The pick and pack process refers to all the tasks and tools involved in fetching ordered items from warehouse shelves and other storage space to packing them in readiness for shipping. Picking involves pulling ordered items from warehouse inventory, and packing is the arranging and packaging of items for onward shipping to customers.
If your pick-and-pack process is not running as well as it should be, your eCommerce fulfillment costs and timelines go up while deteriorating the customer experience. It’s vital that you devote time and money to optimizing this process that’s critical to business growth. We take a look at some tried and tested techniques for making the pick-and-pack process work for your business.
1. Design warehouse layout for optimal efficiency
Warehouse layout has a direct impact on efficiency and turn-around times. Design your warehouse to reduce the lead time on picking and packing, minimize worker movement, and lower operational overheads. A good strategy is ensuring that your most popular products by order volume are placed in the most accessible location for pickers and packers.
Many businesses will have roughly 80% of their revenue coming from just 20% of their SKUs. Create a warehouse within the warehouse by designating a zone for these high-volume SKUs closer to the packing team. Group items are often ordered together. Accommodate product seasonality – make changes to the layout in line with seasonal demand for certain SKUs.
2. Keep the warehouse neat and organized
There are few places where chaos is more expensive than a warehouse. Poor warehouse maintenance and layout, random clutter, and misplaced SKUs increase the risk of accidents while making it harder to pick and pack items quickly.
Keep floors and pathways clean and clear. It’s best if pickers can immediately clean up after themselves whenever their actions create trash and clutter. In high-traffic warehouses, however, it may be necessary to have a cleaning team always on hand to collect trash fast.
3. Re-check each order
Develop procedures that embed order verification throughout the pick and pack process. The goal should be that each item should be touched only once by every person tasked with handling it from the moment the order is received.
Business managers often worry about order verification increasing lead times. This is a valid concern but could be overcome by banking on system checks as much as possible. For instance, an automatic count back could confirm the correct product was picked and in the right quantity. That said, whereas manual checking may increase lead times, it is often not significant and is well worth it in reducing returns.
4. Maintain an accurate record of inventory
You do not want your pickers wasting precious time looking for inventory that is out of stock. Worse, think about the impact on customer experience when a buyer finds out that an order they had paid for could not be fulfilled because the item is no longer available. Chances are they will switch to a different seller and perhaps never buy from you in the future.
Keeping your inventory current can help you avoid such unpleasant scenarios. Good inventory management also ensures you know when your inventory is running low and needs to be replenished.
5. Invest in warehouse technology
A good warehouse management system (WMS) gives you both high-level and granular views of your pick and pack process. On a single dashboard, you get to see orders and products from the moment SKUs are delivered to the warehouse, orders received, items packed, and shipped to customers. You could integrate the WMS with suppliers to create a seamless, automated flow of information.
Generate reports, study analytics and identify new opportunities for continuously improving the pick and pack process. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) that show in real-time whether the process is getting better or worse. Advanced WMS and picking tools can also help you review techniques to see if there are advantages elsewhere. These may shift you to a new method to improve efficiency, such as batch or zone picking to minimize walking.
Warehouse pickers may spend as much as 60 percent of their day walking. Movement-induced fatigue increases the likelihood of errors and accidents. Target your tech investments to potential areas of concern, like fatigue and error rates. Start small, because something as simple as conveyors or automated barcode scanners can cut error rates and improve your profitability.
The primary end goal of any business is meeting customer expectations as that is critical to revenue growth. Optimizing the pick and pack process is an important pillar in accomplishing this goal. Dedicate time and resources to regularly assessing your pick and pack process to ensure continuous improvement.
About the Author
Jake Rheude is the Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.