Best Order Picking Methods and Strategies to Streamline Warehouse Operations

The recent boom in eCommerce has prompted a series of challenges, including a labor shortage, greater need for onshore inventories and increased customer expectations. 

With these new challenges, the need to optimize and streamline processes such as order picking in order to minimize costs and increase labor efficiency is greater than ever before. 

Order picking is perhaps the most labor-intensive and crucial stage of the order fulfillment process. In fact, about 50% of all operating costs are attributed to order picking. 

Here, we’ll cover the best order picking methods and strategies to streamline warehouse operations, plus share the best technologies you can leverage to complement your picking strategy to further improve speed, accuracy, and efficiency. 

Interested in streamlining your warehouse operations?

What is Order Picking? 

Order picking is the process of retrieving items from a warehouse to be packed and shipped to the customer. It is the first step in the full order fulfillment process.  

The speed and accuracy at which order picking is conducted directly affect operating costs, profitability, customer satisfaction, brand reputation, and other key business elements. 

Order Picking Methods and Strategies 

To optimize picking processes and in turn, the entire supply chain, it’s important to find the order picking methods and strategies that work best for your organization. 

The most common warehouse picking methods used in order fulfillment include: 

Single Order Picking

Also referred to as discrete order picking, single order picking is when one picker works on a single order, one line at a time.  

In this method, orders are typically not scheduled ahead of time and the picker handles one order from start to finish before moving to the next one. Pickers usually rely on a printed pick list, listing one SKU at a time 

This is the simplest picking method and may be suitable for small warehouses that don’t experience a busy operation. However, because it is labor-intensive and time-consuming as the picker needs to travel to find the correct item, this picking method is not efficient for large warehouses.  

Zone Picking

Zone picking, as the name suggests, is when a warehouse is divided into multiple zones. In this method, each picker is assigned to a zone or pick area and handles the orders in their section.  

Pickers pick all stock-keeping units (SKUs) in their zone for each order. Items for every order are picked across zones until the entire order is filled and ready to be packed and shipped. 

Zone picking is often combined with other methods   as the “pick and pass” method and may be suitable for warehouses handling high-volume orders that include many items. 

Batch Picking

Batch picking is a method where pickers retrieve batches of orders at the same time that have the same SKU. 

This method allows the picker to fulfill multiple orders at the same time, while only traveling once to the batch location. 

Batch picking may be suitable for warehouses that deal with multiple orders that contain fewer items. 

Wave Picking

Wave picking combines the previous two methods but it requires more detailed planning, with the use of a warehouse management system (WMS) and order management system (OMS). In this method, pickers do not retrieve single orders but entire order lines.  

Orders are grouped and scheduled to be picked into waves throughout the day, based on different factors. Pickers from various zones pick items at the appropriate time, then items are sent for consolidation and packing.  

This picking method is ideal for warehouses that need to ship large batches of high-volume orders quickly. 

Parallel Picking

Parallel picking is similar to zone picking, meaning that pickers are assigned to different warehouse zones. The difference is that pickers do not pass partial orders to the next zone but all pickers in all zones collect the same orders and send them to the consolidation area. 

When all order items are sent to the consolidation zone, items from each zone are matched and orders are filled.  

In parallel picking, there is more flexibility in handling items in each zone. 

Cluster Picking

Cluster picking is similar to batch picking. However, in this strategy, pickers pick a variety of items for different orders. To do this, they use picking carts with multiple compartments to hold various items for different orders. Each orders is sorted as it is picked 

Cluster picking is a solid strategy for warehouses that handle a large volume of orders at the same time. It also reduces travel time for the picker. 

A picker is collecting items from the line in a warehouse.​
The order picking methods that work best for you will depend on several factors including the size of your operations and order profile​

How to Choose a Order Picking Method 

While the common goal is to make the order fulfillment process of picking, packing and shipping seamless, the methods, strategies and tools you choose for your warehouse will depend on your order profile, the size of the warehouse, the physical space limitations and other factors. 

