Merchandising Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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Associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees in merchandising can lead to a number of careers in business and retail. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Merchandising: Degrees at a Glance

Students enrolled in an undergraduate merchandising degree program can learn how to evaluate suppliers and choose vendors based on price, quality of the products and delivery speed. Professionals who have a degree in merchandising can usually find work as a purchasing agent, a purchasing manager, a wholesale sales representative or a retail store manager, but many of these jobs do not always require you to have a degree.

Although you have a few different career options with a degree in merchandising, the outlook for these careers is not astounding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for purchasing agents and managers were projected to increase by only 7% from 2010-2020, which was slower than the average for all occupations. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives were expected to see slightly better prospects, with an estimated job growth of 16% between 2010 and 2020.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to gain a basic understanding of sales and merchandising. Those who want to work in higher management positions.
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) -Retail store manager ($55,000)**
-Purchasing agent ($74,000)**
-Wholesale sales representative ($54,000)*
-Wholesale/retail buyer ($51,000)*
-Purchasing manager ($97,000)*
-Merchandising manager ($71,000)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 14-24 courses - At least 40 courses, possibly more depending on the program
-Senior project
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures).

Associate's Degree in Merchandising

In order to prepare you for work in merchandising, an associate's degree program gives you an opportunity to learn about materials and how to determine the quality of goods. This type of program also covers several business topics to prepare you to sell merchandise, negotiate contracts and advertise products. As the Internet continues to grow, students also learn about different methods to buy and sell merchandise online. A few schools may allow you to choose a concentration, such as store operations, sales management or staff management.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • May open up advancement opportunities (store manager, lead wholesaler)
  • Can easily continue on to a bachelor's degree if you choose
  • Covers a variety of concepts that can be transferred to other industries and careers

Cons

  • Degree is often not required for merchandising positions
  • May not be enough to qualify you for some management positions
  • Limited number of electives means you may not get in-depth training on the topics you're interested in

Courses and Requirements

Courses in a merchandising associate's program cover topics related to business and sales. You're usually required to complete general education coursework as well, including courses in math, English, humanities and science. Core merchandising courses include selling techniques, retail merchandising, accounting, marketing, economics and business law. Students may be able to take elective courses in running small businesses, fashion promotion, issues in retailing and organizational management.

You typically won't have many requirements beyond passing your courses in an associate's program. A few schools might have specific assessments you must pass, but these will vary between colleges.

Online Course Options

Online associate's degree programs in merchandising are available for students who have personal or professional obligations that prevent them from attending in-person. Students will obtain course materials, perform research and complete assignments online through a course management system. While courses will be more flexible, you need to be comfortable learning independently and interacting with professors and classmates through writing.

Stand Out with This Degree

Experience is one of the best ways to stand out in the field, especially in the industry you hope to work in. Knowing the details about the products you're buying or selling is a key factor in becoming a good merchandiser. By working with those products in other capacities (e.g. retail salesperson, supervisor), you can learn the ins and outs of those products while you're still in school. Taking an additional course in communication (speech, writing, etc.) may be beneficial as well, since you'll be working with people and need to be confident in speaking. If your school offers any electives that pertain to your area of interest, be sure to enroll in those courses as well.

Bachelor's Degree in Merchandising

A bachelor's degree program in merchandising can prepare you for entry-level purchasing management and merchandising management positions. You have the opportunity to take high-level electives that focus on specific topics, unlike most associate's programs. If you're looking for an upper management career in merchandising or purchasing, a bachelor's degree may help you get there, or it will at least help you get closer to obtaining a master's degree. Additionally, some bachelor's programs have internship opportunities that give you credit for working in a merchandising-related capacity.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can lead to advancement to management positions
  • Higher income potential for merchandising managers (those with a bachelor's degree earned between $30,000 and $95,000 vs. $18,000 and $79,000 for those with an associate's degree)*
  • More elective options means you can gain specialized knowledge that pertains to your specific job

Cons

  • You still might need a master's degree to qualify for the top purchasing management positions**
  • Many of the jobs that a bachelor's degree qualifies you for are the same ones you'd qualify for with an associate's degree
  • You'd have to commit at least 4 years to completing the program while possibly working at the same time

Source: *Payscale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education courses, you'll take advanced courses related to buying, selling and customer behavior. The total number of courses directly related to your major depends on the school, but you may end up taking as many as 40 core and elective courses for your particular area of study. You may have to complete a senior project or an internship, but that is all you'll usually have to worry about besides passing all of your courses.

Examples of courses you might take in a bachelor's degree program include:

  • Branding and advertising
  • Visual merchandising
  • Pricing strategies
  • Trend forecasting
  • Inventory planning
  • Event promotion
  • Product development

Online Course Options

Online bachelor's degree programs in merchandising are rare, and you'll need to make sure that any prospective school offering this program is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Online courses will cover the same topics as on-campus courses, and you'll learn the same merchandising principles. You will be required to have a computer with Internet access and have installed the necessary software programs. Some schools offer a few courses online to complement your classroom learning, so it may be possible to enroll in a hybrid program.

How to Get Ahead

One way to get ahead in the field is to earn a professional certification. The American Purchasing Society (APS) offers the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) and Certified Professional Purchasing Manager (CPPM) designations, while the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) offers the Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) and Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO) credentials. Applicants must have a combination of education and experience and pass an exam to earn certification from APS or NIGP. Obtaining a bachelor's degree reduces the amount of experience you need to become certified; if you're working while you go to school, you may be able to get certified right after you get your degree.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Marketing
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Operations Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BSBA in Purchasing
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA in Sales Management
      • BSBA - Investment
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Marketing
      • BS - Business Administration - Digital Marketing
      • BS - Business Administration - Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Organizational Behavior
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Business Development
      • BS - Business Administration - General
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Music Business
      • BS - Internet Marketing - Certificate
      • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • BS in Applied Management
      • BS in Marketing
      • BS in Business Admin.
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Business Admin: Marketing
      • B.A. - Business Admin: Management
      • Business Administration, BA - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Fashion Merchandising Management
      • BS in Marketing
      • BS in Business Studies - Marketing
      • BS in Business Studies - Business Adminis
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Marketing
      • BS - Organizational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Marketing
      • B.S. Marketing - Analytics
      • B.S. Marketing - Services and Non-Profit
      • B.S. Marketing - Social Media
      • B.S. Business Administration - No Specialization
      • B.S. General Studies - Business

Featured Schools

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Marketing
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Operations Management

Are you a US citizen?

Kaplan University

  • BSBA in Purchasing
  • Bachelor of Business Admin
  • BSBA in Sales Management

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Business Administration - Marketing
  • BS - Business Administration - Digital Marketing
  • BS - Business Administration - Management

Are you a US citizen?

Full Sail University

  • B.S. - Music Business
  • BS - Internet Marketing - Certificate
  • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • BS in Applied Management
  • BS in Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Business Admin: Marketing
  • B.A. - Business Admin: Management
  • Business Administration, BA - Management

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • BS in Fashion Merchandising Management
  • BS in Marketing
  • BS in Business Studies - Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration

What is your highest level of education?