Less is more.
Used for decades as a mantra by architects, engineers, and designers of all types, this notion has been applied to systems and processes throughout the business world. The idea that eliminating superfluous details and streamlining actions will yield better results has been a powerful driver of efficiency, productivity, and lower operational costs for companies in every industry.
In a field as competitive and tech-driven as online retail, it should come as little surprise that eCommerce businesses have fully embraced the philosophy. And, nowhere is it more prominent than in the order fulfillment process trifecta known as “pick, pack, and ship.”
The name alone is a testament to its simplicity - a multi-step process summed up in just a few words.
At SkuNexus, making the complex simple is a very big part of what we do every day and at the core of the management software systems we build. We are constantly looking for new ways to reduce, distill, and unravel, both for ourselves and our customers.
Here, we will look at pick/pack/ship in the clearest way possible. Direct, brief, and succinct. As it should be.
What Is Pick/Pack/Ship?
The pick, pack, and ship process lies at the heart of eCommerce fulfillment and is as straightforward as it sounds.
When an order is routed to a warehouse/fulfillment center, the item(s) must first be located and physically taken from the storage location. This is order picking, and the employee who performs the task is known as “a picker.”
A picking list can either be manually or automatically generated by a warehouse management system to help the picker locate the items to fulfill the order (more on that later).
Because the picker then takes the order to the packing station to be prepared for shipping, the combined tasks are often considered a single process, aka pick-and-pack (or pick&pack).
At packing, items are placed into parcels (cardboard boxes, tear-proof envelopes, etc.) with insulating packing materials if needed. The packed parcel is weighed, a carrier and delivery method are selected, shipping labels are applied, and the packed order is forwarded to the shipping department. Again, like “pick-and-pack,” this two-step process can also be considered one operation - pack and ship.
How To Achieve Warehouse Picking Optimization
Despite the fundamental nature described above, order fulfillment becomes a different animal when applied to the dynamic operations of a medium-to-high order volume pick-and-pack warehouse. As eCommerce has evolved, the need for greater speed, efficiency, and accuracy has grown with it. Optimized picking thus involves a combination of technology, automation, deliberate pick-and-pack warehouse setup, and the implementation of an expanded group of picking strategies.
Warehouse Picking Software
A comprehensive warehouse management system (WMS) is vital to optimizing fulfillment processes, and picking software is a crucial element of that. This will not only perform basic tasks like generating picking lists and packing slips, but can also provide direction to pickers on the most efficient routes to take and give voice-aided instructions to ensure accuracy.
In addition, the widespread use of barcode scanners linked to both the WMS and inventory management software serves as a useful tool to keep picking errors to a minimum while recording activity in real time.
A broad range of different picking strategies has been developed to meet the challenges posed by increased order volume and limited resources. Each has its benefits for optimizing picking operations.Directed Single Order/Discrete Picking
- The simplest method for streamlining picking one order at a time.
- A pick list is automatically generated and organized according to a precise route through the warehouse.
- The WMS helps ensure accurate picking and eliminates time spent “searching” for items.
- Batch picking eliminates wasted trips across a warehouse. It allows a picker to remain in an area and fulfill a batch of orders (with the same SKUs) simultaneously.
- Works best for companies that are frequently shipping orders with the same SKUs.
- Works to effectively eliminate “transit time” by assigning pickers to zones within the warehouse.
- If an order requires items from multiple zones, one picker will begin and then transfer picking to another. Hence, zone picking is also called “pick and pass.”
- For brands with a considerable number of complex orders, zone picking can be a viable solution. However, this model requires extreme organization and a sophisticated WMS to work properly.
- Warehouse layout becomes critical here, and the WMS can help inform decisions on where products should be located.
- Perhaps the most complicated picking protocol.
- Best suited for larger enterprises with a considerable number of SKUs, wave picking requires the coordination of a multitude of elements.
- In this model, picking takes place in scheduled “waves” throughout the day.
- Available pickers, item locations, ship dates, and carrier pickups are all taken into account and evaluated.
- The WMS analysis determines the optimal order fulfillment “wave” based on these inputs and assigns picking accordingly.
Pick-and-Pack Warehouse Setup
The warehouse layout itself can have a profound impact on picking optimization. Careful thought, critical data analysis, and old-fashioned common sense can yield enormous benefits to that end.
The reduction of employee transit time should be a high priority. Directed picking might give order pickers the shortest route to take for any given order, but that can still mean long overall distances are involved. By locating the most popular items closest to packing stations and grouping items often ordered together, noticeable time can be saved.
A growing trend in warehouse setup, too, has been the addition of micro fulfillment centers located inside larger warehouses. These are stocked exclusively with extremely high-turnover items prepared to be picked, packed, and shipped immediately upon receipt of a customer order.
Tips On Choosing Pick-and-Pack Software Solutions
Any management software system must have the flexibility to meet your needs, not the other way around. When it comes to deciding on software to manage your warehouse fulfillment operations, think about not only your most pressing current issues, but also how you might like to be doing things 1, 3, and 5 years from now.
For example, the implementation of directed picking might be a vast improvement over current manual processes, but is the system sophisticated enough to run complex strategies that you and your team might need to employ as the company grows?
Automation should be at the forefront of any solution you consider. The reduction of manual processes within pick-and-pack operations is paramount, from improving picking accuracy to saving employee time to reducing material waste by eliminating decision-making during packing.
The future expansion (of SKUs, warehouses, sales channels) is something else to think about. Not all platforms are created equal. As your business grows, the ability to easily and seamlessly integrate that growth with your software will let you focus on other things and save countless time, frustration and headaches.
Do not overlook the team behind the software, either. A management software provider should be a consultant and trusted partner, not just another vendor you use.
At SkuNexus, we take great pride in not only designing flexible systems that grow alongside our customers, but also in the strength of those relationships. Our dedicated support and development team works closely with clients to discuss ideas, provide advice, and help tailor the software to fit their needs.
If you would like to learn more about how SkuNexus can help your eCommerce business, please schedule a demo.
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