Picking is one of the most important steps of the order fulfillment process. Yet one of the biggest killers of warehouse efficiency is when employees spend too much time picking items for a single order.
There are many methods for the order picking process — pick-to-order, zone, wave, cluster, and one of the most efficient: batch picking.
If there are many of the same orders that need to be fulfilled at one time, you can use batch picking. The batch picking process is a popular choice because it’s focused on reducing your employees’ foot travel inside the warehouse and prioritizes faster picking rates.
In this article, we’ll go over what batch picking is, the benefits of batch picking, and how batch picking compares to other warehouse picking methods.
What is batch picking?
Batch picking, cluster picking, or fulfillment batching is the process of retrieving inventory for multiple customer orders at once, rather than picking items one at a time. The goal of batch picking is to increase operational efficiency, so a single picker picks a batch of orders so they can reduce repeated trips to the same location for different orders.
Picture this: If there are two commonly ordered together items in a single order that are on opposite sides of a warehouse, you can take some of that inventory to a new station where pickers can repeat the same motions instead of walking back and forth for single order picking.
Common examples of batch picking include fulfilling backer rewards for a crowdfunding campaign, a product launch, and large volumes of the same order. If your order combinations vary greatly, it’s more difficult to use batch picking.
How does batch picking work? In 4 steps
When your customer places an order, the items must be retrieved from a pick and pack warehouse. Instead of assigning one order at a time to a picker, a group of the same orders are assigned to a single picker. Here’s more on how batch picking works:
1. Generate picking lists for each order
Batch picking works best for orders that have identical picking lists. This way, the picker has a list of orders queued up that will be sent to different customers.
It’s pretty rare to use printed lists these days. Modern warehouses have pickers use wearable devices and technology to aggregate, assign, and complete each order (and eliminate paper).
2. Group orders by common items
For batch picking, you need to group orders that include the same exact items into a batch. An order management system or warehouse management system (WMS) can automatically group batchable orders that contain the same items and quantities.
3. Give a batch to a picker
A WMS can generate batch pick lists for each picker to retrieve items in the most efficient way. If you’re doing this manually, you may need to create the recommended route for each picker to efficiently grab all SKUs.
4. Pick all items in the order
Each picker must follow the picking list to pick the right items and optimize the route so they don’t waste time or take unnecessary steps. Once the SKUs have been picked for the batch orders, the orders can be handed off to a packer and the picker can get started on the next batch.
Top 2 advantages of batch picking
1. Less foot travel for employees
Warehouses can be huge, and traveling to each area of a warehouse can take significant time. If your employees have to grab items from multiple, far locations, it’s going to take longer to fulfill orders. Batch picking helps centralize operations, so employees can complete the same task in bulk and travel less distance.
2. Faster picking rates
Speedy fulfillment is a big success factor for your warehouse operations. With batch picking, your employees will have to move around the warehouse less, so they can get their job done faster. As a result of less travel and time between orders, pickers can go through orders faster, reducing the average time to fulfill an order.
Zone picking vs. batch picking vs. pick-to-order: which is best?
Zone, batch, and pick-to-order are three of the most common picking methods used in warehouses, each with their own set of pros and cons.
In general, pick-to-order is best for very small businesses, where order volume is low and you need to get orders out in a timely manner. If you only sell one or a few items, or all of your inventory fits in one room, then your pickable products will all be in close proximity to the picker with only perhaps a few steps or seconds to get to the next SKU.
In other words, if the picker is also the packer or you only have a few people handling retail fulfillment, pick-to-order will be a good solution for your business.
Zone and batch picking are more efficient than pick-to-order systems and used by larger businesses that have their own warehouse, a high SKU count, and the technology that can find orders that contain the same SKUs and quantities or understand the proximity of storage locations in a warehouse.
Zone picking involves multiple pickers picking different products within the same order. Imagine an order with 10 items in it. If three SKUs are in the Southern part of the warehouse, three are in the Northern section, and four are on the Eastern side, then you can have one picker in the North, one in the South, and one in the East.
Like the concept of zone coverage in sports, zone picking helps individuals stay put in one area, while others cover the other zones. Unlike batch picking, zone picking does not require the same items to be ordered. It’s another way to be efficient, although it can be very challenging to distribute the workload evenly.
Implement batch picking with a WMS
To streamline a batch picking process, you need the right tech in place. ShipBob has a best-in-class warehouse management system (WMS) for brands that have their own warehouse and need help managing inventory in real time, reducing picking, packing, and shipping errors, and scaling with ease.
With Merchant Plus, brands can even leverage ShipBob’s fulfillment services in any of ShipBob’s fulfillment centers across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia to improve cross-border shipping, reduce costs, and speed up deliveries.
How ShipBob’s picking process streamlines fulfillment batching
ShipBob is a third-party logistics (3PL) company with a large network of fulfillment centers to provide fast, affordable shipping. Direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands outsource fulfillment to ShipBob rather than lease and manage their own warehouse, hire a team to pick and pack orders, and handle the busywork of ecommerce logistics.
ShipBob created its own WMS, which powers all of its fulfillment centers and sends back all information to ecommerce brands through ShipBob’s proprietary software offered at no additional cost.
Through its technology, ShipBob is able to route each order to the warehouse that is closest to the end customer, analyze orders, and assign picking routes that are optimized for pickers.
ShipBob uses batch picking to fulfill identical orders for an even faster fulfillment time. ShipBob’s pickers use wearable devices to identify, pick, verify, and complete each order. Orders with the same products and quantities (the same order combination) will stay queued up for the same picker.
If you’re running an ecommerce warehouse for your online business, consider using batch picking. It’s a great system that allows your warehouse employees to be productive and minimizes their travel time so they can focus on fulfilling orders faster.
If you find that warehousing and logistics are becoming increasingly complex, learn more about ShipBob’s inventory management and fulfillment services. Click the button below to request a pricing quote, and leave fulfillment to the experts.
Batch picking and fulfillment batching FAQs
What is batch order picking?
Batch picking is a picking system of order fulfillment where order pickers are picking multiple items for multiple orders in order to save time and optimize the picking process.
What is the purpose of batch picking?
The purpose of batch picking is efficiency of picking operations. Having order pickers in a distribution center pick individual orders based on pick location instead of returning to the same area to save time.
Is batch picking the same as wave picking?
Batch picking is similar to wave picking, where wave picking works for larger warehouses. Batch picking is a picking strategy for dealing with products with similar SKUs and barcodes, reducing travel time in the warehouse.