Decoding efficiency: deciding between order picking approaches

By Sanjeeth Cherian, Head of Product, Strategy & Business Operations

Jul. 31, 2023 | 3 Min. Read | Blog

Customers shopping online continue to look for convenient pickup and faster delivery options. To enable this experience, stores become a unique asset for retailers. By leveraging their in-store inventory, retailers can ensure their products get to their customers even faster.

There’s also a potential for financial gain; Salesforce recently predicted that buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) will drive $28 billion1 in incremental global store sales. However, executing on convenient pickup and faster delivery experiences can be challenging as it requires integrations between multiple technologies and streamlined communication between employees, delivery drivers, couriers, and customers. An efficient and smooth picking operation is key to ensuring streamlined operations, happy employees, and loyal customers.

Choosing a picking approach can be quite complex and requires considering multiple factors such as the number of employees, online order volume, the layout of stores, maturity of picking operations, number of items per order and more. While choosing the right picking approach is crucial, it's equally important to select the best technology that can help streamline the entire picking and communication workflow. By implementing a fulfillment technology with a wide range of picking capabilities, businesses can simplify operations, improve accuracy, increase customer satisfaction and optimize employee productivity. 

Let’s look at a few different picking techniques that help retailers and grocers meet the growing demands of the modern online shopping landscape.

  Picking Type

 Operation type

Single order picking
single order picking illustration in retail store
Typically, retailers with small store footprints or quick order promise times (e.g. express orders). Single order picking, as the name suggests, involves selecting items to fulfill one customer order at a time. That’s why it can be one of the fastest picking strategies for scenarios like express orders. This strategy is also commonly used in scenarios where operations are smaller or when order customization is prevalent. Although this method is less error prone, it can be more time consuming for high-volume operations. Single order picking is recommended when there are low volumes of orders that need to be fulfilled quickly.
Batch or multi-order picking
batch order picking illustration in retail environment
Typically, retailers with higher volume of orders per store with bigger basket sizes. This picking methodology involves picking items for multiple orders simultaneously, but each order is sorted and packed separately. It also involves grouping similar orders that share common items. This strategy increases productivity, as pickers can gather items for multiple orders in a single trip through the store and is particularly useful when there are higher order volumes with similar or overlapping items. Retailers considering batch or multi-order picking must consider their data maturity to ensure they have the right data to unlock this type of picking.
Department or zone picking
zone picking illustration in retail store
Typically, retailers with larger scale operations that have many SKUs per department and zone. When a store is divided into multiple departments or zones, simultaneous picking of multiple orders by that area of the store can be done. This type of picking allows employees to become very familiar with that part of the store, which increases efficiency and reduces travel time between different departments or zones of the store. This type of picking also improves the quality of the pick. If a customer orders two or more items that require different temperature controls (e.g. ice cream vs. a t-shirt) it’s imperative to factor this while picking. After completing the picking process, items from the different departments/zones for individual orders are consolidated for handoff, delivery, or shipping. Efficient order consolidation techniques, such as designated staging areas, are crucial to minimizing errors and streamlining this picking strategy.

By combining efficient picking techniques with the right technology, businesses can drive efficiency, maximize employee productivity, and provide a seamless customer experience, fostering loyalty and trust in the brand. Whether deploying single order, multi-order or department picking, understanding the benefits and considerations of each strategy allows businesses to make more informed decisions. 

Need a hand figuring out which strategy or combination of picking techniques is best for your business? Get in touch with our team!

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