E-commerce Fulfillment: The Multiple Types of Picking

Posted by Kristen Melendez on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

ecommerce fulfillment picking

In a e-commerce fulfillment center, there are many ways to fulfill a given order via picking. From a bird’s-eye-view, the picking process, from start to finish, looks like this:

  • Products are shipped to the warehouse, and sorted into their appropriate bins.
  • An order comes in for either a single piece or multiple pieces.
  • An employee moves from bin to bin, gathers the correct pieces, and brings them to an area where they’re packaged.

It sounds simple, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that. The type of picking utilized in a warehouse can mean a lot in terms of efficiency and the speed with which the order is fulfilled. Different picking methods work better for different warehouses, but here’s a general view of what a few methods involve.

Zone Picking

Zone picking means that the warehouse floor is divided up into specific areas, and an employee is assigned to each area, or zone. When an order comes in, that employee fills the part of the order that lies specifically in his or her zone. All of the parts of that order are taken to the sorting area, and they’re pieced together into the order there. While this requires more employees to cover all of the zones, they’re able to do so efficiently.

Piece Picking

Focusing on one order at a time, piece picking means that pickers move through the warehouse with a single order. They pick each item from the order, whether it’s a single piece or many, and put them together. As one picker is responsible for the entire warehouse, it means that picker must, in some cases, cover a significant amount of ground in order to fill an order. Depending on item placement, it might take time as well. On the other hand, you can usually pinpoint an issue if the order isn’t fully picked.

Wave Picking

A bit more efficient than standard piece picking, wave picking means picking multiple orders at one time. Using a single pallet, pickers are given multiple orders. They then move about the warehouse grabbing the single pieces of each order, or if necessary, multiple pieces. This method allows pickers to accomplish more on a single trip through the warehouse, but may also increase the likelihood of a picker missing a particular item or perhaps not even being able to find an item in the first place.

Again, each picking method has its place. If working within a small, specialized section of a warehouse, then piece picking might be ideal. If you’re looking for ultimate efficiency, a zone picking system could be the best bet.

Are you managing your own ecommerce fulfillment? What type of picking do you find most efficient?

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Topics: Fulfillment, E-commerce, Order Picking