May 15, 2019

Thirty years ago, consumers were content placing an order via mail or by phone from a catalogue, then waiting six to eight weeks for it to be processed and shipped to their home. That seems like forever ago. In today’s instant-gratification retail environment, consumers want their products delivered to their door as fast as humanly possible. (Next they’ll be asking for their order yesterday!) To keep up with this frenetic pace, shippers are on a never-ending quest to decrease the time it takes to deliver an order. One way of accomplishing this is by increasing pick speed at their warehouses. But the trouble with quickened picking speeds is that they can leave the fulfillment process prone to inaccuracy.

To avoid costly mis-picks and inevitable returns, it’s up to shippers to implement a fulfillment process that’s not only fast, but also promotes accurate picking of items.

Pick up the pace by reducing distance
Optimizing pick speed relies heavily on the distance workers need to travel to retrieve the item, bring it to a packaging station, and then get it to the loading bay to be placed on a trailer. Essentially, there are four main points in the warehouse the picker needs to travel between:

  1. Starting point
  2. Item’s location
  3. Packing station
  4. Trailer

Instructing warehouse workers to move more quickly will only work to lower accuracy (and perhaps even employee morale). In truth, the simplest way to decrease picking and packing time is to reduce the distance workers must travel between those four locations.

Getting to know the purchase patterns
Item placement in the warehouse is key to reducing the distance travelled by employees, and understanding customer purchase patterns is integral to this process. Using data, shippers can gauge which items customers buy most, which ones are purchased together, and at what times during the year they’re purchased. The data makes relocating items in the warehouse easier by reducing the distance travelled by those who pick them.

The most popular items should be placed closest to the loading bay, where they can be quickly packaged and loaded onto trailers. Items frequently purchased together should be stored close to one another. Seasonality is another factor that need to be taken into account. Items should be relocated in the warehouse based on what is and what isn’t “in season.”

Want to see how it all comes together? Watch our fulfillment case study.

Picking the best picking process for the job
Ensuring the right picking process is implemented can also work to speed things up. Each order is unique, so picking methods can change based on what needs to be picked and when. There are four major picking strategies that may be implemented:

  1. Individual orders: all items from a single order are picked by a single worker, all at once
  2. Zone picking: one or more workers are assigned to pick items within a certain zone of the warehouse
  3. Wave picking: workers collect items for multiple orders based on their predetermined routes through the warehouse
  4. Conveyor picking: workers use automated systems and conveyor belts to move items throughout the warehouse

Increasing order accuracy to reduce returns
Sure, picking speed is important, but accuracy matters just as much. In order to avoid unnecessary returns which can cost companies big money each year, picking needs to be as on-point as possible. To make that happen, today’s shippers rely on a few different methods.

Putting item verification processes to work
Once items are picked, they go through a series of checks to ensure they’re the right items for the right order. Item SKUs are scanned to ensure they’re meant to be in the outgoing shipment. Item quantities are also verified before orders are packaged and loaded. This quality assurance check is an essential part of the process.

Analyzing and learning from error data
Hey, mistakes happen. But when picking errors do occur, data is used to ascertain what went wrong and why. Shippers should be aware of which items were mis-picked, where the error occurred within the warehouse, if the item was stored in the wrong place or just mistakenly picked, and many other variables that could have led to the mistake.

Think it’s time to rethink your fulfillment strategy?
Healthy changes to your fulfillment strategy can maximize your pick speed and accuracy, delivering greater ROI to your organization. At King Solutions, we’re dedicated to efficiency when it comes to our warehousing and fulfillment services, using every bit of available technology on the market to help our clients better serve their customers. For instance, we recently installed a new high-speed picking system at our Minneapolis-based warehouse, helping us pick faster, smarter and more accurately than ever before. Want to talk out-of-the-box ideas for your fulfillment strategy? Contact our team today.

Related articles:

How to create a fulfillment strategy that keeps your customers in mind

How-to improve efficiency and productivity with order fulfillment

How King fulfilled 200 back-ordered shipments in just eight days