A detailed overview of pick and pack fulfillment and how to determine if you should use a fulfillment partner.
What is pick and pack fulfillment?
Pick and pack is a method of order fulfillment often used by ecommerce sellers that receive small orders to be shipped around the globe. Rather than preparing and shipping entire cases and pallets of goods, ecommerce retailers rely on workers who pull (pick) individual items from master bins on fulfillment center shelves and then place (pack) them in boxes or envelopes addressed to specific customers for shipment. This process gives pick and pack workers easy access to items and, when organized correctly, saves handling time. Pick and pack also limits freight charges and other costs.
Why use Pick and Pack Fulfillment?
As U.S. e-commerce sales continue to grow at over 15% annually, suppliers feel the pressure to satisfy e-commerce customers by delivering a variety of goods in smaller sizes at a faster pace, Westernacher Consulting explains. Using a pick and pack fulfillment services allows you to:
- Ship items faster
- Free up time that can be spent on other tasks
- Avoid costly mistakes when shipping orders
- Provide a better customer experience
- Handle more orders as your business grows.
Types of Pick and Pack
There are four common strategies that fulfillment centers use for pick and pack:
Many companies start with piece picking because it is a straightforward picking method. Workers pick orders one at a time as they receive them. Workers take an order into the warehouse and fill it by picking items off shelves until the order is complete. It’s important to note that this picking process is inefficient in most warehouses; it is best suited to the smallest warehouses.
Warehouses with more traffic utilize batch picking because it is more efficient and cost-effective. Similar to piece picking, batch picking involves picking items for individual orders; however, similar orders are grouped together, and workers who batch pick fulfill more than one order at a time.
Zone picking involves dividing the warehouse into areas called zones. Order pickers pick items from their assigned zones only, and workers pass boxes from one zone to the next for orders that require items from multiple zones. The boxes may be passed manually or with conveyor belts. Zone picking is more efficient than piece picking and batch picking.
Wave picking combines zone picking and batch picking. Workers using this strategy are assigned to zones and pick orders in batches and pick them only within their assigned zones.
Benefits of Using Pick and Pack Fulfillment
Order fulfillment services offering pick and pack make it easy for organizations to offer various products from online stores to customers. Customers appreciate having a wide variety of items to choose from, and companies often sell more when they offer more. As the fulfillment center receives orders, pick and pack workers gather requested items from the master cartons and package and label them for shipment.
When done well, pick and pack fulfillment increases customer satisfaction. Skilled pickers and packers fill orders accurately with items that are in good condition and ensure orders are shipped on time. Companies that hire talented pick and pack laborers also improve customer satisfaction by making sure items are handled carefully, are packaged well, and are clearly labeled. These skilled staffers handle fluctuations in order numbers and manage busy periods well, too.
Organizations also utilize pick and pack fulfillment because it is cost-effective. By nature, the pick and pack process is designed for orders of various sizes, so minimum order charges typically do not apply. Pick and pack also often eliminates collecting items from different storage facilities and sending them elsewhere for packaging and labeling. The streamlined nature of pick and pack makes it more efficient overall, which keeps costs low.
Pick and pack workers are key to fulfilling ecommerce orders and meeting customer expectations, and organizations need to continually work to streamline operations to make sure their pick and pack work is done as efficiently, accurately, and cost-effectively as possible.
Challenges of Pick and Pack Fulfillment
Pick and pack fulfillment runs smoothly only when there is a high level of coordination, organization, and attention to detail. Streamlining order picker movement through warehouses to fill the greatest number of orders in the shortest amount of time is one of the largest challenges pick and pack fulfillment centers face.
Another challenge associated with pick and pack is customer expectation. Customers are accustomed to shopping online and expect items to be in stock, to be shipped in 24-48 hours, to arrive on time, and to be exactly as described online. They also look for a wide selection, the ability to order using a mobile device, fast and free delivery, and free returns. Customers expect a positive experience, and fulfillment centers need to streamline pick and pack operations to meet and even exceed customer expectations. Retailers accustomed to operating in the direct-to-consumer market are used to these customer demands; however, many fulfillment centers and their logistics and distribution executives are new to the game and face challenges in adapting their knowledge, experience, and resources to meet the demands of customers they serve via pick and pack fulfillment.
When is Using a Fulfillment Partner Right for Your Business?
A streamlined picking and packing process isn’t an easy feat. Inventory must be on-hand, organized and tracked, so know you have enough inventory to ship and can track what your customer received. Products must be properly packaged to be delivered safely to your customer. This means knowing the required box size and packing materials. Shipping labels have to be generated and placed on the right packages. An order management system must be in place to validate that customers received the correct order. To achieve this, you also need the physical space and personnel to perform the process. This might be manageable if you only fulfill a few orders a day, but what about when you have 50-100+ orders a day? It becomes a daunting task that could make you prone to mistakes. And these types of mistakes could cost you customers.
It’s important to anticipate the future needs of your company before it’s too late. At this point, many ecommerce sellers choose to use a pick and pack fulfillment service. Outsourced fulfillment services can take care of this entire process for you. All you have to do is provide them with your inventory. Then, when you make a sale, they pick, pack and ship the item for you.