At Modula, our automated storage solutions are designed to complement order picking by reducing human error, increasing speed and accuracy, optimizing floor space, and more. 

Not sure which solutions are right for you?

Order Picking Solutions at Modula 

At Modula, we rethink warehouse operations with our leading automated solutions, designed to improve efficiency, reduce space requirements, tackle labor shortages and reduce picking errors.  

You can complement your picking strategy with any of the following solutions to further increase productivity and organization: 

Put to Light System

Put to Light systems significantly save time on order picking and increase accuracy when processing large batches of orders. Modula Put to Light system features an OLED configurative display and uses a scanner and LED lights to direct the operator to the location where the items must be placed.  

This allows for picking multiple orders at a time while eliminating all paper-based methods and shipping lists. 

The image shows a cart with a put-to-light display.
Put to Light systems enable fast and intuitive multiple-order processing

Picking Station

The Modula Picking Station features 10 configurable displays for each level. The Station’s payload capacity per level is 242 lbs while the total payload capacity is 726 lbs. The Picking Station uses the Put to Light system for batch picking and order consolidation and allows for scanning or touch light validation to boost accuracy. 

A man operating a picking station in a warehouse.
The Picking Station keeps everything moving and enables processing multiple orders at the same time.

Picking App

Modula Picking App is an innovative solution for improving picking and replenishment operations. The app allows picking operators to manage picking on their mobile devices and monitor processes on the go.  

The App features a barcode scanner so items can be scanned and tracked easily right from the operator’s smartphone or tablet. 

When integrated with a warehouse management system, the Picking App provides real-time updates no matter where the picker is located.  

A person holding a mobile device showing the interface of the picking app.
The Picking App enables scanning and tracking order items regardless of the operator’s location.

Picking Cart

The Picking Cart is equipped with shelves, four wheels, Put to Light controllers, battery backup and Wi-Fi controllers. It also features five configurable displays and scan or touch validation for speed and accuracy.  

The Picking Cart helps boost performance and it can easily be wheeled to any picking location as needed. 

Interested in exploring our picking solutions?

Technologies to Support Order Picking 

To streamline your warehouse operations, you can use a variety of automated solutions to complement your order picking strategy. 

At Modula, these solutions include: 

Warehouse Management System

Implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) provides inventory control and saves time by replacing paperwork and manual processes. A WMS can be integrated with ERP or DMS systems and allows you to easily operate all your equipment. 

Vertical Lift Modules

1. Modula Vertical Lift is the ideal storage solution for warehouses and distribution centers that need to reduce their space requirements and optimize floor space. 

The Lift can save up to 90% of space while increasing efficiency, speed and accuracy in your picking operations. It can fit around 9,050 square feet of storage space into just 150 square feet. 

2. Modula Slim is designed for warehouses with limited floor space. The Slim takes advantage of high ceilings and uses the same technology as the Lift but with double the load capacity.  

The Slim eliminates wasted space thanks to dynamic tray height storage. It requires only 32.29 square feet of floor space and has the smallest footprint compared to other storage solutions.  

3. Modula Horizontal Carousel is designed to maximize storage capacity in low-ceiling environments. It features all the benefits of the VLMs but for spaces where ceiling height is limited. 

The Horizontal Carousel includes the Copilot system for fast and accurate item retrieval and can be integrated with Modula WMs as well as picking aids for greater productivity. 

Modula automated storage & retrieval systems
Modula automated storage and retrieval systems

Order picking requires speed and accuracy for seamless operation. The most common picking methods include: 

  • Single order picking 
  • Zone picking 
  • Batch picking 
  • Wave picking 
  • Parallel picking 
  • Cluster picking 

At Modula, we help you streamline the picking process through automation to help reduce human error, increase speed and improve accuracy. From Put to Light systems to VLMs, our solutions are designed to improve efficiency throughout your warehouse operations. 

Interested in our automated solutions?