Who would’ve thought that there could be a variety of ways
to pick and pack products. It’s a plain task — just look at
what’s needed for every order, pick the product out of its
storage, and place it into the packaging.
It’s an overlooked part of the fulfillment process, mostly
because it’s the most simple. But once order volumes grow,
so does the importance of picking and packing. A higher
order volume means more time spent processing orders, and
that process can be optimized to save you time and money.
The most common and simplest method is discrete order picking.
If you’re already fulfilling orders, you’re probably already
doing it: an e-retailer receives an order, prints the packing
list — a slip of paper listing the various products in the order
— and begins picking and packing each item before moving to the
If simplicity is key, discrete picking is the lock hole — it’s
straightforward and simple, hence why it’s commonly used. Every
order’s contents are plucked and packed before any other order
is touched. E-retailers with smaller product catalogs and order
volumes typically use this method, and, because orders are
completed one by one, room for error is reduced.
But being easy and safe comes at the cost of efficiency,
especially if you’re juggling a high volume of orders per day.
One at time means visiting the same location multiple times. For
instance, let’s say you’re fulfilling ten orders. Each contains
three or more SKUs, but a few of the orders share one or more of
the same SKU. With the discrete model, one-at-a-time picking and
packing, you’re wasting some time returning to a SKU when you
could’ve picked whatever quantity you needed in total for those
Batch picking focuses more on efficiency. It’s centered around
picking and packing a bunch of orders one SKU at a time, not one
order at a time. Because of that focus, it remedies the issue of
repeatedly returning to an SKU’s location with every order. With
batch, you’re collecting all the SKUs before completing any
Like discrete packing, it’s a common method (whether you know
you’re using it or not!) because its efficiency is scalable.
It’s as time-effective for just-starting-out merchants as it is
for larger merchants with employees paid to pick and pack
It does, however, have its limitations. Batch picking gets
unwieldy when orders have several SKUs, as it creates more
opportunity for error. It’s also a no-go when an order’s
physical dimensions are large.
That’s where the following two picking methods arrive — they’re
usually reserved for high order volume businesses that pay for
storage space or employees that pick, pack, and fulfill orders.
Wave picking is very similar to discrete order picking because
you’re handling one order at a time. The main difference is that
groups of similar orders are fulfilled during scheduled time
frames (waves). How those orders are grouped can be based on a
variety of factors. Here are a few:
Orders containing items stored in close proximity to one
Orders with similar or common SKUs that are often sold
Orders with similarly-timed shipping deadlines
Wave picking is also useful if you’re fulfilling orders that
require different shipping methods.
For instance, let’s say you’ve got a business centered around
vintage records. You sell a variety of vinyls, as well as larger
products, like record players and stands. The smaller, flat
records are cost-effectively shipped via USPS, but you ship the
larger players and stands via FedEx because it’s less costly.
If you wave pick, you can set certain timeframes when you pick
and pack orders to be shipped by USPS or FedEx. Then you can
line up those times with a shipping carrier’s scheduled pickup
Wave picking is fair game for any merchant, but the main reason
it exists is for those larger businesses that store a
considerable amount of product and hire employees paid
specifically to pick, pack, and fulfill orders. Frequently, by
the time wave picking makes a considerable difference in
efficiency, a merchant’s order volume is high enough to afford
outsourcing fulfillment with a 3PL.
Zone picking is for the big boys — it’s about assigning an
employee to a specific area within a warehouse. When orders
arrive, that employee picks all of the SKUs within an assigned
For instance, if an order consists of products all located
within “Joe the Picker’s” designated Zone A, he’ll end up
picking and packing the entire order. If an order consists of
products stored in multiple zones, Joe will only pick and pack
the products of Zone A, passing the order on to Zone B
Efficiency if the name of the game. Zone picking is very much
reminiscent of the tried and true assembly line process that
caused the production booms of the 20th century. And it also
opens the door for some employee specialization.
Referring back to that vintage record example, let’s say you’re
storing a huge amount of records in a warehouse along with
stacks on stacks of record players. Records are fragile — train
employees to treat them with specialized care. And to get those
stacked record players down from the shelves, hire employees
capable of safely operating a forklift.