Wave Picking in Your Warehouse: What It Is and All the Benefits

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Wave Picking

When it comes to warehouse operations, there are four key inefficiency challenges that Wave Picking can resolve:


  1. Inventory Inaccuracy
  2. Inventory Location & Warehouse Layout
  3. Redundant Processes & Human Error
  4. Picking Optimization


1. Inventory Inaccuracy

If you took a test in school and got a 63, you’d likely be given a grade of D. Yet, the average retail operation in the U.S. has just 63% inventory accuracy. This leads to stockouts, a lack of replenishment schedules, and an overall poor customer experience.


2. Inventory Location & Warehouse Layouts

Inefficient warehouse layouts and less than optimal inventory location planning can slow operations significantly. In an era of single-line customer orders leading to large SKU assortments in smaller quantities and volatile demand patterns, pickers can struggle without guidance.


3. Redundant Processes and Human Error

Too many warehouses still have manual processes in place. To maintain order accuracy, they may still be employing a picker, checker, stager, and loader strategy. These redundant processes can significantly slow operations and lead to human error when a pick ticket must pass through multiple hands. Without a robust Inventory Management System (IMS) in place, it can be difficult to maintain accuracy and efficiency.

Human error is still the top issue when it comes to warehouse operations.


4. Picking Optimization

Today’s warehouse operations simply can’t afford to be inefficient. When it comes to eCommerce, Amazon has set a high bar for all retailers. Customers now expect orders to arrive quickly.

This made the picking process more labor-intensive and time-sensitive than traditional warehouse activities. That’s because most eCommerce orders consist of “eaches.” These quantity-of-one orders are often combined with other eaches that may be in different parts of the warehouse. They must be consolidated into one shipment in each picking order assembly before shipping.

Order pickers can spend as much as half their time getting from one item to the next. Without an efficient picking process, efficiency is nearly impossible.


What is Wave Picking?

Most warehouses use a variation of the most common ways to manage picking: Batch Picking, Zone Picking, or Wave Picking.


  • Batch Picking: With a batch picking strategy, pickers move through the warehouse collecting items for several orders at once. This saves time in the collection phase rather than handling one order at a time.
  • Zone Picking: In zone picking, workers are staged in specific sections to speed picking and pass orders to adjacent zones when complete.
  • Wave Picking: In wave picking, orders are grouped and picked in batches at specific intervals throughout the day. Orders might be grouped for picking based on shipping deadlines, carrier deadlines, or the kinds of packaging needed. Using a robust IMS, wave picking helps warehouse operations improve efficiency by not just picking the right items but picking them at the optimal time.

Wave picking can be used as a stand-alone pick strategy or combined with batch picking or zone picking to increase efficiency. It’s especially efficient in warehouses that store a large number of SKUs. Batch picking methods can result in traffic jams if not managed effectively.

Wave picking takes staff movement and location into account to minimize any wait time. It also reduces wasted time by finding an optimal route (and workflow) based on warehouse layout, availability of equipment, and assigned requests. It reduces motion waste.





Why is Wave Picking Important?

As much as 63% of all warehouse operating costs can be attributed to order picking, according to a Georgia Tech study. It’s considered the number one area for improvement in warehousing. If you can improve your order picking process, you can process more orders and reduce your overall operating costs.

The most important reason brands should use wave picking is because of its efficiency. By using a wave picking process, your team is able to work through larger numbers of orders in a more structured format. Additionally, the wave picking system allows scanning verification, picture verification, and automatically ties it to the order unlike the traditional picking function within your eCommerce inventory management software.

While those perks are all important, perhaps the biggest benefit is that it pre-segregates the items your team members are picking by order. This is a huge differentiation as many brands bulk pick everything into one bin and sort it after – resulting in significant time losses.


More Efficiency and Reduced Labor Costs

Wave picking can improve efficiency when combined with an inventory management system/warehouse management system that helps control the workflow in the warehouse. This translates into reduced labor costs and more efficient use of time and resources.


Fewer Returns Saves Money

When orders are more accurate, there are fewer returns. Returns can be profitability killers. They must be processed manually, restocked, and resold. There’s also the cost for return delivery costs which continue to rise. It’s estimated that return delivery costs will top half a trillion dollars in 2020.


Happier Customers Spend More

When customers order products, they don’t think or care about the logistics it takes to get it to them. They expect fast and accurate delivery. If everything isn’t done right, they aren’t going to be happy with the results. This can cost eCommerce sellers money to fix problems and cost customers. If it happens too often, bad reviews may pop up online which can hurt your reputation and keep other customers away. If you’re selling on Amazon, poor reviews can push you off page one of the search results where less than 30% of customers ever go.

Customers that have a good experience are more likely to return and buy again. This cuts your customer acquisition costs significantly. Also, existing customers spend, on average, 67% more than new customers.


How Wave Picking Works

An efficient wave picking process will start with your inventory and warehouse management software. The software will create a consolidated pick list based on any number of variables, including:


  • Customer delivery guarantees
  • Customer delivery regions
  • Transportation scheduling
  • Load times
  • Warehouse staffing
  • Equipment needs to pick
  • Warehouse layout

Your IMS then applies these variables to create the most efficient time-based pick lists and divide them into waves. Wave picking creates efficiencies that could not be achieved manually and provide a structured process to fulfill orders. Because wave picking is not split into individual orders, picking carts can typically hold more goods than in order types of picking. In some cases, pick lists can be sorted in terms of size or shape to maximize cart space.

Wave picking can provide strong benefits, but it may not be the solution for every warehouse or every situation. Since different picking jobs can take different lengths of time to complete, if there isn’t good planning, other workers may have downtime while waiting for wave pickers to complete their work. There is also the possibility of errors when items are picked in waves and still have to be sorted in the staging area.


It’s About Accuracy and Efficiency

Wave picking is one of the ways modern warehouses are increasing efficiency and accuracy. This cuts down on errors, reduces labor costs, and minimizes returns. However, it only works when there is a robust inventory management system integrated with warehouse operations.

SkuVault’s eCommerce business solutions allow you to sync your eCommerce sales channels and manage your inventory accurately and efficiently. It is designed to create a better pick, pack, and ship process to ensure your customers receive the right items on time. SkuVault’s best-in-class software integrations include POS, ERP, EDI, Drop Shipping, and Shipping platforms to seamlessly manage supply chains and warehouse operations.


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Ready to learn about Wave Picking? One of our warehouse management experts is ready to walk you through exactly how SkuVault can benefit your business and answer all your questions about how our powerful Inventory and Warehouse Management System can help address the needs of your unique business.