In today's eCommerce landscape, the success or failure of your business can often rest on the ability to quickly and accurately pick, pack and ship items to customers.
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.
Let's take a look at how pick, pack and ship forms the basis of eCommerce fulfillment and how optimizing these operations can give your online brand a serious competitive advantage.
What Is Pick, Pack and Ship?
The pick, pack and ship process lies at the heart of eCommerce fulfillment, and it can range from very straightforward to extremely complex.
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, 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 Picking (Discrete Picking)
Picking one order at a time is the simplest method for streamlining warehouse operations. The Warehouse Management System (WMS) helps ensure accurate picking and eliminates time spent “searching” for items by automatically generating and organizing a pick list according to a precise route through the warehouse.
Batch Picking (Cluster Picking)
Batch picking is an efficient way to fulfill orders and is especially beneficial for businesses that often ship orders with the same SKUs. It eliminates wasted trips across a warehouse by allowing a picker to remain in a designated area and fulfill a batch of orders simultaneously.
Zone picking is an effective strategy for brands with a considerable number of complex orders. It works to eliminate transit time by assigning pickers to zones within the warehouse, and if an order requires items from multiple zones, one picker will begin and then transfer picking to another, which is also known as "pick and pass". However, this model requires extreme organization and a sophisticated Warehouse Management System (WMS) to work properly, and the WMS can help inform decisions on where products should be located in order to optimize the warehouse layout.
Wave picking is a complex picking protocol best suited for larger enterprises with a considerable number of SKUs. This model requires the coordination of a number of elements, including available pickers, item locations, ship dates, and carrier pickups. The Warehouse Management System (WMS) evaluates all of these inputs and determines the optimal order fulfillment “wave” based on these, assigning 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 “travel 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.
Expandability (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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