Waveless Picking Guide

Traditional methods like wave or zone picking aren’t ideal in every scenario. When the goal is to get an ecommerce order shipped out as quickly as possible, traditional methods may be slow or inefficient.

That’s where waveless picking comes in. End-to-end fulfilment solutions like ShipBob recognise that ecommerce order fulfilment should operate dynamically and continuously. That’s exactly what waveless picking aims to achieve.

In this article, we’ll explain why ecommerce companies should consider employing waveless picking in their fulfilment warehouses, as well as discuss a few key implementation strategies.

So, what do you want to learn?

What is waveless picking?

Why waveless picking is important in ecommerce

How to implement waveless picking

Waveless picking improves the customer experience

ShipBob’s WMS elevates ecommerce endeavors

Waveless Picking FAQs

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What is waveless picking?

Waveless picking is an order fulfilment method where orders are continuously pulled and processed in real-time, rather than being grouped into “waves” or “batches” as in traditional wave picking. This approach prioritizes dynamic, ongoing allocation of orders, ensuring that there’s minimal downtime or waiting periods between tasks in the fulfilment centre.

In the ecommerce world, choosing the most effective picking method is more important than ever. With a growing number of consumers expecting 2-day or even next-day delivery times, an efficient warehouse picking method means orders are shipped out quicker, order accuracy improves, and ecommerce companies are better able to handle sudden surges in order volume.

Why waveless picking is important in ecommerce

The dynamic nature of ecommerce order fulfilment is really what gave rise to the need for waveless picking. In fact, American Eagle Outfitters is believed to be one of the first brands to start using this picking method back in 2007 which enabled them to efficiently fulfil DTC orders. 

To help paint a better picture of the importance of waveless picking just imagine these two scenarios:

  1. Warehouse A uses wave-based picking, organising their orders into distinct batches. They process these batches at scheduled times throughout the day. An order placed right after a wave has been processed will have to wait for the next wave, resulting in unnecessary delays. During high-demand periods, such as holiday sales, this batching can lead to backlogs and overwhelmed staff.
  2. Warehouse B, on the other hand, employs waveless picking. As soon as an order is placed, it’s entered into the fulfilment process and assigned to the warehouse picker located closest to the items in said order. There’s no waiting for a batch to form or a scheduled processing time. Even during peak sales times, this system can dynamically adjust, handling a steady stream of new orders without significant delays or backlogs.

Although many fulfilment centres implement multiple order picking methods for omnichannel fulfilment, waveless picking is becoming the preferred choice for many ecommerce businesses. Here’s why:

  • Adaptability to order volume: Waveless picking adjusts well to unpredictable ecommerce sales, such as from flash sales or viral moments.
  • Decreased lead time: Continuous order processing reduces the time between order placement and shipping, resulting in quicker deliveries.
  • Efficient resource use: Warehouse workers remain active, with orders allocated based on proximity, speeding up the process and reducing idle times.
  • Improved accuracy: Real-time processing reduces batch picking-related errors, crucial for minimising return costs and negative reviews.
  • Simplified processes: Continuous processing reduces the intricacies of batching, thus streamlining tasks.

Cost efficiency: a look at picking ROI

When it comes to order fulfilment, every penny and every second counts. The method you choose directly impacts the overall costs and efficiency of your operations. With that said, let’s dive into a comparative analysis of traditional picking methods versus waveless picking.

Initial costs

Traditional Picking MethodsWaveless Picking
Significant setup and planning needed.

Possible intricate scheduling and coordination of multiple pickers.

System downtimes for wave setup.

Training on batch schedules, leading to increased administrative overhead.
Costs for transitioning to a waveless system exist, such as integration of a new Warehouse Management System (WMS) or training.

Expenses can be quickly offset by immediate efficiency gains.

Platforms like ShipBob offer a streamlined learning curve, minimising setup costs.

Financial benefits of waveless picking: Faster ROI due to immediate operational efficiencies and reduced setup costs.

Operational costs

Traditional Picking MethodsWaveless Picking
Higher potential for dead or idle time between waves leading to wasted labour costs.

Larger batches increase the risk of errors, adding costs for returns and reshipments.
Continuous order processing significantly reduces picker idle time.

