How to Reduce Warehouse Labor Costs With Smarter Order Picking

August 14, 2018 by Amware Fulfillment

The word “travel” is usually associated with positive things. Vacations…New adventures…

Not so in the fulfillment warehouse, where travel time is the enemy of efficient order picking.  In fact, it can comprise as much as 50% of the picking process – and up to half of your warehousing labor cost.  Without the right system-aided picking process, you’re paying order pickers to walk, not to pick.

Amware addresses this issue at length in our newest eBook, Fulfillment For Dummies, noting that the more time it takes associates to find and retrieve products, the more seriously it will cut into your profit margin. 

Download the Free Amware eBook, "Fulfillment for Dummies"

order pickingThe eBook provides examples of several order picking techniques to help your company control travel time:

  • Zone picking: Associates are assigned to specific zones and pick only the products that are based in their zones, with orders passing through multiple zones in order to be completed.  This limits travel time because associates don’t move back and forth between zones.
  • Batch picking: One associate picks a batch of similar orders at the same time.  This option, which is efficient for multiple orders with the same SKUs, reduces travel time due to the fact that associates can consolidate their visits to certain areas.  But for optimal results, it needs to be used in conjunction with a warehouse management system (WMS) that can analyze and segregate similar orders. 
  • Cluster picking: Associates pick multiple orders into multiple containers at one time, often with the help of carts that contain totes. In the process, travel time and labor costs are reduced because pickers only need to make one pass through a pick zone to complete multiple orders.
  • Wave picking: This method consists of one associate picking one order and SKU at a time.  However, this method stratifies and schedules orders by profile, so that certain kinds of orders are picked all at once and within a certain pre-determined time period.  That way, shipping activity can be better coordinated and picking efficiency can be maximized. 

Each of these techniques is aided by an RF-enabled order fulfillment system to direct the pick process, which is an investment to be sure – but one that’s often well worth it when you consider the benefits such systems offer.    For high-volume pick environments, you can consider the use of automated systems such as:

  • Voice picking. Associates wearing headsets interact with a computer in order to fulfill their order picking requirements. They tell the computer where they’re located in the picking area and the computer speaks back, assigning orders about what products and pick volumes are required for each order.  (To see the benefits of voice picking in action, check out this video.) 
  • Pick to light. Associates scan a bar code for an order on a picking container and are directed to pick items from certain bins. Lights above the relevant product bins illuminate and let the picker know what quantity to pick. The order is complete when all the lights go out.

Which Order Picking Method is Best for your Company? 

It depends.  Much like many other aspects of fulfillment, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.  In fact, even individual companies may need to employ a combination of picking techniques in order to meet their efficiency and customer service needs.

The important thing to know is that, when it comes to how and where your associates travel within your warehouse to get customers’ orders filled, you have options. You don’t have to simply accept high travel time as a necessary by-product of order picking in a fulfillment warehouse.

For more information about these and other time-saving techniques, download our eBook.

If you’re ready to take your fulfillment operations to new levels of efficiency, let’s talk.

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Filed Under: B2C Fulfillment, eCommerce Fulfillment