Currently, about 50 percent of all Amazon distribution centers use a picking method referred to as the random strategy where products are placed haphazardly across the distribution center.
These products are initially scanned with a barcode when they arrive and the data entered into the inventory system and then they move about the space freely, as needed. This allows the inventory system to track the item in real-time, but more importantly, pickers don’t have to travel too far to get the items.
To the undiscerning eye, the arrangement looks incredibly chaotic, but because of the warehouse management system in place, Amazon has found that it made their pickers more efficient as they reduced motion waste, cut travel time, and fulfilled picking orders faster.
Can all retailers replicate Amazon’s process? No… at least, not without an inventory management system that tracks everything at the same time. Most retailers probably aren’t at the scale they need something quite so complex, but there are systems that can help your associates more efficiently around the space.
So, how can you organize the warehouse for maximum picking efficiency and workers’ effectiveness?
Start With a Warehouse Picking Process Flow Chart
This flowchart is a visual chart that shows the key picking tasks in the warehouse, as well as the order in which the picking tasks should be carried out. You can optimize your warehouses and develop a picking process that works very efficiently.
If you need help with optimizing your warehouse picking process, you should create a warehouse picking process flow chart –you can use tools like Microsoft Excel, Word, or any web design software. Ultimately, the warehouse picking flow chart will determine how effective and efficient your picking process will be.
Product demand should be at the heart of every effective picking process chart. Every distribution center uses the Pareto rule or 80/20 principle –80 percent of orders are for 20 percent of the inventory and vice versa.
Therefore, high-demand SKUs should be located near each other and closer to the pickers or the loading and docks. This makes it easy for pickers to maximize their travel times, as they can pick multiple high-frequency products in one trip.
This way, not only are handling costs reduced, but workers will be able to pick more items per trip, resulting in increased picking efficiency. Your warehouse design should also be optimally designed. If you’re in doubt, here’s a structure to follow:
Receiving ⇒ Storage ⇒ Replenish Stock ⇒ Order Picking Phase ⇒ Sorting ⇒ Packing ⇒ Shipping
Assess Your Picking Methods and Improve for Optimum Performance
Every distribution center has a favorite picking method. However, there may be a need to re-examine your picking methods periodically. This is even more important if the retail business is seeing significant growth.
This is an effective way to increase warehouse worker efficiency. For example, small eCommerce operations carrying a single SKU will find that the pick-by-paper method works just fine. But as the retail brand grows, starts carrying more SKUs, and fulfills large product orders, the pick-by-paper method won’t be as efficient.
This is why you must routinely audit the prevalent picking methods in your warehouse. Consider using methods like zone picking, cluster picking, batch picking, and multi-order picking. You should also consider the deployment of software that will help implement these picking methods and minimize travel time by outlining efficient pick paths and grouping orders close to each other.
This way, when pickers go to a section of the warehouse, they will be able to pick all ordered items in that area of the warehouse in that single trip. This is a much better strategy that’ll help you cut labor costs, reduce travel time –which takes up to 50 percent of all picking hours– and improve order picking efficiency.
Train Warehouse Staff in Optimal Picking Strategies
Worker training shouldn’t be a one-off event. You need to consistently train and upgrade their skill set so that they can perform optimally. This is even more important for regular warehouse staff, line managers, floor managers, and supervisors.
Consistent training will help them increase their effectiveness at work. Distribution center staff who undergo frequent training are more likely to do a better job, stay longer at the job thus reducing the turnover rate, cut back on travel time, take more informed initiatives, meet picking targets, and contribute to a more streamlined warehouse supply chain process.