Piece Picking Guide for Ecommerce Businesses

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Imagine this: your ecommerce business is growing — customers are raving about your products, you plan on adding more products to your catalogue, and orders are coming in from all parts of the world.

But there’s still one aspect of your business’s supply chain that isn’t quite up to par: the picking process.

The picking process is what happens in the warehouse after an order has been placed. It’s when someone (or something) picks the order to be prepared for packing and shipment.

However, not all picking processes are created equal. Some picking strategies are better suited for smaller orders, while others excel in handling larger, more complex ones. Using the wrong picking process can cause various issues. For example, it may result in a lower order accuracy which leads to customers receiving items they didn’t purchase. This, in turn, results in unhappy customers and lost profits for the business. Or maybe using the wrong picking process slows down your fulfilment operations, stalling throughput which results in longer order cycle time and extended wait times for customers.

So, which picking systems should ecommerce owners be using in their fulfilment operations? In this post, we’ll be discussing just that and how an optimised piece-picking solution may be the answer.

What is piece picking?

Piece picking, also known as individual item picking, is a picking strategy in which associates select single items from within a warehouse to assemble and complete customer orders. Unlike other picking methods that might involve handling whole boxes or pallets of goods, piece picking focuses on single items.

The standard process for piece picking looks something like this:

  1. Order receipt: Receiving orders via a warehouse management system (WMS) that lists needed items.
  2. Item identification: Workers use lists or digital devices, aided by barcodes or RFID tags, to find item locations in the warehouse.
  3. Picking the items: Order pickers navigate to these locations, verify items and quantities, and then collect them.
  4. Quality check: A check is performed post-picking to ensure accuracy and reduce errors.
  5. Transport to packing area: Items are moved to the packing area for sorting and packing into shipping boxes.
  6. Updating inventory: Inventory levels are updated in the WMS as items are picked.
  7. Preparation for shipment: Packed orders are labelled and sorted for dispatch based on the delivery method.

How does piece picking compare with other picking methods

Piece picking is one of several warehouse picking methods used in modern fulfilment centres. Each is suited to different types of orders and inventory profiles. 

Understanding how piece picking compares with methods like case picking, batch picking, and zone picking is essential for optimising warehouse efficiency.

Case picking

Case picking involves selecting and moving entire cases or boxes of items, typically used when large quantities of the same product are required for an order. It’s often seen in wholesale or retail distribution environments where bulk handling is common.

Here’s how case picking and piece picking are different:

FactorsCase pickingPiece picking
Order sizeLarge quantities of the same itemIndividual items for each order
EfficiencyHigh for bulk orders; less movement per itemLower for individual items; more movement required
FlexibilityLess flexible; best for uniform ordersHighly flexible; suits varied, small orders
Technology useOften less technology-intensiveBenefits more from advanced technology like barcodes and RFID
Labour intensityPotentially less labour-intensive per itemMore labour-intensive due to individual item handling
AccuracyError margin can be lower for bulk ordersHigher risk of errors; requires precise picking
Ideal forIdeal for wholesale, retail bulk ordersSuited for diverse ecommerce operations

Batch picking

Batch picking involves collecting items for multiple orders simultaneously. This pick and pack fulfilment method aims to reduce the time spent travelling within the warehouse by grouping orders with similar items together.

Here are some of the ways batch picking is different than piece picking:

FactorsBatch pickingPiece picking
Order processingMultiple orders handled in one goEach order is processed individually
EfficiencyHigher for multiple similar orders; reduces travel timeLower as each order is picked separately
Error potentialCan be higher due to order complexityLower as focus is on one order at a time
Sorting post-pickingRequires additional sorting stepDirect packing after picking, less sorting
SpeedFaster for bulk orders with common itemsSlower, but more tailored to individual needs
Technology integrationBenefits greatly from tech for order groupingRequires technology but maybe not as complex
Ideal forWarehouses with repetitive order profilesDiverse order profiles with varied items

Zone picking

Zone picking divides the warehouse into different areas or zones, with pickers assigned to specific zones. Items from different zones are then consolidated into complete orders.

