How to prevent picking errors in a warehouse

Get more digital commerce tips

Tactics to help you streamline and grow your business.

Picture this scenario: Your customer has been eagerly awaiting their package and is excited to receive their order from you. But instead of getting what they bought, they receive something completely off-base. It’s a bit like that time we ordered gourmet pizza for the office party, only to end up with a bunch of soggy salad bowls instead. Not cool. And a complete anticlimax. 

That’s how your customers feel when they fall victim to picking errors in your warehouse (minus the carb cravings). But beyond the initial disappointment, there are more weighty concerns for your ecommerce business. 

You see, picking errors aren’t just about mismatched expectations. They can also wreak havoc on customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and, ultimately, your bottom line. Long story short, each mispick blunder can cause a cascade of negative repercussions.

Join us as we explain how to prevent picking errors in a warehouse so you can steer clear of delays, disappointments, and customer service dramas and navigate your way toward success.

What are picking errors? 

Picking errors are inaccuracies that occur during the fulfillment process, leaving your customers scratching their heads – often irately – when they receive an incorrect order. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of mispick you should be aware of:

  • Standard mispick: The wrong item is selected for an order, resulting in the customer receiving an incorrect product.
  • Wrong quantity: The incorrect number of items is picked for an order, leading to both customer confusion and potential overstock or stockout situations for you. 
  • Incorrect item: A similar-looking item or item with a similar name is picked, but it’s still not what the customer ordered.  
  • Location error: The picker selects items from the wrong storage location, leading to incorrect fulfillment and difficulties finding the correct inventory later.
  • Substitution error: A different item is substituted for the ordered item due to stock unavailability or oversight.

What are the most common causes of warehouse picking errors?

Before we move on to look at how to prevent picking errors in a warehouse, it’s essential to understand why they happen in the first place. 

So, precisely why do picking errors occur? Typically, the root cause comes down to inadequate inventory management, tired or ill-prepared staff, poor warehouse layout – or a combination of all three factors. 

  • Poor organization: Have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack? That’s what it feels like for warehouse staff navigating through disorganized inventory. Without clear labeling and logical storage systems, picking errors are much more likely to occur.
  • Lack of training: Without adequate training on picking procedures and systems, employees are more prone to making mistakes. So, just as a general wouldn’t send his troops into battle without the proper armor, your employees shouldn’t be sent out into the warehouse without the right tools and training. 
  • Inefficient processes: Inefficient picking processes caused by unclear routes or outdated technology create bottlenecks that increase the likelihood of errors – especially at peak times. Imagine the warehouse equivalent of a traffic jam during rush hour. Yep, it’s chaos!
  • Human error: Let’s face it, we’re all human. And humans make mistakes. Whether it’s a momentary lapse in concentration or a simple oversight, some errors will always be inevitable as long as humans are involved.

But fear not! While you can’t entirely eliminate the cost of human error in doing business, you can take proactive steps to minimize them and mitigate the other lead causes of mispicks. With the right tools and technology, most errors can be caught and rectified before they become bigger problems.

Ready to learn how to prevent picking errors in a warehouse? Let’s explore a few strategies you can adopt to tackle picking errors head-on and pave the way for smoother warehouse operations.

How to prevent picking errors in a warehouse: A step-by-step guide

With the hows and whys of the most common mispicking mysteries uncovered, it’s time to look at the practical steps you can take to optimize efficiency by eliminating as many of them as possible. Here’s a list of action points to work through.

Assess your current picking accuracy

    Understanding where you stand now is the first step toward improvement. After all, you can’t map a route toward a new destination if you don’t have a starting point to plug into your GPS system. So, before diving headfirst into prevention strategies, it’s essential to establish a baseline. 

