Order picking is a big part of warehouse operations, and it’s something that can vary strongly from warehouse to warehouse depending on your priorities and the items you carry.

But while there may not be a one-size-fits-all order picking strategy for every single warehouse, there are a number of things that will influence your order picking no matter what you carry. If you want to develop or refine your order picking strategy, here’s five things that will influence your order picking and what you can do to focus on or improve them:

 

Order priority

Particularly in these days of ecommerce and instant gratification (mostly thanks to improved shipping times), some orders need to be assigned higher priority than others. Whether the customer picked next-day delivery, or it’s a priority return caused by vendor issues or a problem with the item, there’s a number of factors that can contribute to certain items needing faster shipping and handling than others.

The influence this will start to have on your picking strategies should be obvious. Take the time with your staff to develop a system that prioritizes item picking based upon certain criteria in the order—chosen shipping method, item expiration, and so on. Find the criteria that works best for your inventory and is encountered most often, and set your order picking to reflect these changes in priorities.

 

Order age/time of order receipt

Similarly, even if an order is going out with a lower shipping time or priority, you still need to make sure all orders are picked promptly and ready to go within a reasonable time table.

Few things will scare off your customers faster than lengthy hold times. Make sure a balance is struck in your order picking strategy to not place focus on fast-shipping items to the detriment of someone else’s order. Just because they chose the longer shipping method doesn’t mean they (or you) want their order to languish on your shelves for a week before it can go out—make sure no later orders slip through the cracks or get sacrificed to the faster ones.

 

Picker and item location

No matter what the size of your warehouse, item location and picker location are crucial to finding items on time and getting them out the door quickly.

Sending pickers from one end to the other in search of one solitary item can be a huge waste of time for everyone involved. Rearrange your warehouse shelves to re-prioritize items that consistently sell through and are needed more frequently, and better reassign your zones so that every picker has a specific job and a specific destination to avoid one person trying to cross the entire warehouse in search of an item that’s nowhere near where they’re designated to work.

 

Shipping requirements

If an item has been ordered with faster-than-normal shipping speed, it’s only normal to want to prioritize those items—but you need to make sure you don’t do it in a way that negatively impacts your other items.

As you release orders to your staff, make sure to look at factors including chosen shipping time, location of the buyer to your warehouse (as these items will almost always arrive faster than others), and location of the item in your warehouse. Even if an item has a slower shipping time, the overall handling time can be greatly reduced by realizing where your items are, what needs to happen to get them on the road, and how long that will take.

 

Available inventory

Finally, all the order picking in the world isn’t going to do much good if your staff can’t locate the items – or worse, if the items are out of stock.

Make sure all your systems are updated as frequently as possible with stock changes, including the customer-facing order portals (be they through a dedicated webstore or otherwise). Don’t change item locations without making sure all your workers are aware, make sure to track item counts as frequently as possible, and make sure your customers aren’t able to order an out-of-stock item by accident.

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