Packing ecommerce orders

In e-commerce order fulfillment services, picking and packing are critical elements. The intention is to improve the shipping and delivery of a product, therefore, enhancing your reputation as a business.

It’s a method that is usually attributed to the retail industry, where instead of shipping large bundles of goods, companies use their employees to pick merchandise from their warehouse location individually. They then pack them into their appropriate packaging along with the correct order invoice for shipment.

When done efficiently, picking and packing allows you to customize your customer orders, plus be time and cost-effective as a brand (We’ll go into this in more detail later.) But for now, here’s pick and packing in fulfillment, explained:

What is pick-and-pack?

The pick and pack process has four primary steps. These are:

Order receiving: When a customer places an order, the software at your fulfillment warehouse will produce a packing slip. It can be either digital order information or physical printouts.          

Order picking: This is the next order fulfillment step. It involves retrieving customers’ orders from their assigned picking location in your warehouse as soon as the buyer checks out.

Order packing: This is when orders that have been purchased are packaged, sealed, and labeled with shipping information. Packing-wise, they must adhere to the customer’s expectations and your specification. (To be recognized as a trustworthy business, you must be consistent.) 

Order shipping: Your employees should then sort the orders on the loading dock by carriers to be ready for pickup at the end of the day.

*Of course, these processes are made more streamlined with the help of high-powered tech, like robots. Particularly during the packing stages, this speeds up the turn-around of orders.

Benefits of using a pick-and-pack service

If you’re looking to really improve your order fulfillment, the picking and packing process is an integral part of its success. Here’s why:

It boosts efficiency

As we mentioned at the start, the pick-and-pack method is extremely efficient, especially when it’s the right approach. Fulfillment activities are sped up, and goods are able to be inventoried, stored, picked, and packed all from one location.

Of course, with all of this happening under one roof, it cuts the long process in which products are extracted from various storage locations and sent to another one to be packed and labeled. I.e a logistical nightmare.

This efficiency also ensures that orders are promptly delivered on time, which equals happy and satisfied customers. 

It improves organization

An organized product warehouse is integral for a successful pick-and-pack system. Making sure the master cartons are labeled clearly, or stored in similar groups makes your employees’ jobs much easier. It reduces time wasted going between different master cartons trying to find what it is they need. 

Plus, it eradicates having to stop to ask other coworkers about the location of an item. Instead, they know where to find what it is they’re looking for every time. 

And even though the formulation of a picking and packing system isn’t necessarily credited to your employees directly, it’s a crucial part of achieving job success and the logistical success of your business.

It improves accuracy

Accuracy is another string to an organized pick-and-pack system’s bow. When workers are fulfilling orders for your customers, sending them the wrong thing is not acceptable. 

For example, if they’ve purchased a specific product that isn’t available, a similar version in replacement is not an alternative. In scenarios like this, shipping out a partial order can be acceptable, as long as customers are informed that the remainder of their package will be sent out at a later date.

However, with a highly organized warehouse and trained workers, the accuracy of your fulfillment services should be fault-free.

It’s cost-effective

Having orders picked and packed through the same fulfillment process is a big money saver, and ensures you can cut unnecessary costs throughout your company. For example, a cloud-based management system can help to collate data on operations, inventories, and packing information, which optimizes the storage, picking, packing, and dispatching of your orders.

Consistent customer satisfaction

Every business wants its customers to be consistently satisfied. When you have accuracy, organization, and efficiency as central factors in your logistical process, you ensure this is a given.

A successful picking and packing system will make sure that your customers get what they order. Not only this, but they receive their items faster, too. Once they know they can count on your business for reliable and speedy product delivery each time, they’ll continue to purchase from you.

Picking and packing methods

The methods that work well for your business may not necessarily be what works for another. It really all depends on the products you offer and at what scale you operate. You may also change your pick-and-pack process as your business grows, which is why we’ve detailed the four standard methods that a lot of e-commerce companies use:

Piece picking

This version takes the packing slip for a single order. Workers move around the warehouse and pick the items for the order from the shelves. Once everything has been collected, the order is taken to the packing station for packing. 

Small businesses that receive only a few orders a day typically use this method, as it’s the easiest choice.

Batch picking

If you have enough orders to organize them into batches, this process will work well for you. Every batch of orders relates to items that are located in the same area in the warehouse. The goal is to give workers the most efficient route through the space.

If you require one SKU (stock-keeping unit) for several orders, it’s wise to pick the orders together. This saves time walking back and forth and ensures orders go out quicker.

The batch method can still be employed if you run a small business, too. For example, you can pick up all of your orders at one time each day. This is way more efficient than picking and packing purchases as you receive them. 

Zone picking

This is a method that streamlines larger fulfillment warehouses and bigger businesses. Workers, or “pickers” are allocated a zone in the warehouse and pick the products from there for each order. They then pass the order on to someone who works in the next zone.

Once an order has moved through each zone where products of the packing slip are stored, it can make its way to the packing station. This does require more complex coordination skills in the warehouse, though. You’ll most definitely need warehouse management software to help you to manage efficiently.

Wave picking

The wave method combines batch and zone picking. Pickers pick products within a zone for a batch of orders, instead of just a single one. They then pass the batch on to the next zone for picking, etc.

Order packing best practices

Once you get to the packing part of the process, there are a few integral things you need to think about. Like having enough infill in the packaging to protect the products during shipping, but also shipping them in the smallest boxes possible to reduce weight charges.

Here are some of the other most important best practices to follow during this stage to avoid returns, errors, and shipping charges:  

  • For each order, re-scan your products to ensure the items on the packing slip match what you’re boxing. 
  • Use pick-and-pack software to calculate the size of the box you need for each order to prevent errors.
  • Infill instructions should be included for each order for improved pick-and-pack methods. This way, packers will be able to reach for the correct packing materials for each individual order faster.

When should you outsource your pick and pack operations?

Has your e-commerce business grown in scale, and your current fulfillment services simply won’t cut it anymore? There are other solutions, like outsourcing your picking and packing services to a 3PL (third-party logistics) provider.

Not only do you get the benefit of a professional team, (which gives you and your workers more time to focus on expanding your company’s growth) but it also gives you the opportunity to use the latest pick-and-pack methods. Some of the top advantages? Your order accuracy can be increased and you can reduce your shipping costs, too.

So, if your business has experienced a rapid rise in sales and you’re preparing for a much larger customer base, outsourcing could save you from future problems, including your ability to fulfill orders in time. 

A third-party pick-and-pack team = more space for your business to grow.