Warehouse Picking Strategies and Equipment

Call it the Amazon Effect: Consumers expect quick, low-cost shipping on their e-commerce orders. If your warehousing operation is struggling to adjust to two-day, next-day, or even same-day delivery promises, it might be time to rethink the fundamentals. Start by considering alternate warehouse picking strategies.

Every warehouse develops its own unique picking strategy based on a range of factors, from layout to volume to target cycle times. According to industrial engineers, though, all of these strategies grow out of four basic picking methods. You can and should combine them to create a hybrid strategy that provides the best combination of safety, productivity, and accuracy — but these four basic picking strategies are the building blocks of flexible, efficient warehouse operation.

Warehouse Picking Strategies and Equipment

Of course, you can’t succeed without the right tools. In addition to breaking down the Big Four warehouse picking strategies, we’ll discuss the material-handling equipment you need to execute each method. Even with a semi-automated warehouse, some amount of order picking is usually done by hand, so we’ll keep the focus on manual carts. We’ll also discuss trailers for both automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and operator-piloted electric tuggers, since some of these picking strategies work best with trains.

The four basic warehouse picking strategies (and equipment you need to make them successful) include:

  1. Single Order or Discrete Picking is the simplest approach. As the name implies, it asks pickers to retrieve one order at a time, completing each before moving onto the next. If you fill orders that contain multiple SKUs, and those SKUs are scattered across a wide area, you can see how inefficient this strategy can be. That said, it’s ideal for small businesses, such as brick-and-mortar retailers first moving into online sales. If you only receive a handful of orders per day, this method is probably safe to use. And it has negligible set-up costs.

    However, even small warehouses can take a toll on workers’ bodies as they travel in and out of aisles for a whole shift. Discrete pickers tend to cover a lot of ground, so they need quick-moving, lighter-weight carts that allow them to carry large orders without strain or stress. The BHS Stock Picking Cart is ideal for the task, built for comfort and sized for narrow aisles. It even includes an integrated stepladder for quick access to upper shelves.

  2. Batch Picking parcels out multiple orders to each order picker, allowing them to retrieve several orders per trip through the aisles. That’s more efficient than single order picking, but it can also result in more errors, as SKUs from multiple orders travel on the same cart. This strategy works best when you have a higher volume of orders, but those orders only consist of a few products. Separating orders into multiple cart-driven bins helps to reduce errors.

    Order pickers in batch-picking operations face the same ergonomic challenges as their discrete-picking counterparts: repeated bending, lifting, and foot travel. So, Stock Picking Carts are a great choice for this strategy, as well. However, for larger orders, batch pickers need to handle more items, requiring more shelf space and a higher capacity. In this case, the BHS Order Picking Cart is ideal. These heavy-duty material carts are available with four steel shelves, sized up to 42 inches by 60 inches, and include a lipped shelf edge to keep bins and items securely in place during travel.

  3. Zone Picking breaks the warehouse up into distinct areas, with one or more picker assigned to each zone. These employees only pick products from their assigned space. Orders are broken down into picking lists by zone; each zone sends the designated SKUs to the packing room; then orders are sorted and assembled there. This method is highly efficient, as it keeps pickers from crossing paths or doubling back on their routes. It also allows workers to learn their zones quickly, reducing time spent hunting for SKUs. But it can slow down individual orders, which must pass through the whole warehouse before being filled. Sellers who have a high volume of orders with many items per order often use this method.

    Because orders travel through warehouse zones to be completed, picking trains are the ideal material-handling solution for this strategy. These trains are driven by an AGV or operator-driven electric tugger, attached to any number of Warehouse Trailers. But smaller warehouses don’t necessarily need powered equipment; because of their high capacities and large shelves, Order Picking Carts can help many operations implement a zone picking strategy.

  4. Wave Picking is similar to batch picking, but functions within a strict scheduling system. Orders are organized into pick-lists, and workers pick multiple orders at a time in batches — but at specific times of the day. This strategy allows warehouse managers to meet specific goals, like filling a precise number of orders per day or meeting strict shipping schedules. The efficiency advantages are clear; however, wave picking requires a lot of planning to set up, resulting in slightly higher initial costs than some other picking strategies.

    To implement a wave picking strategy, workers need multi-compartment carts or trailer trains to organize and transport clearly divided orders. Again, Order Picking Carts are ideal for separating orders into bins, while Warehouse Trailers provide the same advantages in a powered picking train.

Warehouse Picking Carts for Any Product

These warehouse picking strategies and equipment suggestions are designed primarily for smaller SKUs, like fast-moving consumer goods (FSMGs). If your warehouse handles large or bulky items, such as furniture, you’re more likely to follow a simple discrete picking strategy — and you’ll need carts built for the task. Utility, Service, and Material Carts from BHS are designed for long service life, with heavy-duty casters, all-steel construction, and a smooth powder-coat finish. Furniture Carts offer these advantages in a flat-bed configuration. And custom material-handling carts are available on request. To learn more about material handling equipment to support your picking strategy, contact BHS, Inc. at 1.800.BHS.9500.