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Pick and Pack: ULTIMATE Guide

Learn what is pick and pack, how it works, it’s place in the order fulfillment process, different pick and pack methods in e-commerce, and more.


This is the ultimate guide to pick and pack.

In this guide, you see:

  • What is pick and pack
  • How it works
  • It’s place in order fulfillment
  • Different pick and pack methods
  • How to start and organize picking and packing

So if you’re interested in optimizing your pick and pack operations, this guide is for you.

Let’s get started.

What Is Pick and Pack?

Pick and pack refers to a process within supply chain management during which products are sourced from inventory, processed, and prepared for shipping and delivery.

Simply put:

It’s the process of selecting customer orders and preparing them for shipping.

Pick and pack eliminates the need for repackaging items for shipping, which raises the speed of delivery pick-up.

Typically, pick and pack is used by e-commerce retailers for the delivery of small orders.

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How Does Pick and Pack Work? What’s the Difference Between Picking and Packing?

Picking refers to sourcing orders from inventory. It covers the initial phase of the pick and pack process. Specifically:

  • Inventory managers find the product location in the warehouse
  • Warehouse workers receive assignments to pick up that product
  • Workers, then, take the item and bring it back to the packing area

Packing, on the other hand, refers to the process of packaging and processing products for shipping. This can include various steps, but in most cases, packing includes the following:

  • Packing items in the correct packaging (depending on the type of product)
  • Scanning the item and removing it from the inventory log
  • Sorting the items (based on the delivery vehicle or shipping location)
  • Taking the packaged products to the loading area for pick-up

Central Process in Order Fulfillment

No matter whether you outsource pick and pack services to a 3PL or 4PL provider, or you manage it within your fulfillment operations, the basic process is the same in both cases.

And it includes:

  • Order receiving
  • Order picking
  • Order packing
  • Order shipping

So pick and pack really is the central process of order fulfillment.

But to understand it in depth, we need to take a look at each stage of order fulfillment. And how it relates to pick and pack:

Order Receiving

Order fulfillment starts when you receive an order request. In eCommerce, sales channels are typically integrated with an inventory or warehouse management system.

Once a customer places an order, the software sources the ordered item and generates a packing slip and assigns the item to be picked from inventory.

The packing slip typically contains information about the customer and their order, such as volume, delivery date and time, customer name and address, etc.

Order Picking

Once you receive the order request, the next step is to pick up the item(s) from inventory. This is the internal movement of goods.

An inventory worker takes the packing slip and picks the ordered item inside the warehouse.

Efficiency is key at this stage. Workers have to have a solid working knowledge of the warehouse, so that they can quickly pick up items for shipping.

So how you organize your inventory can affect the speed at which workers pick and pack products.

In fact, statistics say that retail inventory is accurate only 63% of the time.

If you can better organize your storage facilities and use inventory management software to get a better grasp of your warehouse, you can improve visibility. And, at the same time, how you pick and pack inventory.

Order Packing

Once workers have finished picking up items for shipping, they are ready to be packed.

Packing is done in a packing station. There, it’s carefully packed, sealed, and of course, labeled for shipping.

Packing is one of the most important steps in the process. If it’s done right, there is a low chance for e-commerce returns and reverse logistics.

Another big concern with order packing is the packaging.

Packaging has to protect products during shipping and delivery. If the packaging doesn’t match the nature of the product, the items and goods can get damaged during shipping.

For example, if you’re starting a food delivery business, you’ll need to have special sealed meal containers to transport food to customers.

But at the same time, packaging can pump up costs. So the size and type of packaging you use should match the size of the items you ship.

In fact, for most e-commerce shipments the product takes up no more than 60% of the total volume. Which means, there’s 40% of unused space, that’s simply unused.

This space can easily cause damage to products by allowing the product to move during transport. While raising costs due to the higher price of larger packaging.

Find out more about reverse logistics and how you can use it to turn failure into an opportunity.

Order Shipping

Pick, pack, and ship. That’s the natural progression of order fulfillment.

Order shipping is the last stage of order fulfillment. That’s why it’s often referred to as last mile delivery.

Once the orders are picked and packed at inventory, they are sent to the loading area. There drivers arrive to pick them up for transportation from the warehouse to the customer.

Here, the biggest concerns may be bottlenecks at the loading dock.

If you schedule too many drivers to pick up their loads at the same time, these bottlenecks can seriously affect delivery speed.

Using route optimization software can prevent this. It lets you schedule pick-ups so that drivers arrive one at a time in succession.

That way warehouse workers have enough time to load up each vehicle, while the drivers have a clear path to exit the loading area.

In fact, planning better delivery schedules using software can help you to raise efficiency and improve your pick and pack delivery logistics.

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Pick and Pack Methods Explained

When you start to pick, pack, and ship your products, you probably use methods that you use in real life.

Think in terms of your wardrobe at home.

If they’re new to pick and pack, professionals organize their inventory the same way they organize their closets.

You either organize everything by colors. Or you do it by type, and put all the shirts together. Or by season, and place winter clothes on one side, and summer clothes on the other.

When a business is small, you can use this method.

But once you start implementing tactics to grow your delivery, you’ll need to scale this process to match the growth.

That’s when mistakes can happen and this method doesn’t work. That’s because:

Good pick and pack methods can reduce mistakes and returns.

In fact, at least 30% of all products ordered online are returned as compared to 8.89% in brick-and-mortar stores.

So what are these pick and pack solutions?

Here are some fundamental pick and pack methods that many eCommerce companies use for fulfillment:

Piece Picking

Piece picking is one of the simplest ways to source products from inventory. It’s called piece picking because you pick up items one by one from storage (or piece by piece).

