When it comes to warehouse picking error rates, most fulfillment centers operate within a 1-3% margin of error. A warehouse with a 97% picking accuracy rate operates on the lowest end of the scale in terms of acceptable performance. Modern eCommerce businesses should expect at least 99.5% picking accuracy from their in-house or 3PL-run fulfillment operation.
The root causes of picking errors include wrong items or quantities, pick failures, damaged items in inventory, and inefficient processes. Whatever the cause, errors in the picking process will ultimately impact other business areas beyond fulfillment. For example:
- Re-picking items and sending them to the customer effectively doubles the cost of fulfilling that order. Higher order fulfillment costs drag down company profits.
- Consumers may return an entire order if it isn’t complete, resulting in a larger revenue loss than the wrongly picked item alone.
- Online shoppers won’t buy again if their order is wrong, with 58% of eCommerce customers willing to abandon a brand over a poor customer experience.
- Return rates will climb and place additional strain on the fulfillment operation. Approximately 23% of all eCommerce returns happen because customers received the wrong product, according to ReadyCloud.
To reduce your warehouse picking error rates and avoid the problems listed here, you’ll need to identify and correct any trouble areas in your fulfillment operation.
4 Things You Can Do to Reduce Warehouse Picking Errors
To achieve and maintain low error rates, you must ensure you have the right processes and capabilities to mitigate potential errors before they happen. The following improvement opportunities will help push picking accuracy rates closer to 100%.
1. Get the right technology
The right technology for your particular operation will depend on numerous factors, such as order volumes, inventory size, number of employees, and the types of products fulfilled. Automating picking tasks can result in a near-immediate improvement in warehouse picking error rates. Some examples of common warehouse technologies that can help decrease errors include:
- Voice picking. Voice picking pushes audio instructions to warehouse associates about what items need to get picked and in what order. These solutions guide pickers to the correct slots in the most efficient manner possible.
- Light picking. This picking technology uses a light interface that directs associates to the correct bin and shows the correct number of items to pick for an order. Pick to light technology helps to improve picking accuracy, speed, and efficiency.
- Barcode/scanning. Scanning technology in the warehouse enables better tracking of items as they move in and out of inventory.
- Employee monitoring. If an associate regularly makes the same mistakes, you need to know. Employee monitoring tools can help identify error patterns so you can do corrective training to improve error rates.
2. Do proper inventory slotting
Consider the placement of your inventory to avoid picking errors. While most fulfillment centers place similar items close together for organizational purposes, this practice can quickly become confusing for a picker—especially if your warehouse is fairly low-tech and relies heavily on manual picking. In manual picking environments, associates are more prone to mistakes—particularly as they get further into the shift and begin to get tired.
For example, say you have the exact same cell phone case in four different colors. If you place those phone cases in four adjacent bins, a warehouse associate can easily grab the wrong one when in a hurry or distracted. It’s better to slot items in a way that makes it immediately apparent to the associate when they grab the wrong item from the wrong bin.
3. Verify your inventory and evaluate receiving processes
You can’t fulfill orders properly if you don’t know what you have in stock. A warehouse associate should never unexpectedly find an empty bin when trying to pick an order. If your warehouse picking error rates are too high, increase the frequency of your inventory checks to keep your order and warehouse management systems in sync. Regular inventory checks will also help you weed out damaged items from inventory.
Furthermore, poor receiving practices will significantly contribute to order picking errors. You should never implicitly trust the bill of lading or inventory list on an inbound shipment. If you bought 1,000 widgets, and the supplier says the box contains 1,000 widgets, that still doesn’t mean there aren’t 994 widgets in the box. The receiving dock is the first line of defense for catching supplier mistakes and maintaining accurate inventory.
4. Use the right picking strategy
Employing the wrong picking strategy for your order type and facility layout may negatively impact warehouse picking error rates. For example, most facilities start with single-order picking. In this method, a warehouse associate picks all items for a single order and packs them for shipping before moving on to the next order. While this labor-intensive method typically has a low error rate, it doesn’t scale well as order volumes begin to climb.
Other common warehouse picking strategies may include:
- Batch picking. Batch pickers grab cases of items for similar orders and then multiple orders are built simultaneously at a pack-out station. This method is ideal for small items and orders with high similarity.
- Cluster picking. In cluster picking, the associate pushes a cart through the warehouse, picking SKUs for multiple orders as they go. The cluster method is well-suited for small or medium-sized items and offers efficiency for picking multiple orders.
- Zone picking. Sometimes called “pick and pass,” warehouse associates stay in their assigned zones and pick items for multiple orders before passing them on to the associate assigned to the next zone. Though it can be labor-intensive, zone picking lets associates gain familiarity with the products in their specific zone to mitigate picking errors. It also minimizes non-productive travel time.
At Amware Fulfillment, our SLA in picking accuracy for most customer environments is 99.7%. In addition, we employ voice picking, light picking, and numerous other technologies to keep our warehouse picking error rates in check. Please reach out to us today to see how Amware Fulfillment can help you minimize warehouse picking errors in your fulfillment operation.