Every picking error is costly to some degree. If more items are selected than have been ordered, while the customer may be delighted with their free extras, this has an impact on profits and the accuracy of your inventory.
Similarly, if too few items are picked, or the wrong items selected, not only are you left with disgruntled customers, you have to spend time replacing the order. You may have to offer a goodwill gesture, and again your stock control figures will need to be adjusted.
Of course, all systems that involve human intervention can be subject to human error. With the best will in the world, it is virtually impossible to be 100 per cent accurate 100 per cent of the time.
However, by reducing the level of human error, you will certainly see the benefits in terms of profitability and improved customer service.
So how can you reduce the level of warehouse picking errors?
Step one: measure
Measure and account for any errors made, and record where they occur. You could chart the numbers of errors, the percentage of errors, and perhaps cross reference them with where and when in your warehouse they are happening and at what stage.
Armed with this information, you may be able to identify a pattern and take corrective action. For example, some members of your team may be consistently making mistakes and need additional training.
By collecting and analysing the data on picking errors – and doing this consistently, not on an ad hoc or occasional basis - you will have made an excellent first step in reducing the number of warehouse picking errors.
Step two: create engagement
Measuring picking errors and where and how they occur is in everyone’s interests, and it is important to get this point across to your workforce, so that you have their support.
Stress that as a team you are working together to reduce errors. Let them know you are trying to pinpoint specific cause and will offer extra training to the people who need it, rather than introducing a blanket retraining programme.
Create an atmosphere of trust, so that your team feel confident to admit when they have made a mistake, so it can be quickly corrected, rather than covering up their errors.
Also listen to feedback from you pickers. They may have identified areas in the process where mistakes are more likely to be made, and have suggestions on improvements that could help reduce the level of errors.
Step three: create a good working environment
The environment we work in has a definite impact on our mood and, in turn, how well we work. What can you do to the environment of your warehouse to improve it for your staff?
If your staff have a comfortable restroom, if the warehouse is clean, if the lighting is bright but not stark, perhaps if you have matting over a concrete floor – all these small changes will make a difference to the environment, which will help make your staff feel more motivated. And motivated people make fewer errors.
Step four: take a deep dive into your systems
How long has it been since you looked carefully at the processes in your warehouse, with a critical and objective eye?
By taking a deep dive into how your operation runs you may well identify areas that can be improved, which could bring benefits across the board, and not just in reducing picking errors.
Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be questioned and the process examined.
Go through all the stages, spend time on the warehouse floor, see exactly how each stage works and – importantly – talk to your team as you do so. Again, they may well have some good ideas that could be implemented.
Step five: bring in a checking system
One method for reducing errors is to bring in a checking system, so all picked stock goes through a second checking process. However, adding this extra stage may slow your operation and prove counter-productive; what you gain in reduced picking errors, you may lose by adding in this extra stage.
An alternative could be spot checks. These benefit in two ways. First, they will pick up at least some errors. Second, if you team are aware that spot checks are being performed they should all be more vigilant.
Step six: understand when and where errors occur
Not all errors will be made in the picking process. Look carefully, too, at the receiving end of your operation as well as at the point of dispatch. It may well be that a proportion of errors can’t be attributed to the picking stage, so explore every stage, from goods in to goods out.
Step seven: have the right equipment
We’ve talked so far about errors that can be attributed to people and to processes. But what about the equipment you use in your warehouse? If you don’t use the best equipment for your operation – such as storage facilities and pallet racking – and if you don’t optimise the use of your space within the warehouse, errors are more likely to creep in.
Automation, for example, will help reduce the level of picking errors made, simply because automation removes the human element from a process.
In summary, these are seven relatively simple steps that can be taken to reduce the level of picking errors in your warehouse operation, which are sure to improve your business’s levels of efficiency and profitability.
If you would like to talk to the team about warehouse solutions – in particular, if you would like to introduce automation – please get in touch.