What is Pick and Pack?
The simplest way to understand Pick and Pack is to think of an e-commerce business. Pick and pack is the process that helps an e-commerce business fulfil its orders. The process is not limited to just e-commerce, of course, but it helps get a good understanding if we take it as an example. Rather than shipping large cargoes, e-commerce businesses depend on a smaller selection of individual products that are picked from large warehouses by workers and then placed into small packages that are then shipped to a particular consumer. This process also helps in reducing costs for businesses as they save on a lot of overheads like freight and handling charges etc.
The pick and pack process consists of largely four key steps:
1. Receiving an order - When an order is placed via an e-commerce business, the system communicates the order to the warehouse where all products are stored.
2. Picking the ordered product - The efficiency of this step depends on the inventory layout and picking method. Barcode labelling and program based inventory management will not only fasten the process but make it error-free.
3. Packing the ordered product- Another core part of the whole process, this when the selected product is packed and labelled for shipping.
4. Shipping - The ordered products are placed on a shipping dock where carriers collect them.
A big part of the pick and pack process is also the warehouse layout and inventory management. And unlike regular business and personal inventory management, warehouse inventory management is a whole different beast. You have to remember, a poorly managed or slow inventory process will cost enterprises time and eventually, money.
Let us take the example of a warehouse with dresses. If all dresses of a particular colour are stacked together than the chances of a worker picking the wrong size increase. This will result in the worker picking a dress twice, or worse, the customer receiving the wrong size. You could arrange inventory by size, but that too has its drawback, since locating the right dress in a massive warehouse would be too time-consuming. Some other approach might not make sense at the face of it, but might be more intuitive. For example, if a certain pair of shoes is always bought with a pair of free socks, it makes sense to have these two separate items in close vicinity. Making sense of the science of warehouse inventory management a very specific and specialised skill.
Pick and Pack Methods
As discussed above, pick and pack fulfilment has its own, very unique set of challenges. So how can one go about addressing these? Well, there are four commonly used methods that are used to tackle the process in general. They are:
1. Zone picking - As the name suggests, the entire warehouse is divided into several small zones. The products are then picked and passed to the shipping dock either manually or by using conveyor belts. If one order requires items from several zones, then pickers coordinate amongst themselves to effectively manage zone picking.
2. Batch picking - In this method, pickers are given multiple orders that are picked in a batch. Hence the name. This method is often applied in warehouses that face a large volume of orders every day.
3. Piece picking - Best suited to small warehouses, piece picking takes is the simplest method. It requires pickers to pick one order at a time. It can get very difficult and inefficient for large warehouses and is not used commonly.
4. Wave picking - This hybrid system combines both batch picking and zone picking. Packers are assigned zones and given several batches to pick within their designated zones.
The attention to detail, coordination and organisation required to make pick and pack a successful operation is very very high. As you can imagine, the objective is to maximise speed while also maintaining a high level of efficiency. Even with a software-based automated system, errors are bound to happen. And the larger the scale of business, the more chances of mistakes. Streamlining the entire process requires meticulous thinking and planning as well as quickly identifying and rectifying pain points.
As e-commerce has grown, pick and pack fulfilment has created the era of the quick turnaround. So the customer expectations have grown a lot over the years. 24-hour for shipping, product quality, easy return are just some of the expectations. So pick and pack fulfilment has had to adapt to the consumer expectations and streamlining and meeting growing demands is an evolving challenge that the service is constantly adapting to.
With the onset of e-commerce, it has become possible for companies to offer a huge variety of products. Consumers are placed firmly at the top of the service. But it isn’t likely to run these businesses without pick and pack services that facilitate the fulfilment of these orders. Well-trained pickers can guarantee orders and increase customer satisfaction that can handle change in order volumes as per changing trends.
Businesses have become quite dependent on pick and pack fulfilment because they are the most cost-effective solution to their needs. Since the pickers are available for orders of any sizes, there is no need for constantly updating the number of pickers. This brings down costs. So does the fact that the whole process is streamlined into a single workplace, in this instance, warehouses. There is no longer a need to collect products from different facilities, package in other facilities and label and ship from another facility. In this age of mega e-commerce businesses, pick and pack fulfilment is packed and here to stay.