, employees use a list to find each product that they should get from the warehouse. The list also tells them the right quantity of each product, as consumers may have ordered multiple quantities of the same product.
Picking is costly and requires a large amount of labor. Therefore, having a smooth and well-outlined operations process is important to make sure employees fulfill consumer orders efficiently and quickly.
Packing involves gathering and placing consumer orders in the right box. In addition, employees need to choose the correct materials and box for packing the products, put the appropriate documents (like a packing slip or receipt) inside the box, and weigh it before finally labeling and sealing it.
Each product should also be grouped with other products of the same destination to ensure the process is smooth-running.
Errors are common in the pick-and-pack fulfillment process. In most cases, companies only find them out during an inventory count or after a consumer returns the item. Thankfully, most of these errors have solutions, such as streamlining pick-and-pack services and integrating new pick-and-pack software (e.g., ZetesMedea and Veeqo).
This is how the pick and pack fulfillment process works.
How Does the Pick and Pack Fulfillment Process Work?
1. Receiving Customer Orders
When you, the customer, place an order from an online store, the order system will transmit it to the pick-and-pack warehouse or fulfillment center. Once that’s done, the warehouse management system will create a picking list for their workers, who make sure everything you ordered gets shipped to you on time.
The picklist is a crucial document because it keeps the entire operation organized. The design of this list will mainly depend on a warehouse’s picking strategy.
Other factors that could affect it include:
- Order Fulfillment Speed
- Order Volume
- Business Size
- Total Amount of Products Sold
2. Generate a Packing Slip
For warehouse managers, packing slips will open the doors for time and money savings. Without a good packing slip, streamlining a warehouse’s order fulfillment processes is going to be challenging.
Every business may have a different way of designing its packing slips. However, many of these slips may include the following information:
- SKU Numbers (or item numbers)
- Order Number and Date
- Name and Address of the Shipper and Recipient
- Name of the Item
- Number of Each Item
- Dimensions of Each Item
- Carrier Methods or Shipping Options (e.g., UPS Ground)
- Name of the Business Being Billed
- Billing Address
3. Picking of Orders
Order picking is the core of the pick-and-pack fulfillment process. During this stage, warehouse workers use the packing slip to collect every item (sometimes in batches) on the list from the warehouse shelves. After they finish the list, they move on to the next one.
To optimize picking workflows, companies need to have the following:
- Right inventory storage strategy,
- Picking methods, and
For instance, using a wearable device with RFID (radio frequency identification) verification can tell workers the exact location of items, which in turn expedites the picking process.
Strategic placement of items is another way to make picking more efficient. In-demand products are normally placed near human or robot pick packers, while the least popular ordered products are placed at a greater distance away to shorten picking time.
4. Packing of Orders
The packing station is the next stop for the items workers collected from the warehouse’s inventory. From there, they perform these steps for a standard order packing process:
- Workers will choose the appropriate box to put the items in.
- Then, they’ll choose the correct packaging material for the type of item they’re packing. For instance, if you ordered a valuable collectible (or other fragile products), they’ll most likely use extra cushioning materials (e.g., foam peanuts and bubble wrap) to make sure it doesn’t easily break during delivery.
- After workers have sealed and labeled each item, they measure and weigh it then enter the information into their order management system. The system will then create a precise packing slip and/or invoice for the package.
5. Sorting and Loading
Finally, warehouse workers print out the label and invoice for the packages then sort them by carrier (e.g., FedEx and UPS). Companies may also use a sorting system to increase productivity, minimize item damage, and increase shipping accuracy.
Once they’ve chosen the carriers and sorted the boxes at the loading station, the packages are now ready for shipping.
Types of Picking Methods
Since order picking makes up as much as 55% of the operating costs, it’s a major priority for companies to improve their operations and processes. One way of doing that is by choosing the best picking method based on their order volume and warehouse size:
1. Piece Picking
Many order fulfillment companies start with a piece picking or single-order method because it’s simple. All workers need to take the packing slip for a single order then collect all of the items individually off shelves. After completing a single order, workers will forward the items to the packing station.
One of the major downsides of the piece picking method is it consumes time, which could affect the following:
- Worker productivity,
- Labor costs,
- Delivery time, and
Therefore, it’s most suitable for order fulfillment warehouses that receive only a few orders daily from individual sellers, small businesses, and startups.
2. Batch Picking
In batch picking, workers or a pick-and-pack software collects and groups multiple orders into smaller batches—mostly around 8 to 16—simultaneously. Order fulfillment companies use this method because it offers many benefits, including:
- Increases efficiency
- Saves Time
- Lowers Operation Costs
- Increases Picking Speed (by up to 200%, if they use multi-shelf carts)
- Improves Worker Ergonomics (by saving time making multiple trips through the warehouse)
Here’s another way of understanding this method: You’re making a grocery run. To make the most out of it, you volunteered to do grocery shopping for your mom and senior neighbor.
