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Warehouse Management Blog

Our team of Fulfilment Consultants share warehouse management best practice and advice.

12 smart ways to sort eCommerce warehouse orders for picking

How To

WRITTEN BY Jonathan Bellwood /

26 June 2015

Sorting your eCommerce warehouse orders at the start of a shift can be done in a number of ways. How you do it depends entirely on how your operations work but the one connecting factor is that choosing the right method to sort warehouse orders can save you so much time.

Consider for a moment how long it takes you to complete a print run in the morning. An hour? Longer? That is time out of every picker’s shift, waiting for the orders to be sorted. To show you how this problem can be solved, we’ve put together a list of 12 ways to sort your eCommerce warehouse orders.

1. Packing type

Well-known fashion brand and client of ours, Barbour, use this method for sorting their warehouse orders. They have recognised that some of their larger items, like wax jackets, require a large packaging box to ship but having these at every pack bench would take up too much space.

As such, Barbour filter their orders by product type so that all of the large coats, for example, go to a particular pack bench reserved for that item. Not only is this a better use of their time, it also helps to speed up packing. If Tina packs the same item for the duration of her shift then you can bet she’s going to get pretty darn good at packing it.

2. Bulky items

This one makes logical sense - if you’ve got bulky items to pick, like suitcases for example, you don’t want to be picking four other small orders at the same time. By splitting out the bulky items you can use specialist materials handling equipment to transport them safely to the pack benches.

3. Single-item orders

Single-item orders are common in eCommerce with some retailers having up to 80% of their warehouse orders come in as singles, particularly if they sell on marketplaces. We like to think of single-item order picking as a sort of warehouse version of Supermarket Sweep.

Opting to split single-item orders out means that they can be picked in large batches based on locations within the warehouse onto a trolley and then taken directly to the pack bench. Provided you have a suitable eCommerce warehouse management system, the item is scanned here and the despatch note and shipping label will be printed.

[Related: Top 5 eCommerce order picking mistakes]

4. Multi-item orders

If you’re going to split out your single-item orders as mentioned above, that should leave you with your multis. When it comes to picking these, there are two methods:

a) Tina can either take her trolley out and pick one order into a single location on that trolley, provided that every order is the same size and will fit in a designated box;


b) She can pick the items into any available location on the trolley and match the order up at the pack bench. By using warehouse management software with a barcode system, all Tina needs to do at the pack bench is scan one item and the handheld scanner will tell her where on the trolley the rest of the order is.

5. Personalisation

If you are an eCommerce company that offers personalisation on orders, it makes sense to employ a sorting method that works for this. If a personalised item is just one part of an order there are two options that we can think of for handling this:

a) Tina picks the whole order and takes everything through the personalisation pack bench. This keeps everything in the order together and requires no matching up later.

b) Tina picks the personalised item in the order and takes this to the personalisation pack bench. Jerry picks the rest of the order, takes this to a regular pack bench and matches it up with the personalised item afterwards.

6. Carrier

The later you can hold off carrier collection then the later you can push back the cut off for next day delivery. By sorting your warehouse orders by carrier, you can choose whichever carrier is scheduled to arrive first and prioritise their orders to be picked before others.

A benefit of sorting by carrier is that it ensures orders are put in the right carrier collection bag after being packed. If a single pack bench receives orders meant for multiple carriers, they are much more likely to put an order in the wrong bag than a packer dealing with only Royal Mail orders.

7. High-value orders

Let’s say you are a watch retailer with most of your stock valued below £300 and a couple of stock keeping units (SKUs) valued at considerably more. These high-value items may be stored in a separate section of the warehouse to the rest of the stock so it makes sense to filter these orders before picking.

It may be too high a risk to allow everyone access to the high-value SKUs so by separating the orders they can be assigned to an approved picker. What needs to be decided then is whether that picker does the whole order or only the high value items. If, like with personalisation, the order is picked separately there is a risk of unfinished orders piling up.

8. High-priority orders

Mr Thomas has phoned up, outraged that his summer shorts have not arrived, despite ordering them over a week ago. Perhaps the order was lost, mis-shipped or listed as in stock on the website when in fact there were none in the warehouse. Regardless of the reason, Mr Thomas wants his shorts and he wants them now.

If you have a warehouse management system, you should be able to assign a priority to Mr Thomas’ order so that it gets seen to before anything else. If you don’t have an automated system and still use paper, the customer service team would have to send the order down to the warehouse manually with the hope that it will be picked quickly.

9. Country

Corset Story, a women’s fashion client of ours, ships to a number of international countries so it’s important for them to be able to sort their warehouse orders by country. Doing this means that at the pack bench the right despatch note, shipping label template, returns information and, if necessary, customs declaration forms, can be selected for the right country.

Leading eCommerce companies have worked around this issue by implementing warehouse management software that can select the right templates on demand at the pack bench, without the need to enter the system.

[Related: Corset Story Case Study]

10. Loyalty scheme

If you have a subscription-based loyalty scheme on your website, something akin to Amazon Prime, you will need to sort these orders out from others so that they are picked, packed and despatched first. Considering the lifetime value of customers, someone on a loyalty scheme will be worth more to your business than a one-off buyer on a marketplace.

11. Sales channel

A common way to sort your eCommerce warehouse orders is by sales channel, by which we mean those from your own website and those from marketplaces. What you need to think carefully about afterwards is which channel you are going to prioritise. Here’s our take on it:

a) If you have Trustpilot, or a similar reviewing website, prioritise your own orders. When your brand is on the line, you have to make it shine - how’s that for a rhyme? To sweeten the pot, try sending your customers a loyalty voucher with their package to encourage more custom. To be extra sneaky, you can add a similar voucher into your marketplace orders to woo them over to your website.

b) If you are not currently using a reviewing website, prioritise your marketplace orders. It is all too easy to drop out of the eBay top seller status or get bad reviews on Amazon so making sure that these orders are fulfilled promptly should keep you safe.

12. Zone picking

If your warehouse spans a couple of floors, it would not be unreasonable to sort your orders by location. Again, there are a number of ways that orders spanning multiple floors can be picked:

a) Tina heads up to the first floor and picks the first item, then moves down to pick the next, and so on until the order is fully picked. She then takes it all to the pack bench to be packed and despatched.

b) Your pickers are sent to batch pick by zone. Tina gets the top floor and Jerry is on the ground floor. They both pick all of the items from their respective floors and then consolidate their orders afterwards.

As we've said, finding the right method for sorting warehouse orders is dependent on how your operations work. For more information about which picking methods will improve efficiency in your eCommerce warehouse and how a warehouse management system can help, arrange a call with one of our specialists today.

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