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Picking and Packing Best Practices for Streamlined Order Fulfillment

Last Modified: September 27, 2023
Picking and packing best practices include choosing the best picking method for your warehouse, maintaining accurate inventory, and streamlining your packing and shipping process. We show you how to employ these best practices to maximize efficiency, reduce errors, and improve your bottom line.
Joe Weaver
May 11, 2023
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All warehouses, from home garages used for small businesses, to massive, automated facilities, rely on picking and packing best practices to safely and efficiently move merchandise from shelving to shipping. If you oversee a warehouse of any size, it’s vital to ensure you’re following the best practices for your pick and pack ship process.

Picking and packing best practices, such as choosing the best picking method for your warehouse, ensuring flow from storage to your shipping area, and use of pick and pack software solutions to minimize errors, will enhance safety and efficiency. These pick and pack practices also result in happy customers and an increased bottom line.

To describe these practices in greater detail, we should first review some basics of a pick and pack warehouse.

What is Pick and Pack Fulfillment?

On a fundamental level, the concept of a pick and pack warehouse is self-explanatory: the warehouse is used to store goods, workers pick merchandise from the shelf and/or other storage area, and those products are packed up for shipping to fulfill orders

Whether you order a small amount of household goods or a large amount of items for resale, it’s likely that some form of pick and pack process is used to get them from the warehouse to you.

What is a Picker and Packer?

In a pick and pack warehouse, pickers take the responsibility of gathering items for shipment. Once items are picked, they’re brought to the packing station, where packers package the items for shipment.

The Pick and Pack Shipping Process

It all starts with picking the items, which is accomplished manually, by use of equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks, or even automatically via drones and other high-tech machinery. Once picked, the products are staged, packed for shipment, and loaded onto a delivery vehicle. 

To examine the pick, pack, and ship process in further detail, read our article on the benefits of a pick and pack warehouse.

Picking and Packing in the Supply Chain

Unless you deal with the sourcing and harvesting of raw materials such minerals, metals, and crops, you can think of a pick and pack warehouse as the first step in the supply chain that gets your products to your door. Without an accurate and thoughtfully laid out pick and pack process, warehouses have a greater likelihood of making costly, time-consuming errors. 

Looking to partner with the professionals in pick and pack services? Learn more details of pick and pack fulfillment services here

Any business, regardless of its size, should periodically review warehousing needs and, where applicable, ensure they’re maintaining the best practices for picking and packing.

Looking for a solution to store and ship your products seamlessly? Let R+L Global Logistics be your fulfillment and distribution partner.

Pick and Pack Best Practices for Warehouses

It should come as no surprise that there’s no universal rule for these best practices. Instead, you should evaluate your existing process (or lack thereof), identify opportunities for improvement, and apply the best practices for your business’s unique needs. To help you do that, we’ll examine the elements of the pick and pack process, offering examples where certain methods may or may not be helpful.

  1. Determine the Best Picking Method for Your Needs

There are four primary methods of picking that are commonly practiced in pick and pack order fulfillment.

  • Discrete Picking: Also called piece picking, this is the simplest picking method: simply pick orders as they come in, first come, first served. If you run a low-volume business shipping items from home, this solution will probably suffice. However, as volume scales upward, discrete picking becomes inefficient. This method is also incompatible with prioritizing certain customers or clients, such as commercial accounts.
  • Batch Picking: High-volume warehouses often employ this method. Rather than picking items one at a time, multiple orders are pulled at once in, you guessed it, batches. Warehouses that consistently receive multiple orders are likely to use this method as a best practice, as it’s more efficient than piece picking. 
  • Zone Picking: Warehouses with a large amount of diverse products should almost certainly employ zone picking, which simplifies the process of picking multiple items in different categories. In this method, the warehouse is divided into zones, each of which has designated pickers. These pickers pick from their zones and pass boxes on to other zones for further fulfillment. 
  • Wave Picking: This is often considered the most efficient order picking method. Where zone picking is usually done as orders are received, wave picking combines elements of batch and zone picking. The “wave” in wave picking refers to picking multiple orders in the same zone at the same time, rather than piecemeal. Large ecommerce businesses will almost always benefit from some form of wave picking. 
  1. Optimize Warehouse Organization

Proper warehouse organization is vital to streamlining the pick and pack process, and the best practices for warehouse organization will vary based on the size of the warehouse in question and the diversity of its stored merchandise.

