Waveless Picking Guide

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ecommerce fulfillment. 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, some picking strategies may be slow or inefficient.

That’s where waveless picking comes in. For brands that need their ecommerce order fulfillment to operate dynamically and continuously, pulling orders in real-time, waveless picking provides an alternative to wave or batch picking.

In this article, we’ll uncover why ecommerce companies should consider using a waveless picking in their fulfillment warehouse, and 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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment center.

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, adopting the most efficient warehouse picking method for your brand enables you to ship orders out quicker, improve order accuracy rates, and better handle sudden surges in order volume.

Why waveless picking is important in ecommerce

To illustrate the importance of waveless picking, imagine two scenarios:

  1. Warehouse A uses wave-based picking, organizing 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 some delays. During high-demand periods, such as holiday sales, this batching may lead to backlogs and overwhelmed staff.
  2. Warehouse B employs waveless picking. As soon as an order is placed, it’s entered into the fulfillment 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 fulfillment centers implement multiple order picking methods for omnichannel fulfillment, 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 use of resources: Warehouse workers remain active, with orders allocated based on proximity, speeding up the process and reducing idle time.
  • Improved accuracy: Real-time processing reduces batch picking-related errors, which is crucial for minimizing 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 fulfillment, 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, minimizing 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 labor 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 labor 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 labor 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 optimize their picking and packing processes.

Many brands that partner with ShipBob 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 fulfillment while still maintaining full control. ShipBob owns the entire stack: inventory and order management system, warehouse management system, and their fulfillment centers.”

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 optimization 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)

Waveless picking is clearly important – so how does a brand take it from concept to reality?

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown to help ensure a smooth transition to waveless picking.

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 – rather, 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.

“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. When misshipments happen, we typically let customers keep the products because it’s more work to have them return the items. So ShipBob’s system for picking orders has cut down on labor costs, reduced lost inventory, and eliminated the need for double shipping. That’s been huge for us. Our order picking and routing has also greatly improved with ShipBob. With the ShipBob WMS, we can create the most efficient routes through the warehouse, which has cut down on an insane amount of time and made picking, packing, and shipping so much more efficient.”

Jourdan Davis, Operations Manager at Pit Viper

Optimize your warehouse space utilization

Operational efficiency extends beyond digital tools; it involves the strategic utilization of physical warehouse space (also known as warehouse slotting). An organized 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. But as with any substantial change, it comes with its own 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 optimize.
  4. Cost underestimation: While the long-term benefits of waveless picking are substantial, the initial investment required for technology and training should 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 fulfillment speed: Measures the time from order receipt to shipment.
  • Picking efficiency: Tracks the number of orders picked in a certain period of time.
  • 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

As always, customers are the heart and soul of any business – and customers don’t just want products. They crave seamless experiences, and waveless picking can help brands deliver just that through:

  • 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.

These benefits are only amplified when an ecommerce brand partners with an expert fulfillment partner like ShipBob – one that pairs efficient picking strategies with advanced technology. 

ShipBob’s state-of-the-art dashboard not only facilitates better inventory tracking – ensuring products are in stock and ready to be dispatched – but also optimizes 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

Waveless picking can be an efficient strategy, but it’s impossible to implement without a strong WMS. ShipBob’s WMS is a reliable tool that brands can use to manage picking workflow within their own four walls – and that delivers so much more. 

Deep integrations and open API

When brands leverage ShipBob’s WMS, they can access their ShipBob dashboard. The ShipBob dashboard comes with a vast App Store and Developer API designed with adaptability in mind, which smoothly integrate with leading ecommerce platforms, marketplaces, return management tools, and customer support platforms. This ensures a seamless flow of information, reducing the risk of errors and facilitating swift order processing.

Optimized 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 realize 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 can support your order volume and reliably fulfill orders.

“ShipBob’s WMS has more than doubled, if not tripled, our productivity in terms of labor hours. Our average days to ship is now only 0.8 days, so most packages are shipping same-day or next-day, with rare exceptions. We’ve cut 4 days of lead time because orders are getting processed, fulfilled, and shipped more efficiently. When we first started with ShipBob, we were doing about 15K orders per month, and now we’re processing 30K — double what we were doing just six months ago.”

Ben Tietje, Co-Founder and CEO of Earthley 

To learn more about how ShipBob’s WMS can transform your picking and packing efficiency, click the button below to speak to an expert.

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, minimizing downtime and wait periods in fulfillment centers.

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 fulfillment. 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 fulfillment times, increasing order accuracy, and optimizing labor utilization.

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

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