Dynamic allocation ensures consistent picker efficiency, lowering labour costs per order.

Real-time processing reduces errors, ensuring fewer returns and less wasted inventory.

Financial benefits of waveless picking: Walking and manually picking orders can account for more than 50% of the time associated with picking. Waveless picking makes every step more efficient, thus lowering labour costs.

Scalability costs

Traditional Picking MethodsWaveless Picking
Challenging and expensive to scale up during peak seasons.

Costs for temporary staff, overtime, and increased error rates.
Inherent scalability, adjusting dynamically during busy periods.

Ability to handle peak seasons or sales surges without drastic operational changes.

Financial benefits of waveless picking: Cost-effective scalability during high-demand periods without significant additional investments.

Case studies and real-world applications

Over the years, ShipBob has been able to work with ecommerce companies around the world to optimise their picking and packing processes.

Many companies we work with say that having access to a dashboard that provides a single source of truth with accurate inventory levels, picking and packing status updates, and real-time tracking is invaluable.

“With ShipBob, you see exactly what is picked. You can outsource your fulfilment while still maintaining full control. ShipBob owns the entire stack: inventory and order management system, warehouse management system, and their fulfilment centres.”

Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.

But the technology that enables waveless picking and the increased transparency that comes along with it isn’t the only benefit. It’s also a major source of optimisation that allows for more throughput, cost savings, and time efficiency.

“It’s a pain to pick, pack, and print the labels, and manage the storage. It would be a huge stress for us to do it ourselves, but the fact that ShipBob takes care of it all, both the savings in costs and time, is invaluable to our business.” 

Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses

How to implement waveless picking (+ challenges to overcome)

So you’re convinced about the importance of waveless picking, but how do you take it from concept to reality?

Let’s break this down step by step, ironing out the kinks and ensuring your transition to waveless picking is smooth.

Acquire a warehouse management system (WMS)

A good warehouse management system (WMS) is the most important piece of the waveless picking puzzle. It’s not just some order picking software, it’s the central tool that drives the operational efficiency of your warehouse. Your WMS needs to be able to manage continuous order flow without disruption, dynamically allocate tasks to pickers, and provide real-time updates on order status and inventory levels.

Potential challenge: Not all WMS systems are equipped for waveless picking. Making the wrong choice can lead to operational bottlenecks and communication breakdowns.

Optimise your warehouse space utilisation

Operational efficiency extends beyond digital tools; it involves the strategic utilisation of physical warehouse space (also known as warehouse slotting). An organised warehouse can significantly reduce picking times and enhance overall operations.

Potential challenge: Overhauling your warehouse material handling process can be complex, requiring both time and expertise, and occasionally calls for rethinking conventional warehousing strategies.

Watch out for common pitfalls

Transitioning to waveless picking can significantly enhance your warehouse operations, yet like any substantial change, it comes with its set of challenges and common pitfalls. 

Here are a few to consider:

  1. Inadequate training: Transitioning to waveless picking is not just a technological shift but also an operational one. It involves tweaks to both inbound and outbound logistics and requires training of your staff to understand and adapt to the new picking methodology.
  2. Insufficient technology integration: The success of waveless picking largely relies on the seamless integration of your WMS with other technological tools in use.
  3. Underestimating transition time: Switching to a waveless picking model is a substantial operational change that might take longer than anticipated to fully integrate and optimise.
  4. Cost underestimation: While the long-term benefits of waveless picking are substantial, the initial investment required for technology and training need to be considered.
  5. Resistance to change: Resistance from staff or management can stall or hinder the transition process.

Keep an eye on these key metrics

In the world of warehousing, data is king. Monitoring important warehouse KPIs allows you to measure the success of your waveless picking implementation and make necessary adjustments. 

A few metrics to keep track of include:

  • Picking accuracy: Ensuring what’s picked matches the order details.
  • Order fulfilment speed: Measures the time from order receipt to shipment.
  • Picking efficiency: Tracks the number of orders picked per hour.
  • Cost per order: Evaluates the expense of processing each order.
  • Inventory accuracy: Ensure the inventory records match the actual stock on hand.
  • Return rate: Frequency of returns due to errors, damages, or other issues.

