6 Picking Methodologies | FORTNA

6 Picking Methodologies:
What Best Supports Your Operations?

Order picking is one of the most labour-intensive processes in the warehouse. While many different methodologies for order fulfillment exist, it remains one of the most critical activities affecting productivity, accuracy rates and throughput.

by Chris Zimmerman

Order picking is one of the most labour-intensive processes in the warehouse. In fact, labour accounts for nearly 65% of the operating budget in distribution centres (DC) that use a primarily manual approach to picking.1 While many different methodologies for order fulfillment exist, it remains one of the most critical activities affecting productivity, accuracy rates and throughput.

In this FORTNA blog post, we will review the most popular picking methodologies, their pros and cons, and the best application for each.

Single-Order Picking

The most commonly used picking method in distribution centres is also the most time-consuming and least productive: single-order picking. This is the practice of fulfilling one order at a time; a worker takes the order and walks through the warehouse, picking SKUs until the order is completed. They then take the order to a pack and ship station and move on to the next order. This method is popular because it is the least complex and requires minimal to no automation.

Zone Picking

Using this method of picking, a warehouse is split into multiple zones. Orders come into a zone and are picked by the worker stationed within that zone. When all products in that zone are picked, they move on to the next zone for additional picks or, if completed, to a pack and ship station. This method is best for relieving congestion in pick lanes and can improve productivity as an operation can group promotional, seasonal and high-velocity products in one zone, as well as items that are likely to be ordered together.

Slotting software and a warehouse management system (WMS) can be leveraged for this solution, as can robotics, like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which can also be used to transport orders from zone to zone.

Pick and Pass

Using zone picking principles, inventory is slotted into multiple zones. Orders are picked and placed in a tote or shipping container, then the tote is passed on to the next zone via a conveyor that runs through the zones. The tote will then travel to the next zone for additional items to complete the order, or if the order is fulfilled, it will travel to the shipping area.

Batch Picking

If an operation fulfills orders with minimal SKUs, batch picking can be a beneficial methodology to adopt. Batch picking involves workers picking multiple orders at the same time, with the orders grouped by SKU type. This method can greatly decrease the steps a worker takes and allows them to fulfill multiple orders on the same pass through the warehouse. A mobile picking cart is normally utilised.


While not a new picking methodology, pick-to-box has been gaining popularity as warehouse labour shortages continue. In this picking method, the picking process begins with selecting the box for the order at the beginning of the pick. The WMS analyses the product’s size and dimensions and determines the appropriate box for the order. The worker prints a shipping label and adheres it to the box, and the worker can pick several orders in one pass through the warehouse by using a picking cart. After all the orders are fulfilled, the worker seals the boxes manually or runs them through an automatic sealing machine.

This method can effectively replace pack and ship stations, improve productivity and order accuracy, and lower shipping material costs. A WMS with pick-to-box capability is needed, as well as mobile carts, handheld or wearable scanning devices, and label printers.

Wave Picking

For fulfilling orders that have a high number of SKUs, a wave picking method may be the right strategy. Wave picking uses a zone concept with orders released in waves to satisfy customer expectations and meet tight shipping windows. Workers will pick all the SKUs in one zone for the current wave before moving to the next zone. This method allows an operation to ensure that orders will be available for shipping at the correct times, although it will require the appropriate amount of labour to be effective. Like zone picking, WMS and slotting software can be useful.

Which method is the best? That depends. Factors such as warehouse size, product characteristics, turn times, picks per order, customer and shipping expectations play a part in determining the best picking methodologies for your operation. Analysing internal and external data, forecasting demand and understanding labour needs can drive the selection of one method over another and help transform your order fulfillment operations.


Need help selecting the right picking methodology? The FORTNA team of industry experts and data scientists will partner with you to conduct an assessment of your operations and processes to help select the best picking method to drive productivity and throughput.

About the Author


Chris Zimmerman

Global Marketing Director

Chris Zimmerman is the Global Marketing Director for FORTNA and has been in the material handling industry for 20+ years. Chris has been active in the industry serving in many different roles, as well as being a host and frequent guest on industry podcasts.