Pick and Pack Fulfillment: An Ecommerce Guide

Simply put, “pick and pack” is the process of picking a customer’s order off of a shelf (or wherever it’s stored) and packing it in a box to be shipped to the customer. If you’re a new seller with just a few orders a day, you’re probably doing your own picking and packing – maybe out of your living room! The time, energy, and focus it takes to correctly pick and pack order after order quickly overwhelms sellers as they grow, though, which is why most turn to a 3PL and outsource their ecommerce order fulfillment once they get traction in the market. As you can imagine, picking and packing gets a lot more complex in a warehouse optimized for speedy and accurate ecommerce fulfillment. Read on to learn how pick and pack quality impacts your ecommerce store, how the experts optimize their processes, and how you can find the best pick and pack fulfillment service for your needs.

Why Pick and Pack Fulfillment Quality Matters

Picking speed is an essential behind-the-scenes metric for ecommerce stores because it dictates order cutoffs and on-time delivery. These metrics in turn have a big impact on your conversion rate and repeat customer rate, and therefore your overall growth!

Your order cutoff time is the time in the day before which a customer has to place an order that can be shipped out that same day. Faster, more efficient picking operations can set later order cutoffs. In the days of 7 day shipping, this wasn’t such a big deal. With the rise of 1 and 2-day shipping, though, missing an order cutoff means a customer has to wait twice as long to receive their package. According to McKinsey, almost half of online shoppers will buy elsewhere when the estimated delivery time is too long – so an early cutoff means lost customers.

Picking accuracy is perhaps even more important than picking speed. As more sellers pile into ecommerce, price and advertising competition continues to rise, squeezing margins. Repeat customers that don’t need advertising to convert are critical to a seller’s ability to build a sustainable long-term business model. Sending customers the wrong order kills a brand’s image, likely loses the chance to create a long-term customer, and on top of that incurs return shipping fees.

Finally, intelligent packing can make the difference between a profitable sale and an unprofitable one. How? It’s all in the box.

It’s easy enough to set rules that guide which single item-orders are put in which boxes. But what about multi-item, multi-quantity orders? They can quickly get confusing for warehouse personnel, and workers under pressure to go fast default to using too-big boxes to fit all the items. That in turn increases the dimensional weight of the box, which increases the cost of the shipping label.

Top ecommerce fulfillment 3PLs like Cahoot have efficient picking operations that work quickly while minimizing errors and cost. Cahoot’s processes enable 2 pm cutoff times that are a full two hours later than industry standard, while its teams use barcode scanners to eliminate errors. When every single pick is checked by a computer, the order is right every time. Finally, Cahoot software creates intelligent and dynamic rules even for the most complicated multi-item orders that minimize shipping cost, saving you money.

Pick and Pack Warehouse

How does picking and packing work in an ecommerce warehouse? The answer varies widely based on the sophistication of the operation and what types of items they’re working with. Automation also has a huge impact on how warehouses pick and pack, with the most tech-forward operations leaning heavily on robots and conveyor belts to quickly move items to humans doing the picking and packing.

Piece pick and pack

Piece picking is the most straightforward method. Fulfillment personnel will pick orders one at a time as they come in, moving about the warehouse to pick items before returning to a packing station to prep the package for handoff to a carrier.

In most warehouses, each item will be stored in its own bin or case in a distinct location. When an order comes in, warehouse software will automatically generate a “pick list” that tells the worker where each item is stored in the warehouse. That way, the worker knows where to go to find each item, and can grab them one at a time.

While this is the simplest pick and pack method, it’s also the least efficient, and most medium-to-large warehouses have moved past it.

Batch pick and pack

Batch picking is similar to piece picking in that workers still move about the warehouse picking items for individual orders, but in batch picking workers pick items to fulfill more than one order at a time.

Intelligent warehouse management software (WMS) guides this process to its optimal level of efficiency. Larger warehouses with more orders coming in have more opportunities for personnel to pick for multiple orders at once. Let’s say that four orders come in for the same pack of soap all within three minutes of one another; in this simple example, the WMS will send just one worker to pick the soap for each of the four orders, bring it all back to a packing station, and to pack all the orders sequentially. Of course, this saves three trips to the soap shelf, and helps the warehouse run more efficiently.