Here are the main differences in zone picking and piece picking:

FactorsZone pickingPiece picking
Warehouse layoutWarehouse divided into specific zonesNo specific zoning; pickers move throughout
EfficiencyHigh in large warehouses; minimises travelLower as pickers may travel across all zones
SpecializationPickers specialize in certain zones or productsPickers handle a broad range of products
Order consolidationRequired from different zonesNo consolidation needed; one picker per order
ScalabilityGood for scaling in large operationsScalable, but can be labour-intensive
FlexibilityLess flexible, based on zone layoutMore flexible, suitable for varied orders
Ideal forLarge warehouses with high order volumesAny size of operation, especially with varied items

The role of piece picking in ecommerce fulfilment

When it comes to ecommerce stores, there’s a lot of variability. We’re talking multiple SKUs, custom packaging, custom inserts, personalised products, the list goes on. That’s exactly why piece picking is so important in this industry.

Piece picking is all about precision and personalisation. It involves selecting each specific item from the picking list, ensuring that what the customer chose online is exactly what lands at their doorstep.

Speed and scalability are just as important. Customers are used to rapid service, and piece picking allows for quick turnaround of orders. 

Additionally, it does not limit your growth due to logistical constraints. Piece picking adapts to increasing order volumes and product variety, ensuring that your fulfilment process can scale up alongside your business growth.

That being said, all of these things are only true if you have the right piece picking processes in place. At ShipBob, we’ve taken great care into creating the proper warehouse receiving processes, warehouse setup, technological integrations, warehouse automation, and building a skilled team.

ShipBob’s innovative approach to piece picking

At ShipBob, we’re transforming piece picking for ecommerce businesses with our advanced fulfilment solutions. Our approach combines cutting-edge technology with efficient processes to ensure that your fulfilment needs are met. 

Here are the key benefits of partnering with ShipBob for efficient piece picking:

  • Advanced technology: Order picking software that’s designed to optimise and improve the warehouse picking and packing process. Our technology gives you real time insights about your orders so you know where they are in the fulfilment process.
  • Optimised inventory management: Real-time tracking helps maintain stock levels, set reorder points, and prevent overselling.
  • Scalable solutions: ShipBob adapts to your growth, no matter if you’re just launching your ecommerce store or if you’re driving multi-million revenue. In addition to our DTC fulfilment, we offer retail and wholesale fulfilment solutions.
  • Strategic locations: ShipBob has distribution centres that are positioned throughout the world to reduce shipping times and costs, ensuring a positive customer experience no matter where shoppers are located.
  • Customisation and flexibility: ShipBob’s Customisation Suite allows you to curate a branded experience with features like custom packaging, kitting, marketing inserts, gift notes, and more.
  • Efficiency and cost savings: Instead of opening and operating your own warehouse, you can outsource fulfilment to the experts which allows you to focus time and resources on your core business.
  • Ecommerce expertise: ShipBob’s experienced team of fulfilment experts offers insights to enhance your fulfilment strategy.

The benefits above are all associated with partnering with ShipBob as a fulfilment partner. But maybe you already have a warehouse and don’t need a 3PL for fulfilment. Perhaps what’s missing is a software component that ties your warehouse operation together for faster, more efficient piece picking.

ShipBob’s standalone WMS can do just that. Designed to integrate seamlessly with your existing warehouse operations, ShipBob’s WMS can bring the same level of efficiency and accuracy that ShipBob is known for into your own warehouse.

Integrating technology in piece picking: ShipBob’s strategy

At ShipBob, integrating cutting-edge technology into our piece picking process is at the core of our strategy. This tech-driven approach not only streamlines operations but also ensures faster and more accurate order fulfilment. 

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

ShipBob’s WMS is the backbone of our piece picking operation. It’s designed to optimise every step of the process, from order receipt to shipment. The system calculates optimal routes for pickers, integrates seamlessly with inventory tools, and uses AI machine learning to identify opportunities for improvement.

Barcode Scanning and RFID Technology

ShipBob uses barcode scanning and RFID technology for quick and precise item identification. This method significantly reduces human error, ensuring that the correct item is picked every time. These tools enable pickers to quickly locate and verify items, speeding up the entire picking process.

Case studies: successful piece picking with ShipBob

Having the latest and greatest piece picking technology is undoubtedly important. But, what really matters is being able to properly implement this technology to achieve real-world results.

Bunker Branding, a print-on-demand company, did just that. They use ShipBob’s WMS to fulfil 10,000+ orders per month with a less than 1% error rate. 

