Zone Picking: Increasing Productivity In Your Warehouse

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eCommerce businesses live and die by how efficient they are. Inefficient warehouse practices can take an otherwise successful business and grind it to a screeching halt.

A big part of warehouse efficiency is the picking process. Picking is the process of selecting the correct products from inventories and preparing them for shipment.

There are a few different ways to go about picking, but zone picking is becoming increasingly popular because it offers a number of advantages over other methods.

In this post, we’ll go over:

  1. What zone picking is and how it works
  2. How to implement it in your warehouse
  3. How zone picking stacks up against other popular picking methodologies

What is zone picking?

Zone picking is a method of inventory management and order fulfillment that involves dividing the warehouse into sections or zones. Zone picking allows orders to be fulfilled more quickly and accurately than traditional methods like “pick and pass” or “pick and consolidate.”

Zone picking can be used in conjunction with other methods like “pick and pass” or “pick and consolidate.”

It also works well when combined with either wave picking or batch picking and is most effective in warehouses that have a large number of SKUs and orders.

How zone selection works

Zone picking involves dividing the warehouse into sections or zones. Each zone contains a specific type of product.

When an order comes in, the picker will go to the first zone that contains the required product. The picker will then gather all of the products from that zone that are needed to fulfill the order.

Once the products have been gathered, the picker will move on to the next zone that contains the required product. This process continues until all of the products have been gathered, and the order is complete.

Let’s illustrate this with a real-world example. Say you run an online apparel store that sells shoes, clothes, and accessories.

Your warehouse is divided into three zones: Zone 1 for shoes, Zone 2 for clothes, and Zone 3 for accessories.

An order comes in for two pairs of shoes, three shirts, and a belt.

The picker will go to Zone 1 and collect the pairs of shoes. The picker will then go to Zone 2 and collect the shirts. Finally, the picker will go to Zone 3 and collect the belt.

Once all of the products have been gathered, the order is complete and can be shipped to the customer.

This is a simple example, but where zone picking really shines is in warehouses with a large number of SKUs and orders.

And zones don’t just need to be divided by item type. They can also be sectioned off by other variables, such as customer demand or order frequency.

Advantages and disadvantages of zone picking

One advantage of zone picking is that it can increase productivity. This is because pickers only have to go to one area of the warehouse for each type of product rather than walking back and forth across the entire warehouse.

Another advantage of zone picking is that it can help to reduce errors. This is because pickers are less likely to grab the wrong product if they are only looking in one area. Having a clear delineation between product types is helpful in preventing these types of errors.

A disadvantage of zone picking is that it can be more expensive to implement since it requires more organization and planning than other methods.

Zone picking also necessitates a larger warehouse since each product needs its own dedicated area.

This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage but a consideration: zone picking requires a very well-organized warehouse. The success of this methodology depends on each item being in the proper spot and every zone being clearly labeled.

And lastly, zone picking works best when paired with a dedicated inventory management software that lets you scan products, track inventory in real-time, and manage all your SKUs in one place.

If zone picking doesn’t make sense for your business, there are a variety of other inventory organization ideas for you to try to increase efficiency.

Zone picking variables

There are several factors that you need to consider when deciding if zone picking is the right strategy for your business. These include:

  • The number of SKUs that you have
  • The number of orders that you receive
  • The size of your warehouse
  • The layout of your warehouse

For example, if you have a large warehouse with a lot of SKUs, zone picking might be the best option. This is because it can help you to maximize productivity and reduce errors.

However, if you have a small warehouse with only a few SKUs, zone picking might not be the best option. This is because it can be more expensive, and it might not provide as much of an increase in productivity.

How to organize a warehouse for zone picking? In order to implement zone picking in your warehouse, you will need to divide your warehouse into sections or zones.

Each zone should contain a specific type of product. For example, you might designate Zone A for electronics, Zone B for clothing, and Zone C for toys.

Once you have divided your warehouse into zones, you will need to assign each SKU to a specific zone. This will ensure that pickers know exactly where to go to find each product.

You will also need to label each zone clearly. This will help pickers to find the correct products quickly and prevent errors.

Zone picking vs. wave picking

Zone picking is similar to wave picking, but there are some key differences.

Wave picking is a methodology where orders are grouped together in waves. Pickers will go through the warehouse and gather all of the products for each order in the wave.

Whereas zone picking is a methodology where each product is assigned to a specific zone. Pickers will go to each zone and gather all of the products for each order.

Wave picking can be more efficient than zone picking if you have a lot of orders for the same SKU. This is because pickers will only have to go to each zone once rather than multiple times.

However, zone picking can be more efficient than wave picking if you have a lot of SKUs. This is because pickers will only have to go to each zone once rather than multiple times.

But some of the most efficient order picking comes from combining zone picking with another methodology, as explained in the following section.

Zone picking methods

There are two main methods for zone picking: batch picking and wave picking.

Batch picking is when pickers collect all of the products for an order before moving on to the next order. This method is best for warehouses that receive a large number of orders.

Wave picking is when pickers collect all of the products for one SKU before moving on to the next SKU. This method is best for bigger warehouses that have a large number of SKUs.


Zone picking examples


To better understand how zone picking works, let’s take a look at two examples.

Example 1: Say you’re a boutique eCommerce shop that only sells three products, but you’ve carved out a loyal fanbase, and you’re getting consistent orders. Since you don’t have many SKUs, you combine zone picking with batch picking as your picking strategy of choice.

Your warehouse is split into three zones – Zone A for Product 1, Zone B for Product 2, and Zone C for Product 3. You also have a pick list that tells your pickers which products need to be collected for each order.

Pro Tip: Inventory management software like SkuVault automatically generates digital pick lists that help pickers find the most efficient route through your warehouse.

