The Ins and Outs of World-Class Order Selection

You don’t always have to spend a lot of money on a new piece of automaton or software to save significantly in your order selection operation. In fact, many costly systems rely on one or more of the very same process changes we’ll discuss here. By deploying one or more of these ideas, you can sometimes dramatically increase your labor efficiency (by 50% or more) and do it without any substantial risk or expense.

Make order selection as easy as possible- If you are not picking by location, consider doing this: Picking by location makes picking faster, more accurate, and is easier for non-English speaking employees to learn. Items get mispicked less often, when the location, rather than the description is used.

If you are already picking by location, be certain that the location and the quantity are easy to see and read on your paperwork. If they aren’t, put the item location and quantity next to each other and print them in bold type on your pick documents or on your display device. Similarly for location labels, make sure that they are in good condition, and replace old or worn labels with labels that have the location printed in large, bold type.

Group your orders together to save footsteps – Walking is traditionally the largest time component of most order selection operations. Grouping orders together can significantly reduce walking. The key is that you need a simple way for the picker to process a batch of orders. Single line orders can be sorted by location, prior to picking. Another way to support batch picking by paper is to create a master pick sheet that has all of the picks for all of the orders in the batch sorted in walk sequence. This insures that you will make only one trip per batch, rather than one trip per order. The larger the batch size, the fewer footsteps you will end up taking between picks, on average. The only other thing you need to do is identify which order the pick goes to. You can do this by labeling the item at the time of the pick or by placing the item directly into the proper order container. In both cases, the “put to” location must be added to your pick document.

Arrange your stock intelligently to minimize travel – You can dramatically reduce footsteps by putting your faster moving items together. If your orders tend to be small (low line count), doing this will help you to “kill off” many orders in the fast pick area, and avoid having to even travel to the slower moving areas of the warehouse. Your fastest items should be closest to your docks and your shipping area. Medium popular items can be a little farther away, and the slow items can be the farthest away.

Create a dynamic “Hot Zone” for seasonal or spike movers – If you have a business that tends to have seasonal or spike movers that become fast for a limited period of time during the year, you may want to consider setting up a dynamic “hot zone” where items can be placed only while they are fast moving. Slotting can take place in advance of a sale or promotion, or based on historical or forecasted activity. When the item is no longer a fast mover, you can pick the slot clean, and then allow future picks come from the originally assigned pick location. By doing this, you promote your fastest moving items to an area specially designed to support high velocity movement. The area can be closest to your dock and configured to be easy to replenish for example, by pallet flow or flow rack.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based operations consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants. To learn more about Flanders, visit

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