Becoming a Retail Buyer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a retail buyer's salary, education, training requirements and employment prospects. Read the job descriptions below and see the pros and cons of choosing this career.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Retail Buyer

Retail buyers track buying patterns and store inventories to predict what consumers want to see on store shelves next. This position can be very rewarding, but it comes with ups and downs, which is why it's good to explore pros and cons of working as a retail buyer before making a final decision.

Pros of a Retail Buyer Career
Competitive average salary (about $58,000 per year as of May 2014)*
Can apply for entry-level positions with a high school diploma*
Possible career advancement to management-level positions with experience*
Can introduce new products to consumers and influence trends (e.g., 'green' products and other innovative offerings)**

Cons of a Retail Buyer Career
Many buyers work overtime*
Slower job growth (7% growth expected between 2012 and 2022)*
May require extensive on-the-job training (one or more years)*
Buyers must make important decisions and negotiations that can potentially influence a company's profit*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Career Information

Job Description

Retail buyers are professional negotiators who work closely with suppliers to get merchandise of the desired quantity and quality at a price that works for the retail outlet. They might purchase the stock for one department, such as menswear, or for an entire store. A retail buyer bases his or her decisions on information from the sales staff to find out what customers want to buy and how much they are willing to spend, using sales reports and market research to figure out what to order. Part of the job might include visiting suppliers or going to trade shows so you can evaluate merchandise and make industry contacts.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

According to May 2014 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), retail buyers earned an average of about $58,000 per year (www.bls.gov). The lowest ten percent of earners took home less than $30,000 per year, while the top ten percent of workers made about $94,000 or more. The economic health of retailers and wholesalers plays a big part in the employment opportunities for retail buyers, and the BLS predicted 7% job growth in this field from 2012-2022, which was a little slower than average.

Career Paths

The vast array of goods and products for sale means that buyers and purchasing agents can specialize in a specific segment of the retail industry, like fashion, or even narrow themselves down to a single department, such as women's shoes. They might become buyers for entire grocery stores or focus on one area, like produce. Other opportunities exist for different types of specialty stores, which require expertise in the trends and product types for that line of retailer. Some buyers are part of a buying team for a large corporation that contains many retail locations.

Career Requirements

Education and Training

The amount of education you need to become a retail buyer depends on the size and type of organization you want to work for. The BLS noted that some companies take on high school graduates as entry-level buyers, while larger organizations might look for applicants with a bachelor's degree. Degree programs in merchandising, retailing or marketing usually include a variety of business and management courses, such as economics, accounting, sales and marketing, persuasive communication and other retailing principles. Regardless of your educational background, many firms provide job training that varies in length from one to several years. You might also need to gain experience in the industry as an assistant buyer before taking on a general buyer position.

Job Skills

Because retail buyers spend so much time negotiating prices and analyzing sales data to make purchasing decisions, it's important to develop critical and analytical thinking skills, as well as a strong aptitude for math. Working with suppliers and sales staff requires confidence and excellent communication skills, including the ability to persuade others and negotiate prices down. Tracking inventory and analyzing data often requires the use of computers and industry-specific software for managing the supply chain.

What Do Employers Expect?

Recent job postings for retail buyers showed that employers wanted applicants with a combination of education and industry experience, preferably in the same retail sector as the position. Employers generally preferred 3-5 years of demonstrated retail buying experience. Here are some of the available jobs posted on CareerBuilder.com in April 2012.

  • A Los Angeles fashion retailer wanted a retail buyer with an understanding of teen and junior's clothing and accessories. The most qualified applicants should have 2-5 years of prior fashion or retail experience and a demonstrated understanding of trends within this target demographic. Negotiation of prices and management of the ordering process were considered essential skills for the position.
  • A department store with headquarters in Illinois advertised for a buyer specializing in toys. The ideal candidate would be capable of managing the selection and ordering of merchandise appropriate to customer needs and working extensively with vendors. This position also included some personnel management and required at least 3 years of buying experience. Employers sought a candidate with a bachelor's degree, but experience could stand in for postsecondary education.
  • A Washington state specialty grocery store looked for a regional buyer with at least 2 years of team management experience. The buyer would promote growth, manage inventory, reduce costs, negotiate with vendors and work to introduce new specialty food products. Applicants must be able to lift 40 pounds and remain on their feet throughout an entire shift.

How to Stand out in the Field

Enhance Your Skills with Education

Earning a bachelor's degree with coursework relevant to business, retailing and merchandising can enhance your employment opportunities. Additionally, it might help strengthen your knowledge of statistics and math through relevant coursework. The National Retail Federation explained that retail buyers often must analyze data to create inventory and merchandising plans to help stores figure out which products to stock based on sales figures (www.nrffoundation.com). Indeed, recent job postings frequently cited the need for candidates who could evaluate economic trends and analyze data to help the company maximize profits.

Get Certified

Retail buyers and purchasing agents can demonstrate their professional competency through voluntary certifications. For example, the American Purchasing Society offers four different certifications, including the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) and the Certified Green Purchasing Professional (CGPP) designations (www.american-purchasing.com). These certifications generally require you to show proof of education or experience, take an online course and pass an examination.

Other Careers to Consider

Logistician or Logistics Manager

If you want a job involving consumer goods and the global economy, but would like to move further up the supply chain, you may want to consider a career in logistics, also called supply chain management. Logisticians and logistics managers work with manufacturers and suppliers to arrange the transport of materials and finished products, from the factory all the way down to the retail establishment, in a way that maximizes efficiency and minimizes cost.

Logisticians may find entry-level employment with an associate's degree, but the BLS also stated that some employers seek applicants with at least a bachelor's degree. According to O*Net Online, 74% of reporting logistics managers held a bachelor's degree in 2011 (www.onetonline.org). The BLS reported that the position offered an average annual salary of about $75,000 as of May 2011 and a projected employment growth of 26% between 2010 and 2020, which was above average.

Marketing Manager

If you're more interested in the psychology of influencing what people buy, a career in marketing could satisfy your creative instincts while still relying on your business knowledge. Marketers collaborate with advertising and promotions managers to develop campaigns and strategies to make buyers seek particular products or brands. Like retail buyers, they analyze consumer data to understand what people are likely to buy and at what price. As a marketing manager, you might have to work long hours. The BLS reported that 19% of professionals in this field worked more than 50 hours per week in 2010.

To enter the field, the BLS stated that you typically need a bachelor's degree in marketing, business or a related field. Although the profession's projected employment growth from 2010-2020 was average (14%) due to a competitive job field, the financial rewards might entice you to pursue this line of work. The average annual salary for marketing managers as of May 2011 was just over $126,000.

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