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Understanding and avoiding mispicks

Illustration of people packing orders in a fulfillment center.

Let’s be honest: E-commerce fulfillment is full of pitfalls that result in poor customer experiences. From lost packages to damaged products, e-commerce brands that aren’t working with a top-notch fulfillment company are highly vulnerable to errors.

One of the most common mistakes? Mispicks.

No brand wants to send out the wrong item, and no customer wants to receive an item different from the one they purchased. Yet mispicks are an incredibly common occurrence that cost e-commerce companies a pretty penny to put right. But what actually causes mispicks, and how can they be reduced? We’re diving into this and more today. Let’s begin!

What is a mispick?

Put simply, a mispick is an error within the picking process for an online order. A mispick occurs when an associate at a fulfillment center picks an incorrect item off the shelf. This can happen due to simple human error, or when the warehouse management software prints an incorrect picklist that the associate is referencing. Either way, mispicks mean that an order is different from what the end customer is expecting (and we don’t mean they received a product sample or surprise gift!).

Picture this: you’ve been patiently awaiting a pair of shoes for an upcoming event and get a notification that they’ve just been delivered – great! You quickly grab the package and try the shoes on. Only, something isn’t quite right. They’re large. In fact, they’re a whole size larger than what you ordered… Now, you’re out of luck for your event and have to reach out to customer support to replace the shoes with the correct pair.

Types of mispicks

There are many types of picking mistakes that can occur during the order fulfillment process:

  • Picking an incorrect item. Perhaps the most common, this mistake occurs when an associate picks the wrong item and includes it in the final order. This is frequently the right product but the wrong SKU variation, such as a different color or size than the one requested.
  • Picking an incorrect quantity of items. If a customer is ordering multiple products, an associate may pick more or fewer items than the quantity required.
  • Omitting an item from an order. This occurs when an associate fails to include one of the listed items within the picking process.
  • Picking an item that’s damaged. Mispicks can also occur when an associate picks an item that is damaged and sends it out to the customer.

Why do picking mistakes happen?

Human error

In a perfect world, humans would pick every order perfectly. But this doesn’t happen, especially with the mental fatigue that results from picking hundreds of orders each day. Whether the picker was rushing through their order and didn’t double-check the SKU, or was sorting through a long list and either under-picked or over-picked items, mispicks are inevitable without backup systems in place.

Inadequate training

Training is a must to reduce picking errors. In order for associates to pick products precisely throughout the day, they’ll need to know exactly how to read their picking document, where to find product locations within the distribution center, and when to take rest breaks to reduce fatigue. Without adequate training, associates can become confused or disorientated, leading to a decrease in picking accuracy as well as longer pick times.

Poor inventory management

While pressure for perfect pick rates often falls onto warehouse associates, order accuracy will falter if a fulfillment team doesn’t have the appropriate tools and processes in place to manage inventory. For example, if a warehouse doesn’t have a WMS in place that tracks real-time inventory levels and location, associates might not be able to easily locate the correct items.

Inefficient picking and packing processes

To the outside world, picking and packing seems like a pretty straightforward process. An order comes in, an associate picks the items needed for the order, packs it, and the carrier ships it. Simple, right?

In reality, there’s an incredible number of steps and picking methods available such as piece picking, wave picking, and batch picking – all of which require a different warehouse set-up. If distribution centers don’t have the most efficient picking and packing processes up and running, it’ll be much more difficult for associates to secure the correct items for orders.

How mispicks can cost your business

Poor customer experiences

Stating the obvious, mispicks seriously decrease customer satisfaction. E-commerce brands should always aim for the ‘perfect order’ i.e. an order that achieves the bare minimum that customers expect. This includes orders arriving on time, undamaged – and containing the right items. So, any time an order is not ‘perfect’ thanks to a mispick, it takes a toll on brand loyalty and retention.

When customers aren’t happy, there’s more turnover. They may even share their negative experience with their friends and families. For e-commerce brands, this means the loss of a current customer, plus a loss in a group of potential customers and their overall brand integrity.

Burdening your customer care team

Each mispick costs your customer support team precious time and energy. When orders include a wrong product, the wrong quantity, or missing items, customers will turn to support channels for assistance. This puts added pressure on your support team to remedy incorrect orders, resulting in additional working hours and training hours for your team.

Spiraling operational costs

While a few mispicks here and there may not seem like a big deal, the cost of fixing these mistakes quickly adds up. For every incorrect order, an e-commerce brand will need to foot the bill for:

  • Shipping costs for sending replacement items and returning the incorrect item to the distribution center.
  • Restocking fees to return incorrect products to inventory.
  • Offering a free product or discount code in apology for the error.

Let’s say that you fulfilled 2000 orders per month, and 2% involved some form of mispick. That’s 40 orders every month that require additional fulfillment costs – or nearly 500 per year. This easily translates to thousands of dollars in shipping costs and replacement items, funds which could otherwise be reinvested in your business.

