What is a retail buyer or purchaser?

If you hear the words ‘buying’, ‘retail’ and ‘career’ in one sentence, you might be excused for thinking that you could get a job as a professional shopper. It’s your dream come true, right?

Wait a second though; nobody is going to employ you to buy yourself cool new things every day. So what does a buyer actually do? Read on and find out.

Basically, buyers are in charge of planning and selecting which products a retail company sells in its shops. These people have their finger on the pulse of the retail industry. It’s their job to understand what the consumers want, what will sell, and what new products will excite shoppers.

How does a retail buyer know what to buy?

A buyer’s decisions are dictated by trends, fashions and the desire to offer customers something different to their competitors.

When it comes down to it, a buyer arguably has the most important job in the retail industry. Sure, your shop might look great, you might have the right quantity of goods in stock and your staff might be wonderful, friendly and helpful, but if your products are rubbish then nobody is going to buy anything. Buying decisions directly affect profits, and obviously profits need to be high!

Buyers are always looking to the future. Their company’s hopes of world domination rest on their shoulders. Their jobs can be exciting, fast-paced and incredibly satisfying, especially considering that these lucky people will know what’s going to be on the shelves before anybody else does.

Which retail sectors employ buyers?

The most famous and arguably most exciting area of retail buying is in the world of fashion. However, buyers can work in all areas of retail, such as supermarkets, bookstores, music shops or computer stores.

Careers in buying are primarily strategic positions. These guys need to understand their current market and predict future trends. Consequently, a large part of these jobs involves the analysis and evaluation of how current product lines are performing, researching competitors’ products, and staying up-to-date with trends in the wider world (e.g. what celebrities are wearing).

What are the responsibilities of a buyer?

Based on this research and analysis, buyers will make decisions on the relaunch of specific lines and the introduction of new ones. When it comes to introducing new merchandise, a product development stage needs to ensue.

Here, buying teams use the findings from their research and analysis, evaluate what needs to be included in a new product and make final decisions about what they want (e.g. what colours, what sizes etc.). They will then meet with suppliers (and sometimes designers), find out what they have to offer and decide which suppliers can produce products which match their new product brief.

Buyers manage suppliers, negotiate contracts with them, visit factories and keep a general check on proceedings throughout the entire product development process. This process ensures that products are ready on time, and also allows buyers to make sure products are being produced under fair working conditions. After all, controversy about clothes produced in exploitative sweat shops can be bad for a company’s PR, as well as the obvious part about being appalling and inhumane. After all, some companies’ reputation hinges on their fair employment practices, such as American Apparel.

Once new product lines have been developed, buyers will present their work to senior managers before they are introduced into shops. These guys need great communication skills, logic, creativity, and analytical skills, and must have the ability and confidence to make incredibly important decisions.

So, think you could buy into a career in retail buying and purchasing? If you’re forever ahead of high-street trends, maybe just a tiny bit resentful when what you’ve been coveting for six months suddenly arrives everywhere, or think you know exactly how to improve Topman’s graphic t-shirt range, then this might be exactly the right job for you!

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