10 common problems with order picking...and how to solve them

10 common problems with order picking...and how to solve them
10 common problems with order picking...and how to solve them

Picking is, as you'd expect, a major action in the order fulfilment process. Unfortunately, it is prone to a wealth of errors that can cost you time and money. We have looked back on our experiences visiting warehouses and put together a list of the most common problems we've noticed at the order picking stage.

Problem 1

Not finding the correct items in the locations.

Impact

If an item is not where it should be in the warehouse, this means the picker needs to spend time looking for it which delays the order fulfilment. This can lead to an unhappy customer and negative reviews. On top of that, it also makes for a highly inefficient warehouse operation.

How to solve it

With a warehouse management system (WMS), every item is scanned into a location. This means that when a picker is looking for an item, it will always be exactly where it should be.

Problem 2

Pickers make mistakes which mean the wrong items or quantities are picked.

Impact

If the wrong items or quantities are picked, time is wasted at the pack bench where, hopefully, the error is noticed. If the fault is not realised, the wrong items are despatched which will then require a refund or replacement. As well as costing money, it also paints a poor picture of your brand.

To calculate the cost of those mispicks, multiply the number of mis-shipments per week by the cost of a mis-shipment and you will see how much money is wasted. When calculating the cost of a mis-shipment, don't forget to consider shipping costs, returns costs, labour time to re-pick, customer service work, and time spent rectifying bad online reviews.

How to solve it

Get goods in right first time by scanning everything. Using barcode scanners in your eCommerce warehouse should make it impossible to pick the wrong item or the wrong quantity. With every incorrect pick, the scanner will create an error message, alerting the picker to their mistake.

As a final check for orders that have been picked in a batch, you may also benefit from scanning the items again at the point of despatch to ensure you match the right items to each shipping label.

Problem 3

You have paper-based picking.

Impact

With this kind of operation, paper must be printed and carried with the picker. This is not only a lengthy process, it is also highly inefficient and leaves a large margin for error due to lost or unfulfilled orders.

How to solve it

Quite simply: eliminate paper from your warehouse by using warehouse management software with a mobile app. The mobile app replaces the paper, a bit like your mobile phone replaced the handwritten letter.

Problem 4

12 smart ways to sort eCommerce warehouse orders for picking
12 smart ways to sort eCommerce warehouse orders for picking

No prioritisation when picking.

Impact

If your orders are not prioritised then often the most recent sales order items are picked first by default. This can mean that older orders or more important orders are neglected or delayed.

How to solve it

To solve this problem, you should find a suitable method for sorting your warehouse orders. Once you have a method in place, no priority order will be left over at the end of the day.

Problem 5

Labour-intensive picking - 'We've always hired more staff as we've grown and this can't go on forever.'

Impact

If you have too many pickers working at the same time, you will likely be spending more money on labour than you are getting back in return. Overtime is starting to creep in and sometimes deadlines for fulfilment are missed.

How to solve it

The most efficient way to reduce the number of pickers needed for a single shift is to introduce automation into your warehouse. Automation should improve the efficiency of all your pickers, meaning that fewer of them are needed to fulfil the same amount of orders. A watches and jewellery retailer client of ours saw a 75% increase in picks per person per hour when using a WMS.

A good idea is to benchmark your picking against industry standards. 100 items per picker per hour for small eCommerce order picks is a steady benchmark.

Problem 6

No designated location for half-picked orders.

Impact

Orders that are only half-picked are generally put back if the remaining items are not available, and fulfilment is postponed. Doing this leads to unhappy customers and potential negative reviews. However, despatching half-orders increases your overall shipping costs.

If you often find that your systems say you have an item in stock when you don't then forget Amazon and eBay. They will take you down if you fail this fundamental test. We have known eBay Power Sellers who have lost over £100k in revenue because of this.

How to solve it

The ultimate solution is to manage your allocation properly which means orders are only half-picked if you're happy to do a partial shipment. This is a business decision that can be set as a rule or reviewed against each order that can't be fulfiled.

order picking mistakes
order picking mistakes

Your eCommerce platform is unlikely to give you this and without it half-picked orders, and even cancelled orders, will be routine.

Problem 7

You have fixed locations - 'Every item has its place, except when that space is full, then it's stored in the overstock location...wherever that is...'

Impact

Having fixed locations eliminates the potential for flexibility to allocate high-demand items closer to the pack bench when necessary. It also means that warehouse space is not fully optimised, costing money and resources.

Inefficiency here usually means replenishment is made into a bigger issue, which itself results in more manual data entry to make stock location and inventory changes. The ultimate sign this is costing you is continuous stock takes that the team rely on for accurate inventory updates.

How to solve it

Introduce a warehouse management system that allows for dynamic locations. This will mean that you can put multiple stock keeping units (SKUs) in one location, as well as putting single SKUs in multiple locations. By doing this, you will make much better use of the space in your warehouse, saving money and postponing the need to move to a larger site.

Problem 8

You are reliant on people remembering where things are in the warehouse - 'My warehouse team know exactly what is where. Contractors and temps never seem to work out.'

Impact

Time is required to train pickers on the layout of the warehouse. When peak season hits and temporary staff are taken on, the same training cannot be afforded. Having this reliance on your pickers to know where everything is will cost time and money without providing a sufficient return.

How to solve it

With a WMS, the location of every SKU should be recorded. This means that when an item needs to be picked, the location is shown on the mobile app, eliminating all need for pickers to memorise the locations. This also means that temporary pickers can start using the system immediately, without the need for involved orientation.

Problem 9

Picking one order in one pick run.

Impact

This is an inefficient process that wastes valuable time and resources. It also makes the order fulfilment longer leading to dissatisfied customers.

How to solve it

The reason that one order is generally picked in one pick run is because it is printed on a sheet of paper. However, by eliminating paper and using a WMS instead, pick runs can be devised in the most efficient manner, which can often mean multiple pickers pick items for one order as part of a batch run. The order is then combined at the pack bench, saving time and resources.

Problem 10

You can't trace who has picked an order.

Impact

No accountability in a team is divisive, demotivating, and hard to mange. Your warehouse manager needs to be in the thick of it to have his pulse on productivity and even then he's open to personal bias. Not having this kind of visibility means that you are unable to assess the efficiency of your staff, as well as tracking the progress of an order. This means that you can't communicate with the customer regarding the status of their order.

How to solve it

A suitable WMS that is designed for eCommerce should provide you will full visibility on all inventory movements, including the member of staff that has performed each action.

Order picking mistakes 3
Order picking mistakes 3

Want to talk more about how you can optimise picking methods and get the best eCommerce warehouse?

Arrange a call with one of our specialists today.