So, you’ve started an e-commerce company. You’ve developed a solid business model, stocked inventory, marketed your brand, and started to make some sales. The issue: how do you efficiently fulfill orders when the sales start rolling in? Utilizing a pick and pack strategy can help streamline your order fulfillment process, and allow you to focus on growing your enterprise. Implementing a successful pick and pack strategy requires a good deal of planning and coordination; but once you’ve set up a method that works for you, it’s an incredibly efficient way of ensuring your customers’ needs are being met. Below, we’ve outlined the benefits of pick and pack order fulfillment, its different variations, and the potential pitfalls—because, as a small business owner, you probably don’t want to spend the majority of your time sprinting around your warehouse.
What Pick and Pack Means
With pick and pack order fulfillment, your inventory is generally organized by type of good sold, so that it can be easily picked from the shelf, packed with other goods in that particular order, then sent away to your customers. When setting up this type of system, you’ll want to examine the specifics of your business, including the types of orders you receive (large batches, single items, etc.), the growth you’re likely to experience, and your space constraints.
With pick and pack, you will generally choose amongst four primary methods—piece, batch, zone, and wave picking—or some combination, to create a system that best fits your business’ needs. There are a variety of services, software, and other supply chain technologies that can help you keep track of orders when implementing any pick and pack strategy. Tracking and updating your inventory and deliveries is crucial as an e-commerce owner, so you’ll need to have the proper infrastructure and systems in place so that you’re ensuring orders are complete and accurate.
Pick and Pack Options
As mentioned above, there are four primary pick and pack methods—piece, batch, zone, and wave. Which method, or combination of methods, you use will depend on the types of orders you receive.
The piece system is often best for smaller business with less varied inventory. It involves an employee (or, if your business is really small, you) packing one order at a time by picking and combining that order’s specific items, no matter their location. This can mean a lot of moving from one area of your fulfillment center to another, so it can be unwieldy and time-consuming if these are larger spaces. One benefit to this system is it is very simple, and requires less coordination than other strategies.
With batch picking, you can put together multiple orders at a time by systematically items to a large number of different orders (a batch). This saves time by decreasing the amount of walking the employee has to do, as they won’t have to keep returning to certain areas of the warehouse to pick items for individual orders. The picker starts with one specific area, filling all of the orders in the batch that require the items in that area, then repeats the process with the next area, until all the orders are packed. This method is especially effective for larger business, but smaller ones can utilize it, too. It usually requires more coordination than a piece picking system, so you’ll want to make sure you’re very organized when batching.
With this type of picking, employees are responsible for specific zones, areas in which certain items are stores. Individual orders move methodically through the warehouse, with the employee responsible for each zone adding the corresponding items to the order, then passing it along to the employee in the next zone. That worker then adds the items from their zone, passing the order along until all of the necessary items have been included. Zone picking is most effective in larger warehouses, where individual employees would have a harder time moving about. This process obviously requires a great deal more coordination than batch or piece picking, so you’ll likely want to have a solid supply chain system in place when implementing a zone pick and pack strategy. The added efficiency of this method makes it an excellent option for when your company needs a larger-scale solution.
Wave picking is a combination of zone and batch picking. Employees fill multiple different orders with the items from their zone, then pass that batch on to the employee in the next zone, until all of its orders are complete. As with zone and batch picking, this is a strategy you’ll want to implement when you have a larger enterprise, as it requires several employees, and is generally only necessary in large fulfillment centers. If you have varied inventory, big orders, and/or a high volume of sales, wave picking is likely your best bet.
How to Optimize Your Pick and Pack System—and Avoid Potential Issues
As mentioned above, organization, thorough tracking, and proper oversight are vital when implementing a pick and pack system. The whole process can be stressful, but fulfillment services and supply chain management software can eliminate much of the hassle. With a fulfillment service, you’ll be hiring professionals who can utilize the most efficient pick and pack method for your specific business. While this help can come at a premium, it may be worth it if you want to focus your time on other aspects of your business.
Picking software will help you track orders and inventory, aggregate data, and increase the overall efficiency of your pick and pack system. This will allow you to better control and streamline your operations—from initial purchase to picking to delivery—by integrating all of your fulfillment processes into an easy-to-use package. Before seeking out software or third party services, you’ll want to do plenty of research and ensure you understand exactly what help your business needs with picking and packing.
Accuracy in order fulfillment is key, so if you’re unsure of how much inventory you have at any given moment, or you’re having trouble coordinating between different parts of your warehouse, you can end up with big problems. Organizing the varied inventory in your fulfillment center in an efficient manner is extremely helpful. Depending on the size and type of your business, you may want to put similar items in the same area, or place the highest-volume goods in easier to access areas.
You’ll also want to be sure your packing process is as efficient as possible. Proper packaging materials, weighing techniques, and scanning equipment can make all the difference in helping you avoid incorrect orders or costly shipping errors. You should have a way of prioritizing orders that is fair and sensible; and again, organization is key, so your employees and managers should be well-trained in the packaging workflow.
No matter how big your e-commerce business, streamlining the way you prepare orders for shipping is crucial. Pick and pack order fulfillment is an efficient, versatile, and cost-effective way of getting your customers’ orders out as quickly as possible. Implement the pick and pack method that works best for your company, and you’ll have more time to build the business—and, possibly, less back pain.