    You’ll need to conduct a thorough assessment of your current picking accuracy to identify areas for improvement. This could involve:

    • Analyzing past order data: Look for recurring errors, common pitfalls, and areas of inconsistency. Are certain products more prone to errors than others? Are there specific times of day or days of the week when errors peak? Etc.
    • Asking for customer feedback: Never underestimate the value of a first-hand perspective. Try to identify common complaints, concerns, and consumer pain points. 
    • Conducting spot checks:  Randomly select orders and verify their accuracy to establish how consistently pickers are selecting the correct items in the right quantities.
    • Utilizing inventory management software to track accuracy metrics: Technology is the ultimate unbiased ally in monitoring metrics like order accuracy rate, picking error rate, and order fulfillment time. 

    Improve your warehouse layout

      Just like rearranging furniture to improve flow in a room, optimizing your warehouse layout can streamline picking processes and reduce errors. However, a well-organized warehouse layout doesn’t just enhance productivity. It also reduces the likelihood of errors by making it easier for pickers to locate and retrieve items accurately.

      Essential factors to consider if you’re to minimize travel time and increase efficiency include:

      • Aisle width
      • Storage shelving height
      • Proximity to packing stations 
      • Lighting and visibility
      • Signage and labeling
      • Picking equipment placement (carts, pallet jacks, forklifts, etc).

      Create an organized system for your inventory

        Enhanced organization is vital in mastering how to prevent picking errors in a warehouse. The goal is to implement a systematic approach to categorizing and storing inventory. Here’s a few top tips to set you on the right path. 

        • Inventory placement: Place high-demand items at easily accessible locations to reduce the distance traveled by pickers and speed up the process for frequently ordered items.
        • Inventory zoning: Divide the warehouse into zones and assign specific pickers to each one. This allows for parallel picking activities and reduces travel time for each pick.
        • Traffic flow: Consider the typical flow of traffic and design pathways that minimize congestion and bottlenecks.
        • Bin locations: Group similar items together and assign them specific bin locations so they’re easier for pickers to locate. 
        • Signage: Eliminate wrong turns and dead ends with clear signage that leads pickers straight to their destination.
        • Labeling: Use descriptive labels that provide essential information like item names, SKUs, and locations at a glance. 

        Use barcode scanning

          At Linnworks, we’re firm believers that barcode scanners are the magic wands of inventory management. Not only do they help you wave away the need for tedious data entry. They simultaneously transform inventory tracking into a streamlined, efficient process. 

          Here’s why barcode scanning is a no-brainer for your business:

          • Inventory processing using convenient mobile devices helps you scan, track, and update inventory in a fraction of the time it would take with old-school manual data entry.
          • Barcode scanning dramatically minimizes mistakes caused by your biggest arch nemesis, human error, ensuring increased accuracy across the board.
          • Picking and packing becomes a silky-smooth process because you’ll know you have the correct item 100% of the time.

          The end result? With a barcode inventory management system in place and trusty handheld scanners at your fingertips, you can zap your inventory management woes away by tracking the movement of every item – from the moment it enters your warehouse until it reaches its final destination.

          Not sure how to get barcodes for your products? Check out this handy blog for more info. 

          Set up a warehouse management system (WMS)

            Warehouse management systems (WMS) are sophisticated pieces of software designed to orchestrate every aspect of your warehouse operation, from receiving and storing inventory to picking, packing, and shipping orders.

            Implementing warehouse management best practices brings a multitude of benefits to your warehouse:

            • Streamlined operations – With features for inventory tracking, order management, and task allocation, smooth sailing from dock to door is a given.
            • Real-time visibility – An up-to-the-minute view of inventory levels and order statuses helps you identify bottlenecks and make informed decisions to keep operations on course.
            • Enhanced accuracy – When inventory management tasks are automated, pesky human errors and discrepancies are minimized, ensuring accuracy at every stage of the fulfillment process. 

            Train and incentivize warehouse staff

              Your warehouse crew is the heart and soul of your operation, and their skills and motivation are crucial to maintaining smooth operations. So, the power of encouraging your team to reach new heights of efficiency and accuracy should never be overlooked.

