Many distribution businesses I’ve toured have a pretty typical pick, pack and shipping process. The majority of what I see is dedicated picking, packing, and shipping staff. The process typically looks like this:
Order by Order
1. Picker gets an order to “pick”
2. Picker goes and picks items from warehouse and puts them into a packing area
3. Packer packs the item, performs any validations / checks / balances
4. Shipper takes package and puts it into shipment staging area (sometimes also performed by packer)
Business to consumer (B2C) eCommerce operations more than likely need to change how they handle order fulfillment. They have to think about speed and efficiency. Gone are the days where your warehouse staff simply send out what they can in a day. Orders that come in before noon on a given day should go out that day if they are available. Some may think this is unreasonable, but I think if you’re serious about eCommerce, you don’t have a choice. The customer is happy with nothing less than excellence. Shipping an item out 2-3 days after the customer has placed it does not result in an excellent experience. That’s mediocre at best.
Our best operations do what’s called consolidated picking. They batch up a series of orders and send a picker out into the warehouse on a “pick path” that is driven by some kind of warehouse management software that knows where everything is. Contrast the below process with order by order above:
1. Picker gets 10 orders (total 16 items) to pick. The ERP/WMS system gives the picker these items based on a walking path in the warehouse. This path is about where each item is, not which order it belongs to
2. Picker walks warehouse (or roller blades!) with a cart to get all 16 items
3. Picker bring sit back to packing station for packing
4. Packers get it all ready and into shipment staging area
Consolidated picking has given some of our warehouses tremendous boosts in productivity. Orders go out faster, in some cases on the same day of the order being placed. Customers are happier because they are getting their items before their estimated delivery dates!
Great fulfillment practices can be part of your marketing strategy. We all know that existing customer referrals are the best possible source of new customers. Everyone loves it when a friend can refer them to something. It’s about trust. We trust our friends and we trust other consumers. There’s lots of data out there to support this. The shipment of an item to a customer is the last interaction you have with them on a particular order. It’s likely the thing they are going to judge you by. So why risk them not loving you enough to refer you?