Wave picking streamlines one of the most complicated warehouse activities, the order picking process. Because warehouse operations depend on countless variables such as labor resources, equipment, shipping schedules, and more, your picking process must accommodate all these conditions to fulfill orders efficiently, on time, and without bottlenecks.

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So, in this article, we’ll discuss the basics of wave picking, how it works, its pros and cons, and if it’s suitable for your warehouse.

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    What is Wave Picking?

    Wave picking involves combining multiple orders and scheduling them for picking at the most suitable time of the day. This group of orders is known as a “wave,” and we group and schedule them based on the following considerations:

    • Shipping schedules
    • Replenishment cycles (Ensures that pick faces are sufficient before scheduling waves)
    • Shift changes & available workforce
    • Product locations and commonality (Grouping products to maximize efficiency and reduce travel time)
    • Carriers
    • Priorities

    By grouping and scheduling orders using the conditions above, you can effectively utilize your resources and avoid bottlenecks.

    Wave Picking - Time Schedule

    How Does Wave Picking Work?

    Pre-Wave Picking

    Before wave picking, it’s important to schedule the waves. Remember to use a warehouse management system (WMS) to streamline the process due to the multitude of variables involved in wave building.

    In the warehouse, the Warehouse Management System (WMS) reads all order details and logically groups and schedules them for picking at the most suitable time as orders come in. In order to achieve maximum productivity, the system may need to stockpile orders until there are enough similar ones to create waves.

    Performing Wave Picking

    Many sources about wave picking vary because there are many ways to implement it. Wave picking can combine with batch picking, cluster picking, or zone picking. We must strictly follow the schedule for grouping orders into waves.

    The way you execute your waves will depend on your type of warehouse, the inventory you hold, and the orders you receive.

    Here’s a scenario of how wave picking, in its simplest way, can occur:

    At 11 am, the warehouse received a group of orders scheduled to be shipped in a single trailer. The Warehouse Management System (WMS) will then group them into a wave and execute them with enough lead time before shipment. The lead time will depend on your resources and average picking, packing, and shipping time, all of which can be calculated through a WMS. The program also ensures that orders have sufficient stock.

    If you don’t have a WMS, you can schedule waves manually, but it takes more time to do so correctly.”

    Wave Picking - Process

    Post-Wave Picking

    If you use batch or zone picking with wave, you need to include the time to segregate items into orders in the lead time.

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    Pros and Cons of Wave Picking


    1. On-Time Shipments

    Because wave picking considers shipping schedules and available resources, waves are released or executed with an estimated lead time before shippers or carriers depart.

    2. Reduced Bottlenecks

    When waves are formed, product location, labor resources, and equipment are considered. This ensures that the over-allocation of people and equipment on a single aisle does not happen, freeing operations from congestion and bottlenecks.

    3. Reduced Travel Time/Reduced Cost

    Waves need to accumulate similar orders so that the warehouse can reduce the amount of travel per picker. Picking multiple items per SKU or picking items near each other can significantly decrease travel time or, in other words, cost.

    4. Increased Accuracy

    When using wave picking combined with zone and batch picking, you can perform a second check on product codes and quantity. Zone or batch picking separates the picking and sorting processes, thereby increasing accuracy.

    The nature of the methodologies, where picking and sorting are separate processes, allows for a second check.

    5. Suitable for High-Security or Fresh Goods

    Picking items just in time before shipment reduces idle time for high-security or fresh products.

    Wave Picking - Fresh Goods


    1. Potential for Downtime

    Uneven distribution of labor and resources across waves can cause downtime. As waves are executed sequentially, workers and equipment may have to wait for the current wave to finish before moving on to the next one.

    2. Unable to Accommodate Emergency Picks

    Once we establish and execute a wave, it becomes challenging to accommodate emergency, high-priority, or same-day picks without resorting to very manual processes. Additionally, executing waves simultaneously is inefficient because each wave is designed to maximize all resources.


    Wave picking is an effective way to utilize resources correctly and without bottlenecks. This method is useful in large-scale operations where workers can bump into each other because of limited regulations.

    But, as with all picking strategies, wave picking has drawbacks. If your operations frequently receive emergency orders or need to be more flexible in accommodating orders, “waveless” picking methods might be more suitable.

    If you wish to improve your picking process through technologies, try our solutions finder tool.

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