One universal best practice for organizing a pick and pack warehouse is that the floor plan should be optimized for process flow. Keep in mind the old saying, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” 

Organizing your warehouse in such a way that items move from receipt to shelving to the shipping line in as straight a path possible doesn’t just improve efficiency, it also cuts down on the possibility of injuries among warehouse workers. 

  • Little to No Formal Organization: It’s rare that having no formal organization structure for your warehouse would be considered an acceptable business practice, but small business owners who store a lot of completely identical items may find that all they need are a few boxes and some shelves. 
  • By Sales Volume: Depending on your picking strategy, it might make sense to organize your warehouse in such a way that your fastest-moving, most popular items are located close to the packing station, while items that aren’t sold as frequently are farther away. This could be considered a best practice for warehouses that contain diversified inventory with little to no automation.
  • By Inventory Classification: This is the standard best practice in most high-volume warehouses. Items are assigned an alphanumeric designation called a stock keeping unit, or SKU, which is used in tandem with a pick and pack software solution to organize, locate, and monitor inventory levels of any given piece of merchandise.

Picking and packing is part of retail fulfillment services. Read our article on the topic to learn more.

Looking for a solution to store and ship your products seamlessly? Let R+L Global Logistics be your fulfillment and distribution partner.
  1. Improve Manual, Mechanical, and Automated Picking

Manual picking refers to the practice of picking product by hand, which is a viable option for small warehouses storing small, lightweight goods that usually end up getting shipped to end users. However, as with most elements of picking and packing, scaling up to larger shipments will probably require you to rely on mechanical or automated picking methods.

Obviously, retrieving large, heavy items from storage shelves is most easily accomplished by pickers using equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks. This is a form of mechanical picking, and a best practice to keep pickers from putting their bodies at risk. 

Depending on the volume of orders your warehouse receives and the size of your merchandise, even mechanical picking methods may fall short of achieving your efficiency goals. This is where automation comes in. 

Warehouse automation has existed in some form for decades; even the humble conveyor belt counts as an example of this technology. In modern high-volume warehouses, it’s not uncommon to see drones and automated lifts retrieving items for packing. Warehouses that employ extensive automation usually have an edge over their manual counterparts thanks to the reduction in human error.

  1. Implement a Barcode Scanning System

Simply put, a barcode system is a must for nearly any warehouse. It improves order picking accuracy through the use of barcodes and barcode scanners, which allows for easy evaluation of inventory levels and enhances efficiency across every element of the pick and pack process. 

There are two kinds of barcodes used in most warehouse labeling: 1D and 2D. You probably have several examples of 1D barcodes in your home, as they’re used on products to be scanned at retail locations. A 2D barcode looks like a QR code, and can store much more information than a 1D barcode.

The most commonly used 1D barcodes for warehousing and logistics are called code 39 and code 128 barcodes. Of the two, code 128 can store far more information including weight and shipping dimensions, so using a code 128 barcode system is a best practice for large pick and pack warehouses.

  1. Speed Up Your Packing Process

Now that we’ve established some of the best practices for organizing and picking items in a warehouse, it’s time to move on to packing. 

At a manual packing station, packers package picked products for shipment. Common packing materials include packing tables, tape, boxes, and scales. The best practices for manual packing are largely based on making the process as fast as possible without sacrificing accuracy. 

Having all the packaging equipment at arm’s reach, double-checking the accuracy of the picked order, and arranging the packing station so that the packer does not need to bend or twist their body often are among the best practices for manual packing. It’s also a good idea to sanitize the packing area regularly.