With this method, warehouse workers get a packing slip for a particular order and then pick up the item. Once they collect every item, they take them to the packing station.

If your business is still pretty small with a few orders per day, piece picking is the easiest way to process products for shipping.

Batch Picking

Batch picking means that workers pick up items in batches. This works well if a company has a limited product line, or if you have some products that are in higher demand.

Because of this, items in inventory are typically stored by their type. Warehouse employees get slips for all orders that contain that specific type of product and move to pick them up in a batch.

The main way to raise efficiency with batch picking is to give pickers the most effective path through the warehouse.

Zone Picking

Zone picking is reserved for enterprise level companies. Businesses that have large storage facilities, fulfillment centers, and warehouses.

With zone picking, inventory managers divide facilities into zones and organize products according to those zones.

Each worker is also assigned to a specific zone. Once an order is placed, a designated zone picker receives a packing slip that contains all of the items within their zone.

After picking all the items from their zone, they pass the order off to the worker in the next zone.

Once all of the ordered items have been collected, they move towards the packing station.

This requires a lot of coordination, but it’s by far the most efficient way to pick and pack items in large quantities or large facilities.

Wave Picking

Wave picking is a combination of batch picking and zone picking.

It involves dividing the storage facility (warehouse or fulfillment center) into zones and tasking workers in each zone to pick up items in batches.

Once the workers pick up the batch of items inside their zone for all the orders, they pass it to the next zone, until it reaches the packing station.

4 Ways to Set Up a Pick and Pack Warehouse

For pick and pack to work, you need to know how to set up your pick and pack warehouse.

And believe it or not, you need chaos to do it effectively.

Organizing your storage facility logically, like you do your closet, doesn’t work.

To better understand pick and pack storage, and how to organize it, here are 4 ways you can do it:

Like with Like

Like with like method is the simplest way of organizing your inventory. With like with like, you match items based on their physical features:

  • Color
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Weight

The problem with this system is that it can lead to pick and pack errors.

For example, if you need to pick medium-size blue t-shirts, a worker can easily grab the wrong size t-shirt if all of them are categorized by color. If they’re all organized by size, a worker can grab a pink t-shirt instead of a blue one.

This pick and pack method of inventory management works when you have a diverse product line.

Or if you have low order volumes and inventory workers have time to pick and pack items at a slower pace.

Volume

Using volume to organize storage requires precise stock keeping. With this method, you categorize products based on their demand:

Items with a high turnover rate are placed closest to the packing station. Products with a lower demand are placed further away from the packing station.

In this way, workers can quickly pick items that sell well and that they process regularly.

Besides raising pick and pack speed, it also benefits workers as they’ll make less steps to pick up items on a day-to-day basis.

Chaotic

With chaotic inventory, you store products randomly on the shelves. This means that similar products are never placed next to each other.

This method prevents pick and pack errors from occurring.

Because a large blue t-shirt is never next to a medium blue t-shirt, but, for example, yellow sandals, pickers can collect the right item every time.

This in turn prevents wrong orders from arriving to customers. In fact, 23% of customers say that receiving the wrong product is the main reason for their returns.

But while you raise order accuracy, you reduce pick and pack speed. That’s why this method of storage only works when you use it with a suitable inventory management system.

The software optimizes product pick up from inventory. It maps the product location inside the warehouse, so workers get packing slips with the exact location of each item they need to pick up.

The system also maps out the route for each item, and can even create routes with multiple stops so that workers can pick up products in batches or waves.

Class-Based

Class-based inventory storage refers to grouping products into classes based on their shared traits.

This has less to do with the physical attributes of products, and more to do with how they affect the pick and pack process.

This can include:

  • Products with a high/low turnover rate
  • Products that require assembly
  • Products that require special handling
  • Products that require special packaging

So for example, if some products require bubble wrap, you would group all those products together. The same is true if some require assembly before shipping, and so on.

Pick and Pack Best Practices

As you could see there are several things to pay attention to when you get to the packing part of the pick and pack logistics methods.

If you follow a few best practices during your packing process, you can reduce returns, shipping charges, and errors.

Here are a couple of things that all of the pick and pack companies need to bare in mind:

  • Always re-scan the products for each order to ensure the items on the packing slip are the ones you’re putting in the box.
  • Never make packers guess the correct box size. The pick and pack software can calculate the size of the box needed for each order.
  • Include infill instructions for each order to improve your pick and pack methods.

Should You Outsource Your Pick and Pack Services?

If your eCommerce business has grown beyond your fulfillment capacity, you can outsource your pick and pack services to a 3PL provider.

When you use a fulfillment warehouse, you get the advantage of a professional team. You can increase order accuracy and reduce shipping costs.

If your business is in an accelerated growth phase, there are a lot of outsourcing benefits that could really help you.

If your need for pick and pack services exceeds your ability to ship orders, this could slow your expansion.

In this case, a third-party fulfillment warehouse can free up your space and capital resources which gives your business more room to grow.

Integrating Pick and Pack with Your Delivery

Pick and pack software can help you with the steps to create effective and reliable pick, pack, and ship systems.

As we mentioned before, order fulfillment software can generate batch orders, barcodes, and perform inventory management tasks.

Pick and pack can also be integrated with delivery management software. This integration helps you build an agile delivery operation. The agile transformation touches on four aspects of your delivery: structure, process, people, and technology.

Integration will also help you measure key metrics in delivery logistics which is crucial for pick and pack delivery because you can identify key strengths and weaknesses in your organization.

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