Pick, Pack, Ship: E-Commerce Fulfillment 101

Having your own online store can be fun. However, if you’re fulfilling in-house this would mean you have to pick, pack, ship, and process returned orders all by yourself. The pick, pack, ship process is what eCommerce fulfillment essentially is. 

In this article, we’ll cover the fundamentals of eCommerce fulfillment. We’ll also go over fulfillment solutions you can use to make the process more efficient.

What is Ecommerce Order Fulfillment?

Simply put, order fulfillment is the receiving, processing, packaging, and shipping of an online (or mail) order to your customers. However, order fulfillment is actually much more complex; it involves more than merely packing up products and getting them ready for delivery.

In addition, having a successful order fulfillment strategy is vital for online retailers to stay competitive; it can even build customer loyalty! 

When it comes to effective order fulfillment, many sellers find that depending on a third party logistics (3PL) company can be the most rewarding solution. This is because most 3PLs possess the ability to manage order fulfilment efficiently and effortlessly. 

The Pick, Pack, Ship Process

The pick, pack and ship process may sound simple at first. However, there’s actually a very detailed system that happens in the background. This fulfillment strategy is likely familiar to many customers. If you have ever visited a wholesale store, like Costco you may have noticed the endless aisles of goods resting upon shelves; or open pallets and cases where workers, or shoppers, can “pick” through. 

With the pick pack and ship strategy, the process is similar in commercial warehouses; “pickers” will package the goods and then apply a printed shipping label for a carrier delivery service, who will then deliver the package. 

Ultimately, this process scales nicely for businesses and warehouses. To better understand how this works, let’s go over the process.

Receiving Orders

This would be the initial process that kicks off the picking stage of this strategy.

A great way to make the pick, pack, ship process more efficient is by integrating your eCommerce sales channels with your warehouse systems. Once a customer places an order, your fulfillment warehouse should receive a packing slip that your warehouse software will generate.

The Pick Stage

During the Pick stage, the main point is to pick the correct products for each customer order.

This is when best practices like warehouse slotting are essential for running a smooth operation. In addition, this stage becomes even more efficient when warehouses have the right tech to help map out routes for pickers. For example, warehouses might see the use of handheld barcode scanners can provide the ability to map the most efficient route for each picker; or even the exact location of each product.

In the event that you don’t have scanners or you’re new to this strategy, it’s best to familiarize your pickers with the warehouse layout (or assigned zones). By doing so, you can ensure that they can navigate the area with no problem when it’s time to fulfill an order. 

Common Picking Strategies

Integrating picking strategy improvements within your warehouse are one of the most effective ways to optimize your supply chain. Additionally, when it comes to which strategy works best, it depends on a few things; such as the warehouse size, number and types of products in it, and your total staff count.

While there are many picking strategies as there are companies, there are few common ones. Here are the basic picking systems that companies have come to rely on most.

  1. Piece Picking: The most common form of picking is piece picking; which is also known as a single order, individual, or discrete picking. In this method, a picker goes through one order at a time while grabbing an item line by line before moving onto the next order.
  2. Batch Picking: Also known as cluster picking, batch picking works best when fulfilling many identical orders that use the same SKUs. By utilizing batch picking, a picker can stay in the same area, rather than travel throughout the warehouse to end up circling back to where they were. Batch picking aims to improve productivity as it reduces repeated trips, steps, and time.
  1. Zone Picking: Otherwise known as pick and pass, zone picking is an enhanced version of batch picking. Workers are assigned to specific locations, or zones, and order cartons move through those zones. 
  2. Wave Picking: Just like batch, ordered items are queued and grouped (batched) into combined pick lists. On the other hand, wave picking is executed multiple times per day (or shift) and balances more factors than product overlap.

The Pack Stage

After the picking stage, pickers will then forward items to a packing station. 

It is there that packers will make sure items are securely packed, sealed, and labeled. Furthermore, packers will typically follow a packing list – along with dunnage and any other extra materials – into the appropriate box or bag. 

Packing slips can be both internal and customer-facing documents. Other than informing packers what needs to be packed, the customer also uses the packing slip to check if they have received everything. A packing slip is typically packed into the package along with the products. Nonetheless, some companies may combine the packing slip and shipping label; which is placed on the packaging itself.

The details that you may find in a packing slip include:

  • Packing slip documentation number
  • Invoice details
  • Company address and contact details of the seller
  • Shipping addresses of the seller and the customer
  • Description of goods shipped*
  • Personalized messages

*This may only be the case when companies choose to include the prices of each item on the packing slip. However, this is not necessary if you have already issued an invoice.

