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Optimizing Order Picking in warehouses


Order picking is one of the most important tasks in warehousing and supply chain management
. If you're not able to quickly and efficiently find the right product in your warehouse, your entire operation will fall behind in the fulfillment of orders, and your reputation as a business will suffer. Whether you're looking to streamline an existing inventory management system or setting up new warehouse management software from scratch, these tips will help you optimize how you fulfill orders.

Warehouse operations include receiving, putting inventory away, moving inventory around the warehouse to increase efficiency or a first-in-first-out strategy (FIFO), and picking orders for shipment. Understanding the components of warehouse operations will help you better understand why order picking is so important.

What is order picking?

How does order picking work?

Optimize your inventory processes

Order Picking Types

Order Picking Systems

Tips for choosing an order picking type


What is order picking?

Order picking is the action of picking up an item from a storage space or a warehouse. Not limited to e-commerce businesses, this process is to be applied to any business that manages inventory. It can be done manually or automatically through an order picking machine for larger companies. The speed and efficiency of picking can affect the delivery time of a customer order, which in turn can impact customer satisfaction. And for your business, the sooner the order is picked and shipped, the better it is for your cashflow - you get paid quicker and prevent high further storage costs. Therefore, to fulfill customer orders quickly and accurately, it is important to streamline this process. The time it takes to assemble an order has a big impact on delivery time, which is why your productivity is so important. Order pickers spend most of their time searching the warehouse for the right items and picking them. Fortunately, there are some methods that can cut down on that walk time, so your company can fill more orders every day.

How does order picking work?

When a business receives an order, the fulfillment process is pick, pack and ship.

  • Order received: via website, B2B & B2C e-commerce platform, email or phone
  • Order entered into the system: either manually or using an ERP, a Warehouse Management System (WMS) or an inventory management system (many of them connect to e-commerce platforms) that takes the information from the sales order
  • Order sent to warehouse or inventory storage: either manually or using a software with which this step can be automated from the sales order and the picking list
  • Order is picked: a worker or robot picks up the items in the warehouse
  • Order is prepared, packed and labeled
  • Order is shipped
  • Order is delivered to the client

Optimize your inventory processes

Keep your stock levels accurate and up to date

Prepare your stock ahead of time and set up a safety stock, that way you can anticipate sales orders on your most wanted products. Update your inventory on a regular basis to prevent out-of-stock situations and keep it accurate.

Suggested reading:  Entrepreneurs & SMBs: Optimize your order and inventory management to help you bounce back in times of crisis

Manage your warehouse through inventory allocation

If you have a larger company, you should definitely opt for a Warehouse Management System (WMS), a software that manages and organizes all your storage locations and distribution centers. The Erplain app does allow you to have some of the WMS features, such as allocating precisely your products in the aisles, managing your stock transfers to other storage locations and issuing picking lists which come in handy in the order picking process. A WMS will include more features, such as grouping picking lists, which can be more suitable for multinational warehouses.

Vertical storage also allows you to save a great amount of space, by automating this process you also save time and increase efficiency.  

Another important factor is to make sure you monitor your warehouses to prevent any kind of security issues.

Establish a picking list

For an optimized and efficient supply chain, it's essential that picking operations are carried out without errors and in the shortest possible time. To achieve this, you need to rely on picking lists that facilitate the work of employees.

A warehouse picking list (also called a pick list) is an important document when it comes to optimizing order preparation. A pick list is an internal document that contains all the instructions a warehouse worker must follow to prepare an order.

The ultimate purpose of a pick list is to ensure that the operator has all the information he needs to prepare and ship products in a safe and controlled manner, avoiding typical errors during order fulfillment.

Pick List Contents

A typical pick list includes shipping dates, the location of products in the warehouse, quantities and any other aspects related to order preparation, such as the operator's pick route. Picking lists can be created automatically and in digital form.

The information contained in a standard picking list can be divided into three sections. Broadly speaking, it includes the following:

  • Pick List Information: The top section contains the name of the company preparing the order, the order number assigned to the pick, the date, code or data of the employee responsible for preparing the order, the area of the warehouse where the goods are located, the type of shipment (standard, urgent, fragile, etc.) and the shipping or consignment number.
  • Information about the products to be picked: the aisle number, the shelf or floor where each item is located, the storage level, the description of the goods and their internal codes, the quantity of units needed, and the number of SKUs left on the pick list after picking the items.
  • Pick List Comments and Validation: The lower part of the document contains a field for recording observations of any kind (goods in poor condition, broken containers, etc.).

If you're still creating the lists manually and you think it's time to increase your work rate, contact us. We'll show you how our app can help you increase your orders by creating more stream-lined picking lists.

Here is an example of a picking list that you can generate in Erplain:

picking list erplain

Optimize your return process

If a customer needs to return or edit an order, providing a simplified and flexible return process allows you to save time. You need an order fulfillment process that provides the freedom to handle orders quickly and easily to rearrange the items in the storage space as soon as it bounces back.

Adjust to multiple location shipping

It is not uncommon for a customer to want an order split, meaning one order with delivery to multiple locations. This is often considered a challenge in order fulfillment, but managing multiple delivery locations is a great service that adds significant value to your customers.

What are the different order picking types?

There are a lot of picking types that can support efficient and profitable operations.

