Education and Training Bachelor's degree and training program
Salary Median—$42,230 per year
Employment Outlook Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Retail buyers work for retail stores, including department and variety stores, specialty shops, and chain stores. They buy the goods that a store sells to its customers. Buyers who work for large department stores usually specialize in one type of merchandise such as home furnishings. Those who work for small stores may buy a variety of merchandise, and those who work for chain stores often purchase goods for a number of the store's outlets.
Buyers must be able to choose items that are appropriate for their store and its clientele. For example, a budget department store will need low-cost goods, whereas a clothing boutique may specialize in relatively expensive clothes for young customers. Buyers usually purchase merchandise about six months before it is shown in the stores. Therefore, they must be able to anticipate trends in fashion and consumer needs.
Retail buyers familiarize themselves with available merchandise through catalogs and by traveling to trade shows that display new consumer goods. Fashion buyers attend seasonal fashion shows held by clothing manufacturers that feature the latest designer styles. In order to choose items that will sell, buyers must know their customers. They do this by examining computerized sales records and by spending time on the selling floors.
Retail buyers also work with the advertising department on sales promotions. Buyers are rewarded for increasing sales in their department. Computers and
other business equipment have greatly improved buyers' efficiency by providing instant access to merchandise specifications and inventory records and speeding up the selection and ordering process.
Retail buyers work under merchandise managers. Together they decide how much money is spent on merchandise. The manager determines how much extra the store will charge for an item beyond what the buyer has paid. It is this extra cost that produces the company's profits.
Assistant buyers help buyers with the routine aspects of retailing. They may supervise sales personnel, keep records, verify orders and shipments, and deal with customers who want to return or exchange merchandise.
Education and Training Requirements
Employers generally prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degree from a college or university. Knowledge of the merchandise is essential and some previous experience in retailing is helpful. Companies seek candidates who have good judgment and analytical ability. They also look for creative workers who are willing to take calculated risks.
Some schools offer courses in retailing or buying. Many beginners enter executive training programs directly after graduation. The competition for a spot in these programs is often intense. Some programs place new workers in sales or clerical positions, whereas others offer formal classes. Trainees generally become assistant buyers within a year of being hired. From there they may advance to jobs as buyers. Throughout their careers retail buyers read trade journals and other material to keep abreast of news in the changing marketplace.
Getting the Job
Individuals interested in becoming buyers can apply directly to retail stores. School placement offices may help their students get an interview with prospective employers who visit college campuses. In addition, both public and private employment agencies list jobs in retail sales. Entry-level positions are often included on Internet career sites and in classified ads in newspapers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement depends mainly on performance. Assistant buyers generally move on to jobs as retail buyers after several years, and from there they may advance to the position of merchandise manager. Managers may go on to become company vice presidents or open their own firms. Advancement to the higher levels of management usually requires a graduate degree in business.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail buyers held 156,000 jobs in 2004. Employment of retail buyers was expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations between 2004 and 2014. The Internet and computers allow retail buyers to gain access to vast amounts of information on products and close deals with the touch of a button. With these innovations retail buyers can do their work much faster, eliminating some of the need for additional agents as business expands. Continued mergers of big retail outfits will likely lead to the consolidation and subsequent downsizing of buying departments. Some new openings will result as consumer spending increases and corresponding expansion occurs in retail trade. Jobs will also become available as experienced buyers retire or leave their jobs for other reasons.
Buyers generally work more than forty hours a week. Most buyers work some evenings, especially during busy seasons. Merchandise managers tend to work more regular hours. Buyers spend about one-third of their working time on buying trips to major cities in the United States, Europe, and East and Southeast Asia. Assistant buyers sometimes accompany them. The work, despite its demanding nature, can be stimulating and glamorous.
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary widely, depending on experience and the quantity and type of merchandise purchased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for buyers was $42,230 in 2004. The top-paid 10 percent made more than $79,340 a year. Merchandise managers generally earned higher salaries.
Where to Go for More Information
American Collegiate Retailing Association
Department of Marketing
Georgia Southern University
P.O. Box 8154
Statesboro, GA 30460
American Marketing Association
311 S. Wacker Dr., Ste. 5800
Chicago, IL 60606
National Retail Federation
325 Seventh St. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004
Benefits generally include paid vacations and health and retirement plans. Many stores also provide buyers with cash bonuses and discounts on items purchased in the store.