In addition to the packing stage, quality assurance measures take place to ensure what was ordered is what exactly was picked. Quality checks include order accuracy, packaging appropriateness, and labeling accuracy.  Once packers completed this stage, the packaged orders will be ready for shipping

The Ship Stage

Last but not least is the shipping stage of the pick, pack, ship strategy. 

While it may sound self-explanatory, there are a few things that you may want to consider at this point; one of which is the cost of shipping. 

Even though the pick, pack, ship strategy is a way to be more cost and time-efficient, calculating your shipping costs is also very important. You must understand how all of the many factors can impact a business’s shipping margin so that you can make the correct decisions. To learn more about calculating shipping costs, you can read review our methods here. Also, it also pays to know all your options for shipping

Challenges of the Pick, Pack, Ship Process in Warehouse Inventory

Experiencing problems with your warehouse management? Rest assured that you’re likely not the only one. There are so many factors that affect smooth operation of warehouse management that overlooking or underestimating small details. Ultimately, this leads to causing unforeseen problems. 

Some areas that would likely require more attention are the following:

Lack of Organization 

There’s no doubt that efficient warehouse management will save you both time and money. On the flip side, lack of organization can lead to slower fulfilment times and more costs. 

Hours can quickly add up with a messy and disorganized warehouse. Additionally, if your team doesn’t have a tight system in place, this can lead to wasted time as well. 

Disorganization is the number one reason to implement the pick, pack, ship strategy. Even though it may be a difficult transition, it most definitely can pay off in the long run. 

Inventory Management

Having an inaccurate record of inventory can lead to incorrect scheduling and a longer lead time. Inaccurate inventory can stem from items that go missing or counts that are off. For instance, if the stock records are not updated or inventory data is entered incorrectly, it can lead to confusion in the order fulfillment process regarding the amount of stock available.

For cases like this, a perpetual inventory system is ideal for organization and inventory management. However perpetual inventory systems can be expensive and a challenge to implement. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in learning more about perpetual inventory systems, we go more in-depth about it here

Why Outsource Warehousing and Fulfillment?

Implementing warehouse picking improvements is one of the most effective ways to optimize your supply chain, but the cost of doing so will not only be paid in money but time as well. This is the leading reason outsourcing warehousing can save you the headache of both. 

Partnering with a 3PL means utilizing a company that already has the pick, pack, ship strategy, and many others, expertly in place.

What a 3PL Partner Does for E-Commerce Fulfillment

Third-party logistics (or 3PL) refers to the outsourcing of eCommerce fulfillment processes to a third party company.

These processes can include inventory management, warehousing, and fulfillment, and more! Furthermore, a 3PL partner will allow eCommerce businesses to accomplish more and even aid in scaling; with the tools and infrastructure to automate retail order fulfillment.

Order Management

The best 3PL providers will be able to process all your orders in real-time through their central dashboard. In addition, 3PLs are able to answer customer questions, making it extremely easy because they will have all the needed information at hand; including eCommerce order tracking numbers.

Pick, Pack, Ship Process

As previously mentioned, 3PL partners will have the much needed expertise to handle the pick, pack, ship fulfillment  strategy. Thus making it easier to streamline the process and even reduce the cost of ecommerce fulfillment.

Of course, there are other added benefits as well, depending on the 3PL partner. 3PLs, like Print Bind Ship, can provide subscription services, hand customer returns, and even provide custom packaging solutions.

Inventory Management

Also previously mentioned was the expensive perpetual inventory system that is supposed to help you better organize and keep track of your inventory. Now that we’re on the topic of outsourcing warehousing fulfillment, we can better explain how at 3PL partner can help eliminate that costly option. 

3PL partners, like Print Bind Ship, can provide more value for warehouse fulfillment by fulfilling orders on demand. This process means that a 3PL partner will manufacture or assemble your orders as needed. By doing so, you won’t have to worry about over-stock; or even over ordering inventory.

Partnering with Print Bind Ship for the Best Pick, Pack, Ship Solution

Print Bind Ship is located in the MidWest and has over 60 years of order fulfillment experience.

Not only does this 3PL company manufacture thousands of orders daily, they also carry out fulfillment for them. Furthermore, their expertise has helped bring startups to a multi million dollar brand status and business.

If you’re considering optimizing your eCommerce fulfillment, get in contact today with Vice President, August Grebinski, and find out how Print Bind Ship can help grow your business. You can now take advantage of their free consultations by reaching out here.