5 warehouse order picking systems you need to know about

Reading about order picking systems might sound like a more effective way to send you to sleep than counting sheep, but if you are an e-commerce company considering third-party logistics, or 3PL, you need to know about warehouse order picking systems. Why? Put simply, order picking is the backbone of any order fulfilment or pick and pack operation and is arguably the most important activity in fulfilment centres. It is also the most expensive and labour intensive activity in the warehouse. With a number of different systems to choose from, choosing the most effective order picking system for your business is crucial.

What is order picking?

Order picking, sometimes referred to as warehouse picking, is the first stage in fulfilling a customer’s order. It’s the process of retrieving an item for a customer order from the warehouse. It’s essential the process is flawless, so that the remaining fulfilment processes (order packing, shipping and post sales activity) can also run smoothly. The pick and pack process also directly impacts customer satisfaction, business reputation and profitability. It doesn’t matter how good your product is if the wrong item arrives, the product is damaged, or the order is delayed.

5 warehouse order picking systems

1. Batch Picking

Batch picking optimises picking activities by retrieving the same item (SKU) to fill multiple orders at the same time. It works especially well for warehouses that receive multiple orders containing the same item and in this case it minimises travel time across the warehouse and speeds up fulfilment operations.

2. Zone Picking

For zone picking the warehouse is grouped into zones and dedicated workers are assigned to each zone. It is often referred to as the ‘pick and pass’ strategy and can improve efficiency for complex or multi-item orders. Workers in a zone fulfil orders by going through a pick list and retrieving the specific items for an order within their zone, before passing the carton onto the next zone. This system significantly reduces travel time through the warehouse.

Pick and pack
3. Wave Picking
Wave picking is a combination of batch and zone picking. It is particularly useful in large warehouses that receive multiple, high-volume orders. Orders are grouped into sets, or waves, according to factors such as customer location, delivery date or order frequency. Workers simultaneously pick items from multiple zones and then forward them for individual sorting and packing.
4. Single Order Picking
In single order picking, pickers move through the warehouse and retrieve items one by one to fulfill one order at a time. This picking system works well for small warehouses that handle simple orders with just a few items.
5. Cluster Order Picking
Cluster order picking is like single order picking, but is used to fulfil multiple orders at the same time. Workers travel through the warehouse and retrieve items on multiple pick lists, placing them into separate containers, one for each order. This eliminates the need for repeated trips and removes the need for sorting before packing. However, it does requires sophisticated solutions for proper scheduling and assignment of clusters.

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