What is "order picking"?

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Millions of articles from various online shops reach their buyers every day. It is no coincidence that the packages usually also have the correct content, because order pickers were at work here. But what is order picking and what role does it play in the logistical processes of a company?

By definition, order picking is a process in which goods are made available - be it at the Shipping-processing in the context of a customer order (online as well as offline) or for the production of a product. The picking order then lists the respective goods which, in order to stay with the online shop example, are to be packed into the package for the customer and made ready for dispatch. Whether within the framework of Logistik-Outsourcing or on your own: To process these picking orders you need personnel, in this case pickers. These are sometimes referred to as grippers or pickers. However, some companies also use picking robots or automatic pickers for this activity. But even with a high degree of automation, picking cannot be carried out without real manual work.

How to pick?

How picking takes place depends primarily on the type of warehouse and the goods. If, for example, the so-called FIFO procedure (First In First Out) is used, the goods that were first stored are picked first. This means that newly arrived goods are stored in the back and the goods to be removed first stored in front of the shelf.

If the article has a certain best-before date, this must be given priority during picking. This is referred to as "First Expired, First Out", in short FEFO. If a longer storage period has no influence on the quality of the goods, for example metal products such as screws or nails or certain bulk goods such as sand, coal or gravel, the LIFO principle (Last In First Out) is used for order picking. In this case, the goods last stored can also be removed first.

There are basically two picking systems:

  • Goods-to-man system
  • man-to-goods system

The name of the systems is already self-explanatory: In goods-to-man order picking, the goods are brought to the order picker, for example by conveyor technology. The elimination of travel times is a particular advantage here. They cannot be avoided with the man-to-goods system: Here the picking person goes to the respective storage location of the goods. The better the routes are optimized here, the higher the picking performance.

What does an order picker do?

Some work is required before goods are assembled for delivery or dispatch and prepared for transport. First, order pickers have to go to the storage location of the items according to the picking list or picking system. This can be done either on foot or in large warehouses using aids such as order picking vehicles. Arrived at the storage place of the article they take it out, if necessary also with aids such as lift trucks or forklift trucks, and put it into the appropriate picking container. The picked goods are also booked out of the system. Finally, the articles are handed over to the packaging department. If necessary, the latter step is also carried out by the order picker.

In addition to the two picking systems, there are also three picking methods, namely

  • Order-oriented, serial order picking
  • Order-oriented, parallel order picking
  • Series-oriented, parallel picking

Which of these three methods is used depends entirely on the stock turnover and the stock management system used in the company. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages and at the same time is not necessarily suitable for every company.


Picking is a essential process in logistical processes, which must be optimised in terms of personnel, organisation and infrastructure. Here lurk sources of error, whose causes can lie in carelessness, lack of flexibility, technical disturbances or also in the time pressure. The consequences of incorrect deliveries range from cost-intensive subsequent deliveries to the loss of the customer. And this is extremely dangerous both for newly founded companies and for companies already established on the market. However, order picking can be easily outsourced as part of the outsourcing process, since this activity is one of the usual tasks that a specialized Fulfillment service provider takes on anyway. They usually have both the technical and spatial resources and trained personnel who can take full care of the order picking activities.

Mike Schubert und Raimund Bergler

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