Zone pick and pack

Zone picking is the first big step up in complexity, and it involves splitting the warehouse into different “zones” and giving different workers responsibility for each zone. Order pickers stay in their zone, and they pick items from their assigned zone only. Instead of the worker passing from zone to zone, then, they pass the picking box or cart over to the next zone from which it needs items. Once all of the needed items have been picked, they’re passed to the packing station, which is a separate and final zone.

Warehouses that use zone picking often have automated parts of the process – for instance, many will have conveyor belts that connect different zones to one another. That makes handoffs between personnel in different zones much quicker and more efficient, freeing them up to focus on fast and accurate picking. Each zone will also connect to the packing station via conveyor belt, so that orders of single units can quickly be passed up to the packing station for shipping.

Wave pick and pack

Finally, wave picking combines zone picking and batch picking. Each zone picks a large amount of items needed for orders in a batch, and then that batch is combined with batches from each other zone and sent up to the packing station. Workers at the packing station then grab what they need for orders from the batches packed from each zone to prepare for shipping. 

Like zone picking, wave picking benefits significantly from automation and is frequently employed in large, sophisticated ecommerce fulfillment facilities.

How Does Pick and Pack Work for Fragile Items?

When picking and packing fragile items, speed becomes less important than the safety of the goods. After all, sending items that arrive broken is even worse than sending items slowly; you’ll have to write down the  value of the broken items and pay to ship out replacements.

Picking and packing fragile items so that they don’t break in the warehouse or during transit used to come down to experience and know-how of individual packers. Like most processes in the warehouse, though, guesswork is being replaced by intelligent automated rules to ensure that products arrive safely.

Consider our example below of a host of fragile goods from a fine Italian foods purveyor. Each item is a breaking risk, making an order with all of them a nightmare for most warehouse personnel.

When picking and packing fragile items, speed becomes a secondary concern to safety. Shipping an order our quickly is meaningless if the order is likely to break during transit.

An intelligent shipping software will make the difficult feasible by splitting the order into a number of shipments that finely balances shipping cost and breakage. It then will give guidance to the packing station on how to precisely protect and package each item to fit into the smallest box that will prevent damage in transit.

Many warehouses are set up for peak speed and efficiency, and they thus don’t have the flexibility to intelligently adapt to different types of goods that need different treatment. That’s where Cahoot sets itself apart.

Cahoot: The Best Pick and Pack Fulfillment Service

Cahoot’s nationwide network of over twenty warehouses provides affordable national eCommerce order fulfillment for online merchants. Our wide and diverse network enables us to fulfill a wide variety of needs, from sellers who need absolute peak speed at minimum cost to those that have fragile items or others that require special handling.

Our fulfillment centers are outfitted with dedicated personnel and technology that confers all the benefits of a top pick and pack service:

  1. Efficient picking enables late 2pm order cutoffs
  2. Barcode scanning all but eliminates incorrect orders
  3. Intelligent pick and pack software optimizes boxes for every order, minimizing shipping cost for complex orders
  4. Lowest cost by design

Unlike other providers, Cahoot also has the flexibility to work alongside existing merchant-owned warehouses (if you have them). We know that many merchants with non-standard items and order profiles carefully manage fulfillment themselves due to how difficult the process can be. Cahoot will analyze your existing network and customer base, then add a few locations of our own to seamlessly extend your network into a nationwide footprint. 

With this approach, you can continue to get value out of your existing assets while delighting your customers and your bottom line with affordable fast shipping.

Of course, our approach works just as well for merchants who want to completely outsource their fulfillment, and we’d be more than happy to take that on.

Getting started with Cahoot is fast and easy – with pre-built integrations for major eCommerce channels like Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, and BigCommerce, we can get merchants started in as little time as it takes to send us your inventory.

Talk to one of our experts today and explore how we can be the key that unlocks the next level of your profitable eCommerce growth.

Offer 1-day and 2-day shipping at ground rates or less.

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