Once you’re there, you put three baskets or reusable bags in the cart: one for you and the other two for the people you’re shopping for.
You walk back and forth throughout the store—while following the shortest route—to pick up similar items from your grocery list and those of your mom and senior neighbor. Then, you distribute each item among each basket or grocery bag.
In a fulfillment warehouse setting, large companies typically automate this process by using sophisticated batch picking software. This could significantly cut time and cost, as well as minimize the likelihood of errors.
Again, what does pick and pack mean? E-commerce sellers who want to ship small orders use pick and pack, an order fulfillment strategy. This strategy involves choosing your customer’s orders, then putting them into a shipping box. This strategy saves money and time since there’s no need for repacking.
3. Zone Picking
Zone picking is more suitable for large fulfillment warehouses, catering to higher volumes of SKUs (scannable bar codes). Compared to the single-order method and batch picking method, zone picking is usually more efficient.
In this method, groups of warehouse workers stay in different areas, or what you call zones. They’re responsible for collecting and sorting the products in their assigned area for every order and then hand over the products to the workers in the next zone. This process (moving the boxes) could be done manually or by using conveyor belts.
There are two types of zone picking:
Sequential (Simple) Zone Picking
With this type of zone picking, workers pick the products in their zone, and then they hand off the orders to the workers in another area of the warehouse. This goes on until they’ve completed the order.
Simultaneous (Concurrent) Zone Picking
Like what the name suggests, this method requires workers in different warehouse zones to fulfill the same order simultaneously. Once workers of each zone are done, they combine and/or repack the boxes downstream.
Here’s a better way of understanding sequential zone picking and simultaneous zone picking. For instance, a fulfillment warehouse receives an order for the following items:
- 3 digital kitchen scales
- 4 glass measuring cups
- 2 pairs of blue oven mitts
- 3 sets of stainless steel funnels
These four products are in specific areas or zones of the warehouse:
- Zone 1: Kitchen Scales
- Zone 2: Cooking Measuring cups
- Zone 3: Oven Mitts
- Zone 4: Cooking Funnels
In sequential zone picking, workers in Zone 1 pick up 3 kitchen scales then pass off the items to Zone 2 workers, who pick up 4 glass measuring cups. Workers in Zone 3 pick and add 2 pairs of blue oven mitts. Finally, Zone 4 workers receive the other items and add 3 sets of stainless steel funnels.
If they used simultaneous zone picking, every SKU for the order is picked at the same time. (SKUs are scannable codes that help warehouse managers and vendors keep track of products they need to restock.) Then, workers from zones 1 to 4 send the items to the packing station before they’re shipped to the customer.
4. Wave Picking
Wave picking is a combination of the batch picking method and zone picking method. In this method, workers fulfill a batch of orders simultaneously by grouping and picking items in specific inventory zones. Then, they schedule these groups of orders for picking at specific times of the day.
Orders grouped—or what they call “waves”—are scheduled throughout the day. The scheduling depends on a business’s specific needs.
Factors That Order Fulfillment Services Follow When It Comes to Grouping and Scheduling Orders
There are several factors that order fulfillment services follow when it comes to grouping and scheduling orders, such as:
- Schedules for Shipping
- Changes in the Work Schedules
- Availability of Workers
- Replenishment of Inventories
- Product Locations
- Product Commonality
Benefits of Using Wave Picking Instead of Other Methods
There are many reasons why an order fulfillment warehouse might use wave picking instead of batch picking or zone picking. Some of its benefits include the following:
- Since it takes into account the carrier loading times, shipping schedules, and available workforce, wave picking usually gets orders delivered to customers on time.
- Workers don’t need to take many trips around the warehouse. By reducing the amount of travel per worker, a fulfillment warehouse can reduce operation costs and increase productivity.
- For high-pick operations, warehouse managers are able to implement the best possible workflow by combining wave picking with zone picking.
- It helps the management to better understand their daily operations—for instance, how and where resources (time, money, and labor) are being wasted.
- Wave picking also helps warehouse managers to determine what makes the performance of specific activities and functions more efficient than others. By knowing this, they can deliver criticism effectively and come up with good suggestions for improvement.
- It’s an effective way of improving worker morale because managers are able to identify what’s going well.
Conclusion – Pick and Pack
Pick and pack is an important order fulfillment strategy, especially if a business is looking for efficiency, operation cost reduction, customer satisfaction, and sales. Therefore, businesses need to do intensive research to know if it fits their needs and how to use it properly to stay competitive and build a loyal customer base.
Before I end this article, think about the questions below. They might help you pick the best fulfillment strategy for your online sales channels:
- What e-commerce platform (e-commerce marketplace, business website, social media, etc.) are you using to sell your products online?
- How many different products does your business sell?
- What is your monthly order shipping volume?
- How many orders do you expect to ship and deliver next month or year?