Practical Ecommerce

Fulfillment: How to Speed up the Picking Process

In “Holiday Checklist for Ecommerce Operations,” my article last month, I shared steps to assist in your preparation for the upcoming seasonal rush.

In this article, I’ll offer tips to your warehouse team, to be more efficient. These tips are for facilities with limited resources and automation.

Organize by Velocity

Item or inventory velocity is defined as the speed at which the inventory item is cycled in a given period. Locating your products by velocity means that you are placing the fastest moving items in a location that shortens the pick time it takes.

Don’t just consider the walking distance, but also the appropriate height for your pickers. With the holidays looming, it’s too late to reorganize your entire warehouse and likely wouldn’t be cost effective anyway.

However, a quick review of your fastest moving items might reveal a few SKUs that would make sense to move. Only move SKUs if the amount of time to move them will be rewarded by a 2-times or greater pick efficiency.

Improve Sorting and Batching

Sorting and batching orders to the most appropriate method for your warehouse is the most common, low-cost method for reducing pick time and increasing productivity. You can batch orders by:

  • Product line;
  • SKU;
  • Zone;
  • Line item(s);
  • Number units per order;
  • Transaction.

A common example of batch picking is to sort the orders by SKU, therefore reducing the number of times a picker has to visit the location.

If your company sells multiple product lines and they are located in the warehouse in that manner — by product line — then sorting orders by product line can be fruitful.

To minimize the number of employees working in a limited space, divide the orders by zone. Depending on your warehouse setup, this can be done many ways. In its simplest format, sort the orders by location, such as aisles, shelves, and racks.

If you’re utilizing seasonal or temporary employees, consider sorting the orders by the number of line items or SKUs to pick. Use experienced employees for orders that are more difficult, with larger quantities. New, less-experienced employees can focus on smaller quantities.

Wave Picking

Wave picking can have many meanings. I’ve seen good results with locating products by sale date on moveable shelves that serve as the pick locations.

Say your marketing team runs a sale every Monday. When these weekly sales occur, the volume will increase dramatically, with the first week demand being the highest and each subsequent week’s volume lower.

So, on Friday, place the upcoming Monday-sale items on moveable shelves closest to the pickers. As each weekly sale occurs, the product is moved behind the previous week’s sale, so that the most recent sale requires the least amount of travel time. This allows your employees to pick the product in “waves” that correlate with the sale. Any unsold product would be moved to a permanent pick location after being in the sale area for the chosen period.

If you don’t have moveable shelves, another variation is to choose an area with specific pick locations that will solely be used temporarily for those products. Group all of the items on that sale together. For example, if you have 20 items that are going on sale today, place those 20 items in a short-term pick location all grouped together. As the sale ends for those 20 items, move the items not sold to a permanent pick location, to make room for the next items for sale.

Pairing

Pairing is another helpful idea for improving pick efficiencies. Many times when product A sells, so will product B. Locate those products next to each other, even in combinations of more than two.

Kitting and Assembly

Always kit or assemble products in advance of the picking. Many times the items are sold individually as well – which can result in kitting too many and then having to disassemble.

If you can’t accurately predict the number of kits to assemble, consider the total time to assemble and disassemble. I would always assemble some small quantity in advance, rather than on the fly.

Michael Manzione

Michael Manzione

Bio   •   RSS Feed


email-news-env

Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. Jason October 27, 2015 Reply

    Great writeup, Michael. Short and to the point with some great tips.

    We got into batch picking this year with a software service called Skulabs, which has some built-in batch sorting and fulfillment tools. They’re adding a lot of new features, so we’re gonna be sticking with them for a while I think.

    • Carlos Rivera October 29, 2015 Reply

      Jason, I agree. Awesome writeup by Michael.

      I am working on a lot of these issues currently at my business, and it is great to have his expert advice to go off of! Thank you!