Inaccurate inventory levels

When incorrect items are shipped out in place of another SKU, this can throw inventory levels out of whack. Additionally, customers may choose not to return mispicked items, creating an even larger gap between actual and perceived inventory levels. This increases the chance of unexpected stockouts or excess inventory – both of which can be incredibly costly for e-commerce brands.

How to reduce mispicks

Identify mispicks before they happen

In the worst-case scenario, wrong items will be shipped before anyone catches it. However, if a brand has the right processes in place, incorrect orders can be picked up before they are headed out the door.

How? Brands can work with their fulfillment partner to put quality control checkpoints in place within the picking and packing process. This can include:

  • Checking inventory for damage on a regular basis.
  • Making sure all bins, pallets, and boxes are correctly labeled with descriptions and SKUs, and the contents match the labels.
  • Double-checking pick lists against online order details

The goal is to identify errors before the package is shipped to the consumer, preventing costly order replacements later.

Choose the right picking strategy for your operation

Every operation is unique and requires a specific picking strategy to maximize efficiency and minimize error.

For example, a brand might utilize batch picking when they have a high number of orders and a smaller SKU count – this way, associates can pick several of the same SKU for multiple orders at the same time.

Alternatively, a startup with one handful of orders each day might opt for single-order picking, where an associate picks items for one order at a time before moving on to the next.

For larger companies that are partnering with a 3PL and operating out of a massive fulfillment center, more complex order-picking methods like zone picking or wave picking might make sense in order for associates to identify the quickest picking route.

Deploy a real-time warehouse management system (WMS)

No matter the size of your business or order volume, a real-time WMS will be imperative when it comes to reducing errors within the order fulfillment process. Partnering with a 3PL like Ryder E-commerce allows brands to control their supply chain with the intuitive Whiplash WMS platform:

  • Integrate seamlessly with their e-commerce platform including Shopify, so inventory levels are always up to date.
  • Search inventory through a wide variety of filters like orders, shipments, and status.
  • Keep a close eye on stock levels and set custom notifications for low inventory alerts and reorder points.

Learn more about the Whiplash platform here.

Include mispick rates in your SLA with your 3PL

When partnering with a fulfillment provider, your Service Level Agreement (SLA) will be your foundation for success. Your SLA is what your partner will use as the service standard they’ll be held accountable for.

Setting an order accuracy goal for 95% or higher is an industry standard and ensures that your brand is meeting e-commerce customer expectations. In addition to order accuracy, brands can get more granular and set a specific mispick rate that they want their 3PLs to adhere to – for example, a brand may define that they require a mispick rate of 2%.

Embrace automation technologies

An employee scanning items in a fulfillment center.

In today’s world of high expectations and instant gratification, e-commerce brands who aren’t using automation and technology to drive seamless fulfillment are falling behind. Working with a 3PL to implement robotic automation within an operation is a surefire way to increase productivity and decrease your error rate.

Ryder E-commerce partners with LocusBots, allowing associates to work in collaboration with the robots. The bots use autonomous navigation technology to travel to various pick locations. Once at the proper location, the robot will stop, awaiting an associate to pick the correct item and place it in their bin. Then, they’ll move onto the next location, mapping out the most efficient route.

Learn more about Ryder’s partnership with LocusBots here.

Have a process to rectify mispicks quickly

While mispicks typically involve missing or incorrect items, it doesn’t mean that customers should wait weeks for a replacement product. Brands can implement speedier processes to rectify an order, like allowing customers to return and swap mispicked items in-store, rather than having to send them back and wait for new products to ship out. This way, the customer doesn’t have to complete as many steps – no return label, no dropping a package off at a carrier. Instead, they simply show up at a store and handle it in one visit.

Reviewing incidences of mispicks

Last but certainly not least, ensure that your fulfillment operation has a set process for reviewing mispicks. Once managers and associates identify where a mistake was made, they create a plan to avoid the same error going forward. For example, if an associate is unsure how to find pick locations, they can attend training to minimize future mistakes. Alternatively, if the fulfillment team notices a pattern of incorrect SKU numbers printed, they can raise it to their tech team to fix.

How Ryder E-commerce helped Thats So Fetch to eliminate mispicks

When Australian-based apparel brand Thats So Fetch began aiming for a U.S. expansion, they knew they needed an experienced 3PL partner that could keep pace with customer expectations for seamless delivery.

One of the best practices implemented? The use of barcodes on all merchandise for seamless picking and packing. With barcodes in place within their Ryder E-commerce fulfillment center, incidences of mispicks have fallen from an average of 40 per month to just one.

“One of the biggest benefits of the onboarding process was working with an experienced team who could suggest and implement changes to make order fulfillment run much more smoothly.” Sam Findlayson, co-founder of Thats So Fetch.

Download the full case study to learn about the Ryder E-commerce and That’s So Fetch partnership.

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