Waveless picking improves the customer experience

Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the heart and soul of any business—the customers. Customers don’t just want products; they crave seamless experiences. And here’s where waveless picking shines.

  • Speedier deliveries: Gone are the days where customers were content waiting weeks for their orders. Waveless picking, by its very nature, processes orders in real-time, eliminating waiting periods and ensuring that products are dispatched quickly. This means that customers receive their orders in the shortest possible time frame.
  • Heightened accuracy: There’s little that frustrates a customer more than receiving an incorrect order. These types of errors not only inconvenience the customer but can also prove costly for businesses in terms of returns and reputational damage. With waveless picking, the continuous flow and real-time processing drastically reduce the chances of such mistakes.
  • Improved adaptability: Customer demands can be unpredictable. Traditional wave-based picking systems might struggle to adapt to sudden changes or surges in order volume. With waveless picking, ecommerce businesses can easily adjust to these fluctuations, ensuring that even last-minute orders are handled efficiently. This flexibility adds another layer of satisfaction to the customer experience.

Now, how does ShipBob fit into this equation? ShipBob’s state-of-the-art dashboard plays an instrumental role in amplifying these benefits. It not only facilitates better inventory tracking, ensuring products are in stock and ready to be dispatched, but also optimises warehouse management. This means that the entire process, from the moment an order is placed to its delivery at a customer’s doorstep, is streamlined.

In essence, with waveless picking and ShipBob’s tech stack, businesses aren’t just shipping out products; they’re building a foundation for long-term loyalty.

ShipBob’s WMS elevates ecommerce endeavors

Of course, waveless picking sounds great but without a strong WMS it’s impossible to implement. ShipBob’s WMS is the tool that makes this innovative approach run smoothly. Just as a superstar needs a good manager, waveless picking needs a reliable system to manage the workflow.

Deep integrations and open API

The ShipBob dashboard comes with a vast App Store, in addition to a Developer API designed with adaptability in mind. They smoothly integrate with all leading ecommerce platforms and marketplaces, to return management tools and customer support platforms. This ensures a seamless flow of information, reducing the risk of errors and facilitating swift order processing.

Optimised for waveless picking

While the benefits of waveless picking are plenty, the key to truly unlocking its potential lies in using a WMS tailored for it. ShipBob’s WMS enables businesses to realise its full advantages—from reduced pick times to enhanced order accuracy.

Enhanced visibility

One of the standout features of ShipBob’s WMS is the real-time visibility it offers into inventory and order status. For ecommerce businesses, this transparency is vital. It allows for better inventory planning, ensuring products are always in stock, and provides customers with timely order updates, enhancing their shopping experience.

Scalability for growth

Ecommerce businesses aren’t static; they grow, and with growth come new challenges. ShipBob’s WMS is designed to scale, ensuring that whether you’re processing a hundred or ten thousand orders a day, the system performs optimally.

“We looked into opening our own warehouses and hiring employees, but couldn’t come close with what 3PLs charge for picking, packing, and shipping. We’d also be worried about scheduling fulfilment shifts, ordering boxes and shipping labels, and dealing with the extra headaches of running logistics.”

Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.

Waveless Picking FAQs

Below are answers to some of the most common questions about waveless picking.

How does waveless picking differ from traditional picking methods?

Waveless picking processes orders in real-time and continuously, eliminating the batching or “waves” typical of traditional picking. This method emphasizes ongoing allocation, minimising downtime and wait periods in fulfilment centres.

Is waveless picking suitable for all types of ecommerce businesses?

While waveless picking offers efficiency advantages, its suitability may vary. It’s ideal for businesses with fluctuating order volumes and those seeking quicker fulfilment. However, businesses with low order volume may not require waveless picking and should assess their specific needs and order patterns before making a decision.

What are the cost implications of switching to waveless picking?

Switching to waveless picking might entail initial setup costs, but in the long run, it can lead to savings by reducing fulfilment times, increasing order accuracy, and optimising labour utilisation.

How can I get started with ShipBob for waveless picking in my fulfilment process?

To implement waveless picking, you can adopt ShipBob’s WMS for use in your own fulfilment warehouse. Alternatively, you can partner with ShipBob directly and let them handle the entire fulfilment process for you.