How to Improve Warehouse Operations with the Right Picking Technique

//How to Improve Warehouse Operations with the Right Picking Technique

how to improve warehouse operationsYou are trying to fill orders within one business day. But, no matter how fast your warehouse employees move or drive throughout the warehouse, the orders are at least a day, if not two, behind schedule. In doing this, you risk not turning one-time customers into repeat customers, and sales (and reputation) could plummet. How do you prevent this from happening? How do you optimize your warehouse operations to increase load times and improve product flow? Four words: The right picking technique. Read more to learn how to improve warehouse operations with the right picking method for your facility.

The Problem with Not Having a Picking Method

A picking method is an organized, synced way for employees to fulfill orders. Not having one decreases work performance, increases shipping times, and hurts customer service efforts.

You could also have more work-related accidents, as lift trucks and employees that are on foot, without an assigned zone could collide, (let alone employees running into other employees). To prevent these types of accidents from happening and to ensure that the product gets in and out the fastest, using a specific picking method is a must.

Types of Picking Methods

In general, there are four picking methods: basic, batch, zone, and wave.

Basic Picking

Basic picking is what you think: your standard grab a paper order and fill it no matter where the item is stored or who fills it. Zones are not required. And it is a relatively easy process to learn and manage.

Batch Picking

Batch picking involves filling multiple orders of the same item at the same time. Unlike basic picking, where an employee may pick from Bin A, Bin D, and Bin C, the employee grabs 10 items from Bin A for the following orders.

Zone Picking

Zone picking is when stock-keeping units (SKUs) are organized into specific areas, or zones. A warehouse employee is assigned to each zone. The order travels from zone to zone, similar to a “conveyor belt” until the items are consolidated into a consolidation area, in which the order is filled.

Wave Picking

Wave picking goes by the age of the order and where it is located in the warehouse. Starting with the oldest order, the warehouse employees work their way through the warehouse facility.

Combine Picking Methods

To spare employees from running up and down aisles filling orders, why not combine zone picking with wave or batch picking for a more organized and efficient warehouse operation? In doing so, you make the most of time by spending it on picking the item instead of also on the employee (unnecessarily) going to the aisle on the opposite side to find it.

Your Warehouse Facility is Unique; So Why Would There Be a One-Size-Fits-All Picking Technique?

Each and every warehouse is unique, from the order frequency and the type of product to the warehouse environment and pick per orders. It does not make sense for a large mail order catalogue company to have to use the same picking technique as a small cheese shop.

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all picking technique, like there is no one-size-fits-all warehouse facility. Because of this, we recommend that you get assistance from a professional warehouse operations consultant to learn how to improve warehous operations and get the most bang for your buck.

Nonetheless, here are some general pointers on which picking techniques and warehouse environments work well together.

Basic and Batch Picking with Small Facilities

Small businesses normally have a high number of picks per order and a small number of orders to fill per day (roughly 1-50 orders). This makes basic picking suitable since, with such a small number of orders to fill and a small facility, the employee can afford to go from aisle to aisle.

Batch Picking Speeds the Process Up

Batch picking also works in a smaller warehouse setting since employees fill orders fast without bumping into one another, as may be the case with more employees and a larger warehouse facility.

Zone and Wave Picking Work Well with Large Operations

Zone picking is great when the facility is large, where employees, without zones, would have to run throughout the facility in order for the order to be filled.

Also, the high number of SKUs can be organized into zones. Since the employee knows where items are in his/her specific zone, he/she can find it faster compared to basic picking in a large operation, where the employee would need to search longer.

All in all, this type of picking technique is good when there are several orders that need to be filled—50 or more per day—and there are several SKUS and low to medium pick per orders.

Wave Picking Prevents Zig Zagging

Wave picking works well for larger operations because, instead of zig zagging back and forth, the items are picked from one point of the warehouse and continues throughout—similar to a wave. Specifically, wave picking is great when several items are shipped in one box.

Consider the Size of the Item

Similar sized items should be stored in the same area to capitalize on picking efforts, especially when lift trucks are used in warehouse operations.

These trucks make it easy for employees to pick larger, heavier items, while employees on foot can pick the smaller, lighter ones. If small, lighter items are placed next to larger, heavier items, you could essentially create a “traffic jam.”

Pick and Ship Separately

Adding shipping tasks to the picking system only confuses employees and wastes time. Employees, focused on picking an item, cannot afford to stop and attach the shipping label to it before moving on to picking the next item.

Keep it simple. Set aside separate picking and shipping areas and tasks so automation is simpler and smoother.

When a Picking Method Works for Your Warehouse Operation

You will know when a picking method works for your warehouse. All of your orders will be filled out and shipped on time to the customer—consistently.

Employees won’t waste time inefficiently walking from side to side, searching for an item. With a smooth, streamlined operation and increased work performance, your profit margins can grow.

Final Thoughts: How to Improve Warehouse Operations

Picking techniques are but one effective way how to improve warehouse operations. Combine a picking method that works well with your facility with the proper equipment and a well-thought-out warehouse layout designed that works with your specific business values and goals, and you are on your way to future business growth.

We encourage you to start exploring different picking methods to find out which one works best for your operation. In general, if you have over 50 orders, zone picking can only improve your product flow more.

Still, to cut down on time searching for that one picking method, why not let a professional assist you? Using past experience and know-how, they can analyze your warehouse operation and determine which picking method—not to mention, equipment, furniture, and layout—would increase profitability.

What picking method do you use? How has it helped you improve efficiency and increase profit? Have other ways how to improve warehouse operations? Leave a comment!


  • Not being able to fill orders and ship them to customers on time could be a sign that your picking method is not working. How to improve warehouse operations with the right picking technique?
  • A picking method is an organized and synced way for employees to fill an order
  • The problem with not having the right (or not using a) picking technique boils down to poor organization and efficiency
  • Basic picking involves an employee picking up a paper order and goes from one location to another to fill it
  • Batch picking is when employees grab multiples of the same item at one time to fill multiple orders
  • With zone picking, employees are assigned specific zones; from one zone to another, order is filled
  • Using a wave picking method, employees go by the age and location of the item, moving through the warehouse from one end to the other (like a wave)
  • Depending on your operation, you may benefit from a combination of zone picking and batch or waving picking
  • Your warehouse is unique. So why would your picking method be a one-size-fits-all?
  • Basic and batch picking are great for small businesses with smaller facilities. Employees can afford to not have zones, filling orders without potentially colliding with one another
  • Zone and wave picking work well with larger operations with a high number of SKUs and hundreds of orders to fill in a day
  • Store like with like: small, lighter items should not be stored with large, heavier items. Since lift trucks normally retrieve large, heavier items and employees on foot pick the small, lighter items, a “traffic jam” could be created
  • Separate picking and shipping to increase time
  • Let a professional analyze your warehouse and help you learn how to improve warehouse operations

Contact Specialized Service Solutions to learn more about how to improve warehouse operations and what you can do to maximize space and efficiency.