CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 18, 2017
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Parallel picking: The route to faster e-commerce throughput?

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Achieving same-day fulfillment and delivery will require changing picking practices in the distribution center.

As more companies wrestle with the demands being placed upon their businesses by e-commerce, especially the move toward providing same-day fulfillment and delivery to consumers, they will have to find ways to improve throughput in their distribution centers (DCs). That will likely require significant changes in their warehouse and distribution operations. One of those changes might be switching from the traditional serial order picking method to parallel picking.

In serial picking, a picker selects all items for a particular order, crossing multiple zones in the warehouse to gather all of the items required to complete the order.

But in a parallel picking operation an order picker retrieves only a particular type of product in one area of the warehouse or DC for a number of orders. Say an online order calls for a sweater and a pair of jeans. One picker would get the sweater and another the jeans. The selected products would then be consolidated to fill the order.

Although the parallel approach involves more product touches, it actually speeds up the order selection process, according to Fortna consultant Helgi Thor Leja. When one of his company's clients adopted this approach, order cycle time dropped from four hours to less than 30 minutes. "By changing this process and flow, associate morale went up (for the client,)" Leja said during a recent webcast presentation hosted by our sister publication, DC Velocity. "Productivity is close to 80 percent or better, accuracy is up, customer satisfaction is up, and now our client is able to have later cut-off times" for online orders.

Faster order selection will become essential for companies that get involved in same-day fulfillment. The adoption of parallel picking just might be the edge that distribution centers will need to meet the e-commerce challenge.

To hear what Leja had to say about the impact of same-day fulfillment and delivery on distribution operations, listen to the free webcast "Same-Day Fulfillment: It's a Balancing Act".

James A. Cooke is a supply chain software analyst. He was previously the editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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