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Thanks to continuously improving technology and a massive shift in how consumers prefer to shop, there are an estimated 24 million ecommerce retailers operating globally today.

What does that mean for you? It means you've got a lot of competition and need to provide customers with an outstanding experience. As a matter of fact, recent statistics show that 72% of customers who have a positive purchasing experience will share that with six or more people. You already know this: Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool.

There's a lot that goes into creating the best experience for your customers, but all those efforts aren't worth much if you don't have a solid order fulfillment strategy. Enter pick and pack. 

Below, I'll dive deeper into pick and pack services and how they work.

What Does "Pick And Pack" Mean?

Pick and pack means picking a customer's order from its location in your warehouse and packing it into a shipping box. Seems easy enough, right? Sure, but let’s dig a bit deeper.

At a pick and pack fulfillment center, pickers retrieve individual items from master cartons stored on warehouse shelves. Once they've pulled all the items for a specific order, they place them into shipping containers addressed to the customer, ready for mailing. In larger ecommerce warehouses, items may be picked by one employee and packaged for shipment by another. Employees who focus solely on packing goods for customers are called "packers."

Many of the world's largest companies streamline their operations using this order fulfillment process. For example, Amazon (you may have heard of them) uses pick and pack fulfillment services to keep up with its incredible order volume of approximately 1.6 million packages daily.

Types of Pick And Pack Strategies

You don't have to be a global ecommerce giant to make pick and pack strategies work for you. There are four primary types of picking methods your business could utilize. Choosing the right option for your online store is a personal decision, but the size of your company and daily order volume will play heavily into which option is the most practical and cost-effective.

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If your company is relatively new or small, piece-picking may be the way to go. This is the most straightforward of the picking strategies and can be carried out by very small teams of pickers without the need for dedicated packers.

In piece picking, a worker picks one order at a time as packing slips are generated. Items are chosen off the shelf for a single order, packed into the box,  and marked as ready to ship when complete.

It's important to note that piece picking isn't well-suited to large warehouses or operations with a high order volume. But it's an excellent way for smaller online stores to get started.

Batch picking

Seeing a higher volume of orders? Fantastic! Consider implementing batch picking. It builds on the foundation of piece-picking but has pickers simultaneously source items for multiple orders. You may not need to hire dedicated packers, but you could employ some of these specialized warehouse workers.

Sourcing orders with similar items can help make batch picking the most effective. This way, batch pickers aren't running around the warehouse to find things for multiple orders but can instead focus on one or two shelving zones.

Zone picking

If your ecommerce company is a well-established brand with a high order volume, zone picking may be your best option. With this pick and pack method, your warehouse is divided into zones. Pickers are assigned to specific zones and only work there, versus going around to different warehouse areas.

For this method to work, boxes are passed from one zone to the next. Using conveyor belts to transport boxes is the most time-efficient method, but manual transportation can also be used.

Wave picking

Wave picking is a method used by the most prominent ecommerce businesses to handle extraordinarily high order volumes. Wave picking combines aspects from zone and batch picking, where workers are assigned to zones and pick orders in batches before sending them to the next zone.

Understanding Pick And Pack Order Fulfillment From Start to Finish

You want to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction and stand out from the competition. To do that, you need your order fulfillment process to be as efficient as possible while also making sure that it fits seamlessly into your ecommerce warehouse process to allow for error-free inventory management.

The way your ecommerce business sets up its pick and pack order fulfillment process may vary slightly from others, even within the same strategy. But to create your process, it helps to understand how it generally works from start to finish. Below are the general steps involved in a complete ecommerce fulfillment process.

