A Definition of Pick and Pack
Pick and pack is a type of order fulfillment used most often by eCommerce retailers that receive small orders that are shipped around the globe. Rather than preparing and shipping entire cases and pallets of goods, eCommerce retailers rely on workers who pull (pick) individual items from master cartons on warehouse shelves and then place them in boxes or envelopes (pack) addressed to specific customers for shipment. This process gives pick and pack workers easy access to items and, when organized correctly, saves handling time. Pick and pack also limit freight charges and other costs.
Challenges of Pick and Pack Fulfillment
Pick and pack fulfillment runs smoothly only when there is a high level of coordination, organization, and attention to detail. Streamlining order picker movement through warehouses to fill the greatest number of orders in the shortest amount of time is one of the largest challenges pick and pack fulfillment centers face.
One way to make sure worker movement is as efficient as possible is to utilize the best pick and pack strategy for your order volume and warehouse size.
Pick and Pack Strategies
To address some of the common challenges of pick and pack, fulfillment centers utilize one of four common order picking strategies: piece picking, batch picking, zone picking, and wave picking.
- Piece Picking – Many organizations begin with piece picking because it is a straightforward picking method. Workers pick orders one at a time as they receive them. Workers take an order into the warehouse and fill it by picking items off shelves until the order is complete. It’s important to note that this picking process is inefficient in most warehouses; it is best suited to the smallest warehouses.
- Batch Picking – Warehouses with more traffic utilize batch picking because it is more efficient. Similar to piece picking, batch picking involves picking items for individual orders; however, workers who batch pick fulfill more than one order at a time.
- Zone Picking – Zone picking involves dividing the warehouse into areas called zones. Order pickers pick items from their assigned zones only, and workers pass boxes from one zone to the next for orders that require items from multiple zones. The boxes may be passed manually or with conveyor belts. Zone picking is more efficient than piece picking and batch picking.
- Wave Picking – Wave picking combines zone picking and batch picking. Workers using this strategy are assigned to zones and pick orders in batches and pick them only within those zones.
Another challenge associated with pick and pack is customer expectation. Customers are accustomed to shopping online and expect items to be in stock, to be shipped in 24-48 hours, to arrive on time, and to be exactly as described online. They also look for a wide selection, the ability to order using a mobile device, fast and free delivery, and free returns. Customers expect a positive experience, and fulfillment centers need to streamline pick and pack operations to meet and even exceed customer expectations. Retailers accustomed to operating in the direct-to-consumer market are used to these customer demands; however, many fulfillment centers and their logistics and distribution executives are new to the game and face challenges in adapting their knowledge, experience, and resources to meet the demands of customers they serve via pick and pack fulfillment.
Benefits of Pick and Pack Fulfillment
Fulfillment centers offering pick and pack services make it easy for organizations to offer various products from online stores to customers. Customers appreciate having a wide variety of items from which to choose, and companies often sell more when they offer more. As the fulfillment center receives orders, pick and pack workers gather requested items from the master cartons and package and label them for shipment.
When done well, pick and pack is a fulfillment method that can increase customer satisfaction. Skilled pickers and packers fill orders accurately with items that are in good condition and ensure orders are shipped on time. Companies that hire talented pick and pack laborers also improve customer satisfaction by making sure items are handled carefully, packaged well, and clearly labeled. These skilled staffers handle fluctuations in order numbers and manage busy periods well, too.
Organizations also utilize pick and pack fulfillment because it is cost-effective. By nature, the pick and pack process is designed for orders of various sizes, so minimum order charges typically do not apply. Pick and pack also often eliminates collecting items from different storage facilities and sending them elsewhere for packaging and labeling. The streamlined nature of pick and pack makes it more efficient overall, which keeps costs low.
Pick and pack is a way of life for eCommerce fulfillment. Pick and pack workers are key to fulfilling orders and meeting customer expectations, and organizations need to continually work to streamline operations to make sure their pick and pack work is done as efficiently, accurately, and cost-effectively as possible.