Skip to content

Technology explained: The different types of warehouse order picking systems

Order picking is central to any thriving e-commerce and retail businesses and is the backbone of successful order fulfillment operations. Accounting for over 50% of fulfillment center operations and 55% of warehouse operating costs, order picking is arguably the most important activity in fulfillment centers, so an effective order picking system is crucial.

There are several types of order picking systems warehouses use to boost productivity and accuracy.

Since warehouses that rapidly and accurately execute order picking operations are usually the most successful, companies should carefully select their order picking systems.

Below you may find a list of the main types of warehouse order picking systems and methods in use today.

Single order picking

In single order picking, pickers move through the warehouse and retrieve SKUs one by one to fulfill one order at a time. This picking system works well for small warehouses that handle simple orders with just a few items.

Batch picking

Batch picking optimizes picking activities by retrieving SKUs in bulk to fulfill multiple orders at a time. This minimizes travel time and speeds up fulfillment operations, especially for warehouses that receive multiple orders containing the same SKUs. Workers use a consolidated pick list to pick SKUs for multiple orders in one pass.

Multi-batch order picking

The multi-batch order picking system reduces picking times by simultaneously picking items for multiple orders. Workers typically use multi-tiered picking carts to pick multiple SKUs for several orders at a time. This picking system is used for orders coming from different areas in the warehouse and minimizes overall travel time since workers go through the facility once to fulfill multiple orders.

Cluster picking

This picking methodology is used to fulfill multiple orders at the same time. Workers travel through the warehouse retrieving SKUs on multiple pick lists and placing them into separate bins/containers. Each container is associated with a separate order/pick list. This eliminates repeated trips to the same pick location and removes the need for sorting since this is done by pickers at each pick location. However, it requires the use of sophisticated WMS solutions for proper scheduling and assignment of clusters.

Wave picking

Wave picking is a variation of batch and zone picking that is particularly useful for large warehouses that regularly receive multiple high-volume orders. Orders are grouped into sets or waves according to factors like customer location, order frequency, order type, picking zones, delivery date, etc. Workers simultaneously pick SKUs from multiple zones and forward them for sorting and consolidation into individual shipments. Waves are assigned to pickers and schedules to maximize efficiency.

Zone picking

With zone picking, the warehouse is divided into zones and dedicated workers are assigned to each zone. Workers fulfill orders by going through the pick list and retrieving SKUs stored in their zone. Once all the items in that zone have been picked, the order carton is passed to other zones. In this way, SKUs are picked and passed from zone to zone and packed for shipping in a central consolidation location. This picking system significantly reduces travel time through fulfillment centers since workers stay within their assigned zones when picking items. For more information, read about the differences between zone and wave picking.