“ShipBob’s WMS makes it almost impossible to do things wrong. Eliminating the potential for human error during picking and packing has been great. That was our biggest problem before. Last time I checked, our error rate was less than 1%. We’re shipping out over 10,000 orders per month.“

– Clint Sanders, Vice President of Operations at Bunker Branding

Pit Viper is another prime example of a company that saw their order accuracy improve once they implemented ShipBob’s WMS—going from 92% to 99.7%.

WMS makes it really hard to send out the wrong product. It still happens on rare occasions – but it happens a lot less than before. Before we implemented ShipBob’s WMS, our order accuracy rate was around 92%. Now we’re at 99.7% for order accuracy, which equates to 2,100 less mispicks a year on average.”

– Jourdan Davis, Operations Manager at Pit Viper

It’s no secret that technology plays a big role in a successful piece picking strategy. But choosing and implementing the right technology is what really sets a good piece picking strategy apart from a great one. ShipBob’s WMS has proven to be an invaluable tool for many of the ecommerce companies we partner with and will continue to be a key factor in their ongoing success.

Technological advancements reshape entire industries—and piece picking is no different. With the rapid progression in technology, we’re looking at a future where piece picking becomes more efficient, accurate, and cost-effective.

Technological advancements in piece picking

“Traditional” technology as we know it is still the primary component of an efficient piece picking strategy. At ShipBob, we’re at the forefront of these advancements, utilising tools such as our warehouse management system (WMS) to connect all elements of the piece picking process together. 

A robust WMS enables pickers to identify the most optimal routes, communicates with ASRS systems for faster retrieval of items, and ensures real-time inventory tracking.

The role of AI and robotics in piece picking

Now, there’s also a “new age” of technology taking shape—that is, AI and robotics. For piece picking, these new technologies could significantly improve fulfilment processes. For instance, automated warehouse picking equipment like AGVs or robotic arms have proven to increase industrial productivity 50 to 70% in some cases.

Utilising Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) to automate the retrieval and storage of items will be key factors in boosting warehouse productivity and efficiency. This system significantly improves pick rates by reducing the time spent on locating and moving items, especially for high-volume or fast-moving products.

The future could see even more sophisticated robots equipped with AI, capable of making intelligent decisions like prioritising orders and understanding complex warehouse layouts. This integration of AI and robotics promises not only increased speed and accuracy but also a reduction in manual labour costs.

Preparing for the future

For ecommerce businesses, staying ahead of these technological advancements is crucial. Embracing new technologies and adapting business models to leverage these tools will be key to maintaining a competitive edge. 

ShipBob is committed to helping businesses navigate this changing landscape. Our continuous investment in technology and innovation means our clients are always equipped with the latest and most efficient fulfilment solutions. By partnering with a fulfilment partner like ShipBob, ecommerce businesses can ensure they are well-prepared for the future of logistics, with access to the latest technologies and expertise in order fulfilment.

Conclusion

For many ecommerce companies, piece picking is still the preferred order fulfilment method. Although it has its drawbacks, technology plays a central role in optimising it. By integrating advanced systems like warehouse management software, AI, and robotics businesses can overcome many traditional challenges associated with piece picking.

At ShipBob, we continuously innovate and integrate these advanced technologies to refine piece picking, offering our clients the most efficient, accurate, and scalable fulfilment solutions. If you’re interested in learning more, explore ShipBob’s solutions and see how we can elevate your ecommerce fulfilment strategy.

Get started with ShipBob

Interested in leveraging the best-in-class fulfilment provider for piece picking your orders? Connect with the ShipBob team to get started.

Piece picking FAQs

Below are answers to the most common questions about piece picking. 

Why is piece picking important for ecommerce businesses?

Piece picking allows for the accurate and efficient handling of individual ecommerce customer orders. This method is key to managing a wide variety of products and order sizes, ensuring personalised fulfilment, and keeping customers happy.

What future trends are expected in piece picking technology?

Future trends in piece picking technology include the integration of AI and machine learning for smarter inventory and order management, the use of robotics for more efficient and accurate picking, and advanced software systems to streamline the entire process.

How does ShipBob optimise piece picking for its clients?

ShipBob optimises piece picking for its clients by leveraging technologies like a sophisticated WMS, barcode scanning, and real-time inventory tracking. ShipBob also uses strategic warehouse locations and scalable solutions to handle increased order volumes, ensuring fast, accurate, and cost-effective fulfilment.

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Written By:

Meredith is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob, where she writes articles, eGuides, and other resources to help growing ecommerce businesses master their logistics and fulfillment.

Read all posts written by Meredith Flora