Best Warehouse Pick Processes for Ecommerce 3PLs

Date: September 1, 2020


More than ever before, third-party logistics (3PL) warehousing has experienced unforeseen growth driven by consumer behavior. Unlike peak times and year-over-year growth trajectory for sectors like ecommerce, 3PL warehouses have had to make dynamic shifts to the way they do business to cater to ecommerce fulfillment. Ever heard the phrase, “building a plane as you fly it”? Most sectors in the logistics industry did not get the time to pace their transition to cater to ecommerce in the shift to a COVID-19 consumer environment.

So, warehouses, 3PL and private alike, have sought to make high impact process changes that can yield the most meaningful return on investment (ROI). One of the most impactful changes a warehouse can make is to implement the right pick processes for the volume, layout, and commodity types they support. Having the right technology to facilitate picking is important but understanding which processes to implement and when is equally important. 

Pick Process KPIs and Why They are Important 

It’s important for warehouses to improve efficiency. To identify bottlenecks, warehouses should look at metrics that enable them to measure their throughput. KPIs such as order pick speed, accuracy, returns, and reship rates can help 3PLs identify areas for improvement. 

An example of how to measure Pick Speed may look like this: 

Formula: Assigned pick work for employee (line items, units) / Time (usually in hours)

A reduced pick speed can indicate poor putaway process, lack of technology training, improper location management, but is usually closely tied to not having the right pick method in place. 

This leads us to three different pick processes and the purposes of each depending on the circumstances of the 3PL.

3PL Warehouse Manager pick process options

Single Pick Process

A single pick process is most often seen as a process which is the slowest. However, it may be the best for some workflows like bulk inventory or pallet in/out environments. Implementing the right technology here to scan license plates or pallet labels to validate the pallet pick into a load out process in the warehouse can streamline processes and movement of stock from storage locations, to staging locations, and finally onto your delivery vehicles. 

Batch Pick Processes 

Though batch pick processes can be used as an umbrella term for various pick processes, warehouses will usually utilize mobile scanning to batch pick in some capacity for anything smaller than a pallet. Utilizing batch pick, a mobile scanner can direct a user to multiple locations in the warehouse to pick stock for multiple transactions. In these cases, efficiently setting up locations so that pickers are walking through the warehouse just once for a full batch, is essential. After all items are picked, personnel will usually move stock to a staging location or pack station to segregate inventory. 

Pick to Bin 

Pick to bin is a process used as a batch pick process but more often utilized with higher order volume ecommerce merchants for smaller, retail ready commodities. Utilizing a pick-to-bin process, a warehouse picker can walk through pick lines or storage locations with a cart, pre-loaded with bins to identify an order. As the picker walks through the warehouse, they fill the bins based on mobile scanning mechanisms. At the conclusion of this process, not only are multiple orders picked, but they are already segmented and sorted into appropriate bin numbers, saving warehouses time.

3PL warehouse picking layout example

It's essential for third-party logistics warehouses to look at throughput when it comes to order flow—especially during Peak Season. By reducing pick inefficiencies, warehouses can be more productive with less time and less labor, which reduces operational costs and error rates. Different volume and item workflows may mean implementing one of these or multiple pick processes for greater efficiency. To learn how using a warehouse management system (WMS) with built-in mobile barcode scanning can transform your business, request a product tour of 3PL Warehouse Manager.


Alnoor Bhamani

Written by Alnoor Bhamani

Alnoor is a Sales Engineering Manager at 3PL Central, who works with 3PL warehouses all around the country to help them find software and solutions to fit their individual needs. He believes there's no single 'one size fits all' to warehouse management, and works to understand their business while also providing best practice insights from the successful 3PLs he's worked with in his career.