  1. The customer makes a purchase: The order fulfillment process starts before you even receive the order when the customer browses your website from the comfort of their home (or anywhere they may be). The customer completes the checkout process after adding items from your online store to their cart.
  2. The order is transmitted to the fulfillment warehouse: Once a customer has checked out and paid for their purchase, their order is virtually dispatched to your fulfillment warehouse.
  3. A packing slip is generated: All customer orders generate a packing slip that creates a detailed picking list, complete with a barcode that ensures accurate order picking. This step provides an excellent opportunity to save time with automation. Having these slips generated (and printed) automatically can save your warehouse employees significant time.
  4. Picker pulls the appropriate items: Depending on your warehouse's pick and pack strategy, a picker may retrieve things for one or several orders at a time.
  5. Items are taken to the packing station: Once the picker has pulled all the things for their single or batch orders, they carry them to the packing station. Pickers may use various types of carts or even forklifts to transport their picked items, depending on how your warehouse operations are set up.
  6. Packer boxes order for the customer: An employee places the picked items in shipping containers using the appropriate packing materials. They'll add a shipping label and put the box in the proper area for delivery.
  7. Ship orders to a happy customer: Finally, the shipping process begins, and the items are sent to the customer. The order arrives at the customer's home or office on time, completing the order fulfillment process.

Benefits Of Pick And Pack Order Fulfillment

A few of the most significant benefits of pick and pack order fulfillment include:

  • Organizing various products is more manageable, which allows you to expand your offerings.
  • Customers appreciate having a wide selection of products to choose from, which could potentially increase sales.
  • Orders take less time from purchase to delivery (when pick and pack is done correctly), which can increase customer satisfaction and brand reputation.
  • With specialized warehouse workers, you can ensure order accuracy and a streamlined workflow.
  • Since you're shipping multiple orders at a time, shipping costs are often reduced, leading to a more significant profit margin.
  • You can replace time consuming order management systems that require manual effort on the part of you and your staff.

Challenges In Pick And Pack Order Fulfillment

Every business decision comes with a few potential challenges, including the type of order fulfillment method you utilize. A few of the potential issues in choosing pick and pack include:

  • Poor organization can delay your internal supply chain.
  • A flawed inventory management system can lead to errors that decrease customer satisfaction.
  • Inadequate packing can lead to damaged products.
  • A chaotic picking process can lead to product choice errors and wasted time.

Tips For Running An Efficient Pick And Pack Warehouse

To meet high customer expectations, you need to run the most efficient pick and pack warehouse possible. Below are a few highly recommended tips to help you do this.

  • Consider how you’re warehousing your products and store your items with the highest volume SKUs near the closest input and output points of the warehouse.
  • Organize your inventory by category, color, and size to maximize warehouse space.
  • Use good inventory management software and warehouse management systems.
  • Streamline processes wherever possible, including making good use of automation possibilities.
  • Implement strong training programs for your pickers and packers.
  • Always re-scan the products' barcodes during the packing process to ensure they're correct.

So you’ve implemented these tips and still looking for something to give you a competitive edge?

It could be time to consider leveraging dedicated pick and pack software. Solutions like SkuVault and NetSuite can go a long way in helping you manage your warehouse, whether that be via outstanding third-party integrations or ecommerce marketing tools. 

That can seem like a lot to take in, so we’ve got you covered with our picks of the best warehouse management software.

Picked Up On Anything You Need To Unpack?

Pick and pack may be among the most popular order fulfillment options, but it's only one of many methods you could use for your ecommerce store. 

If you want to learn more about order fulfillment or become an ecommerce pro, make sure you subscribe to The Ecomm Manager newsletter. You'll receive the latest ecommerce tips, tricks, and trends delivered straight to your inbox.

By Francois Marchand

Francois Marchand is passionate about helping and educating business leaders, ecommerce professionals, and digital marketers grow their skill sets to stay ahead of the competition. Francois holds a BA Specialization in Communication Studies & Journalism from Concordia University (Montreal, QC) and 20+ years of experience in ecommerce, marketing, traditional and digital media, and public relations, including The Vancouver Sun, National Post, CBC/Radio-Canada, Unbounce, and Vancouver Film School.