The picker will go to each zone in turn and collect all of the products on the pick list. Once they’ve collected all of the products, they’ll move on to the next order.

This method is efficient because the picker only has to go to each zone once. It’s also accurate because the picker can double-check that they’ve collected all of the products for an order before moving on to the next one.

Example 2: Now, let’s say you run a medium-sized eCommerce business that sells a wide range of products. You’re getting a lot of orders, but they’re for different SKUs. In this case, you decide to use zone picking with wave picking as your strategy.

Your warehouse is split into different zones for each SKU. You also have a pick list that tells your pickers which products need to be collected for each order.

Due to the volume of orders, the pick list will contain products of the same kind irrespective of the order they belong to.

That way, rather than picking all products for one order and then moving on to the next (as in batch picking), the picker can work their way through the pick list, collecting one SKU at a time. Once they’ve collected all products for that SKU, they’ll move on to the next SKU.

This method is efficient because the picker only has to go to each zone once. And it’s accurate because the picker can double-check that they’ve collected all of the products for a SKU before moving on to the next one.


Zone selection vs. pick and pass


Pick-and-pass is a type of zone picking where the picker goes to each zone in turn, but rather than collecting all of the products for an order (or SKU), they only collect the products that are needed for that particular order (or SKU).

The products that are collected are then passed on to the next picker, who is responsible for collecting the products for the next order (or SKU).

This method is often used in very large warehouses where it’s not practical for one picker to collect all of the products for an order.

It’s also sometimes used in smaller warehouses as a way of increasing productivity. However, it’s worth noting that this method can be less accurate than other picking methods because the products are passed from one picker to the next, which can lead to products getting lost or misplaced.

Here’s an example of pick-and-pass picking in action. Zone A is for SKU1, Zone B is for SKU2, Zone C is for SKU3, and Zone D is for SKU4.

The pick list for Order 1 contains one unit of each SKU. The picker goes to Zone A and collects one unit of SKU1. They then pass the SKU1 to the next picker, who is responsible for Zone B.

The second picker collects one unit of SKU2 from Zone B and passes it on to the third picker, who is responsible for Zone C. The third picker collects one unit of SKU3 from Zone C and passes it on to the fourth picker, who is responsible for Zone D.

The fourth picker collects one unit of SKU4 from Zone D and passes it back to the first picker, who is responsible for Zone A. The first picker then completes the order by collecting the remaining products from Zone A.

Again, this methodology is really only feasible as your business scales, and trying to implement it in a small warehouse is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth.


Pick-and-pass vs. pick-and-consolidate


Pick-and-consolidate is a type of zone picking where the picker collects all of the products for an order (or SKU) from each zone in turn, but rather than passing the products on to the next picker, they consolidate them into one location.

The advantage of consolidating the products is that it makes it easier to quality check the order before it’s shipped out. The disadvantage is that it can lead to products getting lost or misplaced, as there’s only one picker who is responsible for collecting all of the products for an order.

This might be a specific area in the warehouse where orders (or SKUs) are consolidated, or it might be a trolley that the picker uses to collect all of the products for an order (or SKU).

The pick-and-consolidate method is often used in large warehouses where it’s not practical for one picker to collect all of the products for an order.

Here’s an example of pick-and-consolidate picking in action. Zone A is for SKU1, Zone B is for SKU2, Zone C is for SKU3, and Zone D is for SKU4.

The pick list for Order 1 contains one unit of each SKU. The picker goes to Zone A and collects one unit of SKU1. They then go to Zone B and collect one unit of SKU2.

They then go to Zone C and collect one unit of SKU3. Finally, they go to Zone D and collect one unit of SKU4. The picker then consolidates all of the products into one location, such as a trolley or an area in the warehouse where orders (or SKUs) are consolidated.

From there, another warehouse worker can quality check the order before it’s shipped out.


What are the arrangements you need for zone picking?


Zone picking can be a really effective way of increasing productivity in your warehouse, but it’s important to make sure that you have the right arrangements in place before you try to implement it.

First, you need to make sure that your warehouse is organized into zones. Zone picking only works if products are stored in specific areas of the warehouse so that pickers can easily go to the correct zone and collect the products they need.

Second, you need to make sure that you have enough pickers. Zone picking is only effective if there are enough pickers to cover all of the zones in the warehouse. If you don’t have enough pickers, then you won’t be able to collect all of the products for an order in a timely manner.

Third, you need to make sure that you have a way of tracking which pickers are responsible for which zones. This is usually done with some kind of Zone Picker Tracking sheet, which lists all of the pickers in the warehouse and which zones they are responsible for.

Fourth, you need to make sure that you have a way of keeping track of which orders (or SKUs) need to be picked from which zones. This is usually done with some kind of Zone Pick List, which lists all of the orders (or SKUs) that need to be picked from each zone.


How SkuVault can help with zone picking


If you want to take your picking strategy to the next level with zone picking, it’s essential to leverage software and automation.

SkuVault exists to help you do just that — our warehouse management software (WMS) was built to give you complete control and visibility over your inventory, whether it’s stored in one location or in multiple warehouses across the globe.

SkuVault automates the picking process, making your warehouse inventory easy to track while minimizing errors. Utilize paper pick lists or digital picking, and customize your workflows based on what is best for your business.

In eCommerce and warehouse-based businesses, success is all about increasing efficiency so you can get back to scaling your venture and serving your customers.

Matt Kenyon

Matt Kenyon

Author

Matt has been helping businesses succeed with exceptional content, lead gen, and B2B copywriting for the last decade. When he’s not typing words for humans (that Google loves), Matt can be found producing music, peeking at a horror flick between his fingers, or spending quality time with his wife and kids.