Companies of all sizes rely on logistics and order processing to get their goods to consumers. Warehouses are especially valuable in this respect. Those with fulfillment centers ship goods directly to consumers without the need for sending freight to retail stores or drop-off locations. This process, commonly known as “pick, pack, and ship,” is invaluable for e-commerce retailers. Online shoppers typically expect the goods to arrive on time within 48 to 72 hours.
The Pick, Pack, and Ship Process
The pick, pack, and ship process is likely familiar to any consumers who have ever visited a warehouse discount store, such as Cash and Carry, Costco, or Sam’s Club. Aisles upon aisles of goods rest upon shelves, with pallets and cases open so that warehouse workers, or shoppers, can “pick” through to get individual goods for purchase.
In commercial warehouses without consumer access, those pickers then package the goods and apply a printed shipping label for UPS, USPS, or other delivery service, which then delivers the package. This process scales nicely for larger businesses and warehouses, where different versions enable quick, efficient, and effective logistics.
Different Pick and Pack Strategies for Businesses
Pick and pack strategies vary in some ways by retailer, with the largest warehouses using hybrid processes that suit the specific needs of their companies. However, such strategies have evolved over time into a set of commonly accepted practices that help warehouses and retailers use shared terminology throughout the fulfillment process.
Piece picking is similar to shopping at a grocery store or consumer-access warehouse. The picker goes through the aisles, locating goods and setting them aside for packing. This happens for each individual order. A small jewelry store or similar business that hosts its own warehouse might use this method, as orders are likely to be for a single item or a few similar items.
Batch picking is far more common in larger businesses, where a single picker may be tasked with two to seven individual orders at a single time. The picker goes through the aisles with carts or baskets designated for each customer.
The focus on multiple customers at a time allows for greater efficiency, and a good batch picking process will perform only a single pass down each aisle. A small fulfillment center, wholesale distributor, or large private business is likely to engage in batch picking.
Zone picking separates the goods in the warehouse by type. Pickers may work in electronics, clothing, foods, beauty aids, or hard goods, for example. They often pick for only one order at a time, but they only pick within their assigned areas. The selected items are then placed in boxes or baskets and sent to other zones to complete the order before packaging for shipment. Larger fulfillment centers, especially those that service multiple e-commerce providers, often use zone picking.
Wave picking is a hybrid of batch and zone picking. Pickers fulfill multiple orders at a time, but stay confined within their zones. Each order then moves to other zones, often by automated means, such as conveyor belts, where the process repeats until all items are picked.
This practice is used primarily by only the largest fulfillment centers and warehouses, where multiple vendors share holding space, or huge retail giants that offer direct-to-consumer shipping. Inventory management may be completely automated at this stage.
Common Pick, Pack, and Ship Challenges
Pick, pack, and ship strategies are never quite perfect, even after decades of development and refinement. Challenges arise that require the attention of warehouse managers, customer service representatives, and others involved in the fulfillment process. Some of these common inventory management mistakes are more easily overcome than others, but all are manageable, if not avoidable, pitfalls for savvy business owners.
Lack of Organization or Streamlining
The biggest challenge warehouses usually have to contend with is organization and efficiency. If pickers can’t easily find items, packers must navigate unwieldy rows of boxes and tape, and delays are all but certain. Customers want their products as quickly as possible, and woe to the warehouse that gains a reputation for late deliveries or missed shipment windows.
Additionally, a lack of organization can lead to inaccurate stock counts, which can seriously mess with a business’s bottom line. For example, the reorder point formula is bound to accurate stock counts, and, if miscalculated, could lead to stock shortages or dead stock. Tracking software, sound organization, and clear, consistent labeling do wonders for business efficiency, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, a business’s profits.
While piece picking and zone picking both strive to enhance accuracy in different ways, it is possible that an order may ship without all of its items. This is even more likely when workers rely on batch or wave picking and tackle multiple orders at a time. Double-checks and item scanning for verification may seem like an unnecessary splurge early on, but these systems save both time and money in the long run.
Lack of Quality Control
Another potential supply chain logistics pitfall lies in quality control. Piece picking makes inspection for flaws or damaged packaging easier, but when items start to fly off shelves via zone or wave picking, quality control may fall to the wayside. As such, pick, pack, and ship requires a firm adherence to quality control standards. Customers will not assume damages or flaws are part of the shipping process; nor should they, if it is within a warehouse’s control to prevent such items from shipping.
Pick, Pack, and Ship Advantages for Businesses
With so many potential pitfalls to avoid, why does pick, pack, and ship seem like such a good idea? The merits in the forms of effectiveness and efficiency seem obvious. It should be easier to handle inventory metrics once you decide on a dedicated strategy. There are also plenty of additional reasons to turn to this type of order processing:
Happy customers may leave good reviews. They return to purchase more, and they tout their finds to others. Customer satisfaction is paramount to sales and services, and unhappy customers lead to unhappy, and unprofitable, businesses. Even the warehouse must consider how their result affects their fulfillment clients. Unhappy business owners will likely seek other options, making customer service invaluable at every step of the way.
Saving on Costs
An organized fulfillment center using a defined pick, pack, and ship strategy can be exceptionally cost effective. It eliminates the need for small businesses to employ warehouse workers, such as pickers and packaging crews, directly. These savings help businesses remain competitive in their respective markets, and warehouses that can effectively serve more retail or e-commerce businesses with efficient order processing ultimately reap the benefits of their own cost-saving strategies.
Systems dedicated to tracking every item, every shipment, and every customer can keep customers (and business owners) informed each step of the way. This additional peace of mind becomes an expected part of customer service, and it makes things far easier when a warehouse has to track down missing items or shipments. A dedicated shipping facility makes printing labels, moving inventory out the door and tracking product all the way to the end user that much easier.
Integration also means that businesses that rely on such systems can more easily connect with payroll services to analyze productivity, labor costs, and related data. This enables more accurate scheduling and can further enhance the timeliness of deliveries, as well as management of employee hours.
Inventory Management Integration
An organized warehouse system feeds into an organized ordering system. Tracking becomes ever easier, and business owners can more accurately forecast purchasing decisions and inventory planning. Inventory management integration takes much of the guesswork out of reordering and resupplying by combining established inventory management strategies and software for accurate and manageable results. Ultimately, this becomes an additional part of the cost-savings strategy and drives profits upward over time.
Gone are the days of pseudo-warehouses in garages, stacked with crafts or bulk merchandise. Today’s modern consumer demands more. Excellent delivery times, impeccable packaging, and stellar customer service are the new standards modern businesses must meet. Pick, pack, and ship is one of the best ways to meet these expectations.