              Here’s a quick 101 on how to prevent picking errors in a warehouse by empowering your team:

              • Provide comprehensive training – From warehouse processes and equipment operation to communications procedures and inventory management best practices, equip each team member with the knowledge and skills they need to excel.
              • Ensure adequate breaks – Sure, you want your teams to be working as much as possible while they’re on the clock. But rest time and refueling breaks are essential because 60% of workers admit they’ve made workplace mistakes due to tiredness. 
              • Implement incentive programs – Motivate employees with performance-based incentives that reward excellence and achievement. Bonuses, ‘picker of the month’ recognition, and opportunities for advancement can all be powerful motivators to go above and beyond. 
              • Team building activities – Organize workshops and activities that foster camaraderie and collaboration. Whether it’s a team lunch, a group outing, or a friendly competition, non-work-based socialization helps to strengthen bonds and build morale within your team.
              • Continuous improvement initiatives – Encourage employees to contribute ideas for process improvement and efficiency gains. Implement a system for collecting and evaluating employee suggestions and reward ideas that lead to tangible improvements.
              • Skill development opportunities – Provide avenues for high-performing employees to develop new skills and advance their careers by offering to reimburse tuition fees, cover professional development training costs, or sponsor conference attendance, etc. 

              Be proactive: conduct regular inventory audits

                In the ever-changing ecommerce landscape, staying ahead of the curve is an essential component of success. Regular inventory audits are your guiding compass, steering you along the correct path toward accuracy and efficiency. 

                Whether you choose daily, weekly, or monthly audits, consistency is the key to unlocking control. But the work doesn’t stop when you discover discrepancies. You’ll need to dig deeper to uncover whether the root cause lies in process errors, system glitches, human factors, etc., and promptly address the underlying issues to prevent recurrence.

                Learn more in our inventory audit guide

                How Get Lowered Cycles reduced mis-picks from 3% to 0.5%

                The Company: Get Lowered Cycles is a Pennsylvania-based motorcycle parts and accessories retailer founded by Mike and Meg Smith.

                The Problem: Like many ecommerce start-ups, Get Lowered Cycles ran into problems with tedious shipping processes and manual inventory entries as the business grew. 

                The Fix: Mike and Meg turned to ShipWorks to streamline shipping and thermal labels, while SkuVault Core became the key player in managing inventory synchronization. 

                The Process: The combination of ShipWorks and SkuVault Core facilitated more efficient order fulfillment and significantly improved quality control thanks to barcode scanning. 

                The Result: The mispick frequency dropped from 3% to 0.5%, allowing the team to fulfill more orders and provide fast, reliable service for their international market.

                Read the full story here to learn more. 

                Stop wondering how to prevent picking errors — and get started! 

                The key takeaway here is that the level of success you achieve all comes down to precision. And we’re not just talking about picking precision anymore, but the whole gamut of other variables, too – like inventory control precision, packing precision, shipping precision, and precision in delighting your customers every step of the way.

                And the best way to ensure precision? By ditching outdated and laborious manual processes in favor of intelligent technology. 

                When you pick (yes, pun intended) the right software systems and industry partners, it becomes much easier to eliminate errors to improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and streamline the overall operation of your warehouses.
                From logistics assistance and guidance on how to prevent picking errors in your warehouse to shipping management and everything in between, Linnworks can help. Check out Linnworks One today and request a free demo to learn more.

                Ready to see Linnworks in action?

                • Unrivaled ecommerce data accuracy
                • 100+ integrations with global sales channels
                • Up and running in 40 days on average

                Linzi Trafford


                Linzi Trafford is a SaaS-loving, self-professed grammar nerd. She’s written for industry leaders like Crunchbase and Spotify, tech-for-good firms like UpMetrics and Recite Me, and a whole heap in between. When not hammering away at her keyboard, you’ll find her hiking with her rescue dog, singing with her band, or getting stuck into a good old-fashioned whodunnit novel.