Like most aspects of pick and pack warehousing, what was once a strictly manual process now has many automation options available as well.

Automated packing machines include devices that box, wrap, seal, and fill package voids as products approach on a conveyor belt or similar moving platform. Large ecommerce warehouses benefit from automation, as it cuts down on errors in the packing process and reduces labor costs. It’s not uncommon for some packing stations to combine manual and automated packing methods. 

The best practices for an automated packing system center around routine maintenance and inspection of the automated equipment. This will help identify potential mechanical issues before they become costly to repair, as well as promote warehouse safety for employees. 

  1. Streamline Orders with Pick and Pack Software

Using pick and pack software is vital for all but the smallest warehouses. By automating what would otherwise be a series of laborious manual operations, pick and pack software solutions streamline receiving, picking, and packing orders. 

The best practices for choosing and using pick and pack software start with ascertaining what you need the software to do. In most cases, this means choosing software that integrates automated order processing with the features of inventory management software, package size selection algorithms, batch picking lists, and more. 

If you operate multiple fulfillment centers, it’s also important that your warehouse management software sends orders to warehouses based on proximity to the recipient of the order. This will shorten shipping times and result in happier end users.

  1. Set Goals for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

While this is not an exhaustive list of every KPI warehouse managers should track, these five are the most applicable to the pick and pack process itself.

5 KPIs to Use in a Pick and Pack Warehouse

KPIDefinitionBest Practices
Accuracy of PickingThe percentage of accurately picked orders, which is determined by dividing total orders received by orders with no mistakes in the picking process.Maintain a high degree of organization

Double-check orders at the packing station
Accuracy of FulfillmentThis differs slightly from picking accuracy as it takes the entire order process into account, including packaging and delivery. Use accuracy of picking best practices

Review packaging procedures to ensure items are unlikely to be damaged in transit
Rate of Accidents/InjuryUsually expressed as X accidents within a specified period. The obvious goal here is zero.Inspect the warehouse regularly for faulty equipment or inefficient floor plans

Schedule periodic refreshers in safety practices for warehouse employees
Order Cycle TimeThe time it takes to ship an order once it has been received. This does not take transit time into account.Use the aforementioned best practices for picking and packaging items to boost speed and accuracy of fulfillment
Return RateThe percentage of orders returned for any reason.Control what you can: applying picking and packing best practices will naturally reduce returns
  1. Reduce Picking and Packing Errors

Errors in pick and pack warehouses usually result from inefficient floor plans, human error, and too many manual processes. The impacts of these errors are fairly obvious: high return rates and unhappy customers & clients. 

The best practices for reducing these errors usually involve automating processes, maintaining a clean and unobstructed floor plan, and, in some cases, reorganizing your warehouse staff to play to each individual’s strengths. You might also consider outsourcing some or all of your warehousing needs to a 3PL warehouse.

Learn more about how to reduce picking and packing errors with our exhaustive article on minimizing warehouse errors.

Looking for a solution to store and ship your products seamlessly? Let R+L Global Logistics be your fulfillment and distribution partner.

What is a 3PL Warehouse?

Third party logistics, or 3PL, refers to an outsourced warehouse solution for businesses who prefer not to set up and manage their own warehouses. If you own a rapidly growing business with growing pick and pack logistics needs, it’s definitely a best practice to partner with an experienced 3PL warehouse, so you can stay focused on your products, services, and customer satisfaction. 

Get more details about 3PL warehouses and how they can benefit your business needs here

Fulfillment and Distribution: Your 3PL Solution

At Fulfillment and Distribution, we have the knowledge and resources necessary to handle every facet of pick and pack services, from the pick and pack process to retail fulfillment and even reverse logistics. Get in touch with one of our warehousing experts at (866) 989-3082 or request a quote online and let us take care of the hard part while you focus on growing your business.

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