How to Deal With Smaller Orders

Sam Flanders, president of Warehouse Management Consultants, says small orders pose significant challenges to operations designed to process a smaller number of larger orders. They can create traffic jams on conveyors and they also can increase the amount of handling labor to process a similar number of order lines.


Flanders offers three tips on how you can change your methods to level the playing field. Lower technology solutions work as well or better than capital-intensive solutions for smaller orders, Flanders says.

“Pay attention to how many times you are touching a small order,” Flanders says. “If you are doing more than setting it up, filling it, and closing it, you are doing too much. If you are doing a lot of in and out processing or scanning, that labor will cost you dearly.”

Since small orders have only a few items, it is often possible to select a small group of fast moving SKUs that will kill off a significant percentage of orders — even in distribution centers that have thousands of SKUs, Flanders adds. “If those select SKUs can be set up in a special pick area, orders that require only those SKUs can be completed very quickly.”

Watch out for too much automation when processing small orders, Flanders adds. “Small boxes are a devil to transport on conveyor. They can spin and get jammed or double up. Make sure that if you do use automation, that the automation is designed to handle the small form factor of the orders you are processing.”

If you want to know more, Flanders will be speaking on this topic at the Operations Summit in Memphis May 2-3. For more information, go to