For many retail businesses, optimizing their pick and pack process should always remain a high priority. After all, it is a process directly tied to a business’s capability to efficiently fulfill its customers’ orders, which greatly affects the company’s reputation. By having a pick and pack process that’s perfectly optimized to its style, its product inventory, and its customers’ needs, a retail business can stay operational and profitable for a long time.
With that said, there are multiple ways in which a business can optimize how it picks and packs customer orders from its inventory, with one of them being the implementation of optimized pick and pack fulfilling services. Before we delve into those ways in greater detail, however, let’s first gain a basic understanding of the pick and pack process itself.
What is the Pick and Pack process all about?
The pick and pack process is just what it sounds like: the picking of the products that the customer ordered from the store’s inventory before they’re packed securely into a box for shipping and delivery. Depending on the size of the business and the size of its inventory, as well as the actual products being sold, this process may involve a lot of manpower as well as machinery and load-bearing vehicles, such as conveyor belts, pick-and-place machines, forklifts, and so on.
Regardless of what’s involved during the pick and pack process, how the process itself is usually done can be classified into four very common types.
Discrete or Piece-by-Piece
This type of picking and packing involves the inventory staff attending to each order as they come in, fulfilling them separately and completely before moving on to the next. It usually goes in the following fashion: the inventory staff receives the order, they pick all the items in the order’s list, they pack the items for final delivery, and then they process the next received order. This particular type is very common in small retail businesses with a limited number of products or a very niche customer base.
Batch or batch picking involves the inventory staff fulfilling multiple orders at once by doing them in batches. This particular method shines when the orders in a single batch are requesting for the same specific product or SKU. This means that the staff member will only need to travel to the SKU’s storage location only once, which drastically cuts down on their travel time. Obviously, this is much more efficient than discrete picking. However, it only works if every order only asks for four SKUs or less, or if the SKU is small enough for the staff member to easily carry.
Wave picking is similar to batch picking, in that multiple orders are fulfilled at once rather than just one at a time. However, orders are grouped based on certain similarities among them, and each group is scheduled to be fulfilled only at a specific time within the shift. This particular style allows for a more systematic and organized approach to high volume order fulfillment. It also allows inventory staff to focus on one particular group of similar orders at once, rather than seeing to multiple disparate ones and potentially getting in each other’s way.
Zone picking involves specific members of the inventory or picking staff being assigned to specific zones within the warehouse. These staff members are then responsible for picking up all the items or SKUs within their zone requested by the order as it is passed through their zone.
For instance, an order that requests for products in Zone A and Zone B will be first given to the employees managing Zone A. Once the order has all the SKUs from Zone A that it needs, it’s then sent over to the employees managing Zone B. Once the order is completely fulfilled, it’s packed and sent off on its way. This particular style of picking and packing is usually seen in businesses with a very large and diverse inventory.
It should be noted that other pick and pack process styles do exist, but they are usually simple variations or combinations of the four main ones listed above.
How to Optimize the Pick and Pack process
Now that we’re a bit more familiar with the pick and pack process itself, let’s delve into the ways that a business can take in order to optimize it.
Focus on minimizing interaction or “touches” with the order
Ideally, once an order is picked and packed, it shouldn’t be interacted with or repacked any longer. Preventing further “touching” ensures that each order is fulfilled quickly, efficiently, and without any errors. One particular idea for this optimization tactic is to have it so that only the inventory staff handles the picking and no one else. Another is to have the staff deposit picked items directly into the shipping boxes, rather than in totes or crates.
Rearrange warehouse inventory for maximum efficiency
A sure-fire way to optimize the pick and pack process is to organize how an entire inventory is stored so that the pickers will have an easier time getting to them. An example of this is to put top-selling items closest to the packing stations. Another is to store items that are usually bought together in adjacent storage areas. These suggestions may seem minor, but they definitely can give an efficiency boost to the picking and packing process.
Ensure warehouse cleanliness and organization
A clean and orderly warehouse is an efficient one. Organized shelves lead to inventory staff being able to easily find specific SKUs, as well as check if there’s ample supply or a refill that is direly needed. Clean and unobstructed corridors, on the other hand, allow forklifts and other machine aids a smooth trip between shelves.
Be meticulous with inventory accuracy
Inventory errors can be a source of delays in the picking and packing step of order fulfillment. For example, picking staff trying to look for ordered products that are actually out of stock can result in a lot of wasted time and energy. What’s more, it also means that your customer who ordered the SKU will have to be notified about the inventory mistake, which can cause delays even further especially if their order involves a large number of items. To prevent against this particular scenario, it’s best to keep your inventory constantly updated and accurate.
Consider employing a pick and pack fulfillment service
If you’re truly experiencing problems with your business’s pick and pack process and nothing you do seems to work, then you may want to enlist the help of a professional pick and pack fulfillment service. This is essentially hiring another company to do it for you, rather than rely on yourself or on your in-house employees.
While resorting to such a tactic may seem rather excessive, it doesn’t change the fact that these third-party services are better equipped and more knowledgeable at picking and packing. This ensures a really quick turnaround time when it comes to fulfilling orders. Some services will even allow you to offer same day packing and shipping, which can be a great draw for new customers as well as a huge benefit for your loyal ones.
Make optimizing your pick and pack process a priority
While having a wide inventory selection is great for business, this can all mean nothing if your pick and pack process isn’t optimized to fulfill your customers’ orders in the most efficient way possible. Consider the above-listed ways to improve this essential business process and adopt them as you see fit. Doing so may seem like more work, but the added productivity and positive customer perception will more than make up for it.