What are the Different Types of Warehouse Order Picking?

Allison Champion
4 min read
January 23, 2019
Modified: March 20, 2023

When order fulfillment operations are considered as a whole, it’s easy to see why shipping and warehousing receive most of the technical praise. The e-commerce industry relies heavily on how the order picking methods are done when their inventory is being fulfilled.

Shipping is the face of every e-commerce delivery, and fulfillment warehouses are incredibly advanced structures capable of housing an astonishing amount of inventory.

Behind the scenes of e-commerce is a series of sophisticated fulfillment operations that ensure the successful delivery of online purchases, and therefore the continued business of online customers.

What Is Order Picking?

Few, if any, consumers consider the complicated operations that ensure the successful delivery of an e-commerce package to their doorstep. Most are simply happy to receive their online purchase on time and in one piece.

However, the backbone of every successful online shopping experience is not shipping, warehousing, or even the internet, but order picking strategy, which accounts for more than 50% of all fulfillment center operations.

Warehouse order picking refers to the process of removing items from the inventory in order to fill a customer order.

Pallet and case picking for orders is a fulfillment center’s most complicated, labor-intensive, and essential operation; therefore, it’s also its most expensive.

Order Picking Methods

Consequently, fulfillment centers and third-party logistic providers who conduct their picking process and order fulfillments with the utmost speed and accuracy are, unsurprisingly the most successful.

There are several different types of order picking methods, all of which are engineered to increase the speed, accuracy, and overall efficiency of the warehouse operation.

Single Order Picking

Single Order Picking refers to the picking process wherein an order picker journeys into a vast warehouse to pick order items from inventory to fill an individual order at a time. Single order picking is also referred to as discrete picking and piece picking.

Though the single order picking process is the most commonly employed picking method, it is not the most efficient. In most cases, the sequence in which a picker is likely to find, pick, and fill SKU items is not optimized to increase speed or accuracy, thus wasting time and money.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) provide the exact location of SKU items in a warehouse and optimizes a pickers route to retrieve it from the pallets the inventory sit on.

Wave picking utilizes a similar method in which one order picker will go after an individual SKU at a time, however the orders are grouped into waves to match shipping and schedule times.

Batch & Multi-Batch Order Picking

Fulfillment centers who employ Batch and Multiple Order picking methods enjoy a step up on those who employ a single cased picking method.

Order pickers utilizing a batch order picking method utilize warehouse management systems to pick SKU’s from the warehouse to fill more than one order at a time, thus eliminating unnecessary trips to the same storage area of the warehouse.

Batch picking methods are, in most cases, compatible with automated shipping systems.

Zone Picking & Passing

Different SKU items have different storage requirements; thus most warehouses are divided into specific zones that are specially equipped to house different SKU items.

Warehouses that utilize the zone picking method typically “pick and pass” SKU items from zone-to-zone to be packaged and shipped from a central order consolidation location.

However, it’s not uncommon for different zones to function independently of other zones in the warehouse layout.

A refrigerated warehouse, for example, may include a “frozen” zone that consolidates and ships frozen orders independently of the “dry” and “reefer” zones to maintain the integrity of frozen SKU items.

Autonomous Order Systems

Automation technology has significantly affected how fulfillment centers pick and fill SKU items. In fact, a growing number of fulfillment centers have become fully, or partially autonomous.

Autonomous Order Systems generally include a sophisticated array of tracks and automated pickers who utilize artificial intelligence to find and retrieve specific totes from inventory and deliver them to designated consolidation areas. Thanks to technology, the automated order picking function saves the warehouse manager time and money.

Within the consolidation area, an employee or another automated system selects the requested SKU item and positions the tote on a track to be returned to its designated position within the warehouse.

Final Thoughts

Fulfillment centers are incredibly sophisticated operations that support the astoundingly vast e-commerce industry, but without an equally sophisticated picking system, even the most well-funded fulfillment center is bound to fail.

The best way to ensure your order fulfillment operations are optimized for speed, accuracy, efficiency, and success is to trust them to the supply chain, logistics, warehouse and fulfillment experts here at Flowspace. Click below to make sure you receive the best customer satisfaction from your customers!

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Written By:

flowspace author Allison Champion

Allison Champion

Allison Champion leads marketing communication at Flowspace, where she works to develop content that addresses the unique challenges facing modern brands in omnichannel eCommerce. She has more than a decade of experience in content development and marketing.