Checklist for Selecting a Pick and Pack Service
To save some time, use this checklist when selecting a pick and pack fulfillment service.
What services are provided?
At minimum a fulfillment partner should provide basic pick, pack and shipping capabilities. Depending on your business needs, however, you might need more. If you ship internationally, you will need to make sure they can handle international orders. Will they process returns? Do they offer temperature-controlled storage for beauty or food items?
Do they support value added services?
Value added services (VAS) include the ability to ship different items together in a certain way, also known as kitting. Special materials such as marketing inserts, branded packing slips, gift messages, gift wrap, and product labeling are also important for the customer experience. Can your partner also support rush receiving or returns refurbishment?
Can they integrate with your existing systems?
If you have a multichannel business, your fulfillment service might just be one piece of your business. You might also have accounting software, and several marketplaces, in addition to your ecommerce platform. To streamline all of your business processes, you’ll probably need to integrate your fulfillment data with the rest of your sales data. This ensures inventory levels are correct and shipping information is synced across all of your business systems. Do they have integrated technology that provides real-time order and inventory tracking? Remember, keep your business’s big picture in mind. Are you going to have to integrate at some point? If you do, you need to choose a pick and pack service that can integrate with the rest of your systems.
What is their shipping guarantee?
When researching different pick and packs services, ask what their guarantee is for shipping. Some promise to always ship the same day the order comes in. What shipping services do they provide? It is important to offer customers 1-day, 2-day, rush, expedited, etc. You want a partner that you can rely on to ship your packages in a timely manner. You can also look to customer feedback to see if the provider ships on time.
Do they provide shipping confirmation?
When working with an external service, you need to feel confident in how they communicate with you. Look for partners that provide timely shipping confirmation and tracking numbers for both yourself, and your customer. This type of communication helps you manage your business. It’s also a vital part of the buying experience for the customer. You should have the confidence that your item got to the customer on time. If your customer does experience a problem, you also need the right information to solve it.
Single and Multichannel Fulfillment
Consider what channels your orders will be coming from. Do you just need to fulfill orders from your own site? Or, do you have several channels such as a physical store or wholesale that you need to process orders for? Ask how the pick and pack service will handle all different types of orders. Look for a pick and pack service that can support true omnichannel retail.
Always check out the fulfillment provider’s customer reviews. Current and past customers can provide valuable insight into how well a service did or did not work for them and can add a boost of confidence that you’re picking the right vendor to work with. They also can point out problems that weren’t apparent on the surface.
Lastly, ask each service what kind of customer support they offer. When you outsource fulfillment, you can lose direct oversight on your orders so it’s important to know who to call, email or chat with at any given time. In the case that there is a problem with an order, who can you call to fix it? Make sure that support is a priority of the pick and pack service you choose, not a luxury.
Should Your Warehouse Be Near Your Office?
During evaluation, check out where the pick, pack, and ship service actually occurs. Where are the fulfillment centers located? If most of your customers are on the West Coast of the U.S., you probably don’t want to use a service that only has warehouses on the East Coast, and vice versa. This could affect timeliness of shipping and costs.
How Much Should You Pay for Pick and Pack Services?
Pricing terms are important and will take a little research on your part because each provider could have their own pricing model. Most pick and pack services have fee structures based on inventory storage, package size/weight, order handling, and shipping location. Think about the products you sell. Do you sell small items like books and cosmetics? Or, do you sell furniture or perishable food items? Bulky items are going to have different types of costs associated with handling and shipping. Understand how your product types affect incurred costs. Be sure to check out storage fees. Products with long shelf lives or storing items during the holidays can be more expensive in a fulfillment center because they are not designed to store inventory long-term.
Want to optimize your fulfillment with tech-powered pick and pack services?Get in touch today
How MasonHub’s Technology Provides the Right Solutions
MasonHub’s technology was built to streamline and scale pick and pack operations for growing ecommerce companies. We check all the boxes for retailers who prize efficiency, accuracy and innovation as much as the customer experience.
Quick and easy integrations
Our software installs seamlessly/in one click with all your favorite ecommerce tools including Shopify, Netsuite and Returnly.
See all your data in one place
The centralized dashboard displays details on every customer order; shipment statuses, carrier activity and delivery estimates; inventory data down to the SKU level with cross-channel visibility, and status of pending and completed returns – all at one glance.
Handle volume spikes and scale effortlessly
If you have a sudden influx or a seasonal dip in orders, our OMS can scale up or down, ultimately helping companies grow over the long-term.
Support a true omnichannel strategy
MasonHub gives you access to real-time data as your inventory is counted and dynamically allocated across all channels – direct-to-consumer, retail and wholesale.
Get the best shipping rates
Our dynamic shipping rate calculator finds the best rates across multiple carriers, saving you money on shipping costs.
Set customized rules and guidelines
Whether you want to ensure that big orders receive specific packaging or SOME OTHER EXAMPLE HERE, our self-service system allows you to set your own parameters.
Unlock value added services
Our technology unlocks additional features so you can go above and beyond in growing your brand.
- Branded packing slips
- Special packaging
- Gift messages
- Gift wrap
- Marketing inserts
- Product labeling
- Rush Receiving
- Returns refurbishment
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