Riding the wave: Why Wave Picking Makes Sense For Processing Order Batches
Warehouse and distribution center operations have only grown more pivotal in recent years. With retailers receiving orders from a number of different sales avenues, the onus is on them to keep up with demand and serve their customers promptly. In order to get purchases out the door as quickly as possible, merchants need to be efficient in the warehouse.
Picking items off of warehouse shelves can be an extremely time-consuming process, particularly if distribution centers are trying to do it as orders come in. Walking to and from shelves, bringing an item to a computer system to check it out, then bringing goods to a packing section is an inefficient process. Because of these inefficiencies, many companies have turned to an alternative picking method called “wave picking.”
Understanding the wave
Through wave picking, warehouse employees essentially group orders into batches and make a single run through a warehouse to collect items all at once. The orders tend to be grouped automatically by predetermined criteria – proximity in the warehouse or high-priority orders, for example – and helps warehouse employees conduct a chunk of work in a more timely manner.
What makes wave picking so much more effective than straight order release (in which pickers check out orders as they come in) is the ability to improve the picking process through logical order flows. By using a set criteria, which can be customized to meet the demands of the warehouse, retailers can pick and process goods in a more intelligent process, helping them deal with orders in the most effective way possible.
In the context of the modern warehouse, adding this level of intelligence is pivotal. As SCI Digest noted, in years past, distribution centers may have received a huge sheet at the start of the day of all the items that needed to be picked. This allowed them to work deftly, but it comes at the cost of order fulfillment speed – they cannot process new orders since they are not on these daily sheets. With many merchants implementing real-time systems that send orders to pickers as they come in, it becomes much harder to work smartly. Wave picking addresses that issue by releasing orders in batches, based on intelligent item groupings.
The real benefits of wave picking
The greatest advantage of wave picking compared to other approaches is the fact that it allows merchants to process orders in real-time without being wholly inefficient about it. This is especially the case for small or midsize retailers that simply do not have the manpower to afford operating inefficiently.
For instance, wool-based performance apparel retailer Ibex noted significant benefits when implementing an order management system that allowed the organization to process orders with wave picking. After implementing wave picking, the company saw a 300 percent improvement in warehouse efficiency, allowing the retailer to handle more orders without sacrificing speed, Retail Solutions Online reported.
“Enabling immediate and responsive fulfillment through any channel would have been too costly if we didn’t have the systems we have in place today,” Ibex CFO Ben Hill told the news source. “With the new system, we were immediately able to get orders out the door in a timely fashion, no matter where those orders were originating.”
Of course, the most effective way of picking orders will always depend on the merchant in question. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, it is crucial that retailers consider wave picking, as it could improve warehouse functionality and order fulfillment by a significant margin.