Single order picking

Single order picking is the most common, but also the most time-consuming type of order fulfillment. Also known as discrete order picking, pickers work on one order at a time. They scan the warehouse for each item individually to fulfill the order, which means that order pickers often have to inefficiently go back and forth to the same warehouse location during their shift. Single-order picking is ideal for smaller warehouses that handle a lower volume of orders. When accuracy is an issue, this type works well because pickers only handle one order at a time.

Batch order picking

For this type, also known as multi-order picking, pickers work on multiple orders simultaneously, one SKU at a time. Batch picking is best suited for companies that frequently have multiple orders with the same SKUs (items) or orders with only a few SKUs each. It reduces travel time because the picker usually only has to travel to an item once per pick cycle.

Zone order picking

Zone picking is used when a warehouse is divided into different zones. Pickers are assigned to each zone to process all orders coming from their part of the warehouse. Zone picking is best suited for warehouses that receive many high-volume orders, i.e. orders with a large number of items, and it can be used for all types of picking operations.


Pick-and-pass is an extension of the zone picking type. Here, an order is passed around each zone until all items or SKUs contained in the order have been picked. Pick-and-pass technology can be used with all types of picking processes.

Cluster order picking

Cluster picking also allows pickers to process multiple orders simultaneously. However, instead of focusing on similar SKUs (items) for multiple orders, pickers pick a variety of items for multiple orders. Although there are several ways to accomplish this (e.g., using vertical lift modules or carousels), the most common system is for an order picker to have a cart loaded with multiple totes. Using a picking cart or a collaborative mobile robot helps pickers organize orders and avoid errors.

This method also reduces the number of trips, although not as much as batch picking. With cluster picking, the picker only has to drive to an area (or zone) once for each cluster to be processed.

Wave order picking

In wave picking, pickers also work in their assigned zones, but to reduce time, all zones are processed at the same time (instead of one zone and then the next). The items are then later sorted and combined into the respective shipments.

While wave picking is faster than waiting for each zone to do its part before the order can be passed on to the next zone, more time and sometimes more employees are needed for the sorting and consolidation process. This method is best suited for companies with a higher number of picks per order.

What systems can be associated with these order picking types?

Sorting system

The sorting system consists of conveyors and other technologies that automatically sort items. In this system, pickers place items on a conveyor belt, after which other pickers take the items off the belt and assign them to orders. This system is extremely efficient and allows companies to automate parts of their picking process.

Pick-to-Box System

The pick-to-box system also uses a conveyor belt. In this system, a picker places a carton on a conveyor belt. The box moves through different zones, and pickers add items to the box until the order is complete. This system can help companies handle large order volumes and avoid congestion as pickers move around warehouses.

Picker-to-Part System

The picker-to-part system is another popular system where warehouses set up a goods handling area where forklifts are often used to move inventory. The system also includes a picking area where pickers come to gather items to fulfill customer orders.

Part-to-Picker System

The part-to-picker system is similar to the picker-to-part system. It also uses a goods handling area and a storage area. The part-to-picker system also includes picking bays where items for orders are stored. Pickers work in the pick bays and wait for items to be delivered from the goods handling area.

Tips for choosing a picking type

Which type is best for your business can depend on several factors. Here are some tips for choosing an order picking type.

Consider the size of your warehouse and inventory

The size of your warehouse and inventory can help guide you in selecting which picking type is best suited for your business. For example, if you have a small warehouse, you might use a single pick type to ensure accuracy. If you have a large inventory, you might choose a zone picking type, which allows pickers to process a large number of orders and items.

Think about the number of pickers

The number of pickers in your business can also influence what type of type you choose. For example, if you have multiple pickers, you could opt for zone picking. This allows you to divide your warehouse into zones and handle a high volume of orders.

Analyze your data

You can also analyze your company's sales data to help you decide on a type. It's helpful to determine how many orders your business receives on average, and it can also be useful to know how many items are normal per order. In this way, you can choose a type that is suitable for the volume and size of your company's orders.

Consider combining multiple types

You can also consider combining types. Consider the needs of your business and the elements of different types that can meet them. For example, you could combine zone picking and pick-and-pass, as they often work well together.

Look into automation options

Companies often automate parts of their picking process. This can further streamline the process and improve the speed and accuracy of order fulfillment. You can consider options such as conveyors or machines to automate your picking type.

Conclusion: Order picking in warehouses

To improve efficiency, productivity and customer experience, you need technology: a solution like an inventory management software or an ERP includes an order preparation process. Now that your systems are able to bring more transparency to all aspects of the order fulfillment process, consider how to speed up the processes themselves.

Automation doesn't necessarily mean you've to invest in robots or conveyors; it can also be as simple as investing in barcode scanners to make it easier and error-free to enter inventory into the system as it comes into your warehouse or scan it as it leaves. In a pinch, your handy smartphone can be used to scan barcodes.

In the end, order picking is all about possessing the right system. Why choose Erplain? Because Erplain automatically:

  • Calculates the rest of the order to ship in case of partial shipping;
  • Charges the cost of order handling to your clients;
  • Manages barcodes, refunds and returning items;
  • Generates picking lists;
  • Allocates precisely your products in the aisles;
  • Manages your stock transfers to other storage locations;
  • Works seamlessly with QuickBooks and Shopify.
  • etc.

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