To be a successful retail buyer you'll need commercial awareness, creative flair and excellent analytical skills
A retail buyer is responsible for planning and selecting a range of products to sell in retail outlets. The buyer must consider several factors when making purchasing decisions including customer demand, including price, quality and availability. Market trends, store policy and financial budgets are other considerations and restraints.
As a buyer you'll source new merchandise and review existing items to ensure products remain competitive. By fully understanding customer needs, you are able to maximise profits and provide a commercially viable range of merchandise at competitive prices.
Keeping up to date with market trends and reacting to changes in demand are key elements of the role.
Retail buyers have a considerable amount of responsibility and autonomy in what is often a pressured environment.
Tasks can vary according to the season. This is particularly true for those working in fashion. For example, out of season, the majority of time will be spent in the workplace (in the office and on the shop floor), and during the buying season, a significant amount of time will be spent away from the workplace in order to assemble a new collection of merchandise.
Throughout the year, your responsibilities will include:
- analysing consumer buying patterns and predicting future trends
- regularly reviewing performance indicators, such as sales and discount levels
- managing plans for stock levels
- reacting to changes in demand and logistics
- meeting suppliers and negotiating terms of contract
- maintaining relationships with existing suppliers and sourcing new suppliers for future products
- understanding the basic rules of vendor management, allocation and price negotiation
- liaising with other departments within the organisation to ensure projects are completed
- attending trade fairs, in the UK and overseas, to select and assemble a new collection of products
- participating in promotional activities
- writing reports and forecasting sales levels
- presenting new ranges to senior retail managers
- liaising with shop personnel to ensure supply meets demand
- getting feedback from customers
- training and mentoring junior staff.
- Starting salaries for junior buyers are in the region of £18,000 to £25,000.
- With experience you can expect salaries of £25,000 to £45,000.
- Senior retail buyers earn between £45,000 and £70,000+.
Salaries vary according to a number of factors, including location, the size of the business and product type. Store turnover may also have a bearing on salary, rewarding good performance. Some companies offer attractive benefits like retail discount, a company car and private healthcare.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Retail buyers are often presented with very tight deadlines and as a result working hours frequently extend beyond 9am to 5pm.
Early starts or late finishes may be especially common when travelling to trade fairs or fashion shows. Although it is not common freelance work is possible, especially in London, once you have experience.
Career breaks are not typical, but it depends largely on the organisation. Opportunities to work part time are limited due to the heavy workload.
What to expect
- Retail buyers have a high level of responsibility. Some may find this stressful, while others may view the challenge positively.
- The majority of your time will be spent in an office, although there may be travel off site during the day. Buying departments have a busy and lively atmosphere.
- Buyers have frequent contact with wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers in the course of their work.
- Most buyers are based in the organisation's head office. The majority of these are in London or the South East, although opportunities may exist in other parts of the UK.
- There are generally the same number of men and women working in retail buying, although there may be a gender bias in some product areas.
- Travel to attend trade shows may be required occasionally, as well as visits to suppliers in the UK and overseas.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in retail or business can equip you with a greater commercial awareness and therefore increase your chances of getting a job. Graduate programmes are open to those with a 2:2 or above.
In certain buying areas, such as fashion, employers may look for a relevant degree subject or a demonstrable interest and commitment to this particular area of retailing.
Relevant HNDs and foundation degrees may be accepted by some employers, particularly if a candidate has practical experience to offer.
It is sometimes possible to work your way up to a buying position without higher education qualifications. The level of competition is fierce, however, and there are few vacancies that offer direct entry into buying.
When applying for jobs find out as much as you can about the company and the products they sell as part of your interview preparation. Read trade journals, such as:
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- strong analytical skills
- negotiation skills and the ability to network and influence people
- teamworking and interpersonal skills
- excellent communication skills
- numeracy skills and proficiency using IT
- good organisation skills and the ability to multitask
- the ability to cope with the pressure of having to make important decisions and meet tight deadlines
- the capability to work in a fast-paced environment and achieve targets
- drive and determination
- entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take risks
- commercial awareness
- leadership attributes
- creative flair
- confident presentation style
- a passion for retail.
Previous retail work experience is important. This could be a part-time job on a shop floor, a role within the head office, even time spent work shadowing - gain as much experience as you can.
All retailers and manufacturers employ people that are responsible for buying. Typical employers include:
- general discounters
- high street department stores
- home improvement stores
- mail order companies
- niche retailers
- online sellers
- specific product-led retailers, e.g. clothing, shoes, food and drink, sporting goods, electrical goods, furniture and furnishings
- television shopping channels.
Buyers are predominantly based at company head offices, many of which are in London and the South East, although a handful of the large national retailers are based elsewhere in the UK. Smaller regional retailers may also have buying positions.
Skills are transferable across different sectors because most organisations have a common need to buy goods, services or materials.
Look for job vacancies at:
There are also recruitment agencies that specialise in finding vacancies within the retail buying sector.
If you are unsuccessful in gaining entry on to a training scheme, it is possible to work elsewhere in retail, such as on the shop floor and then gain an internal promotion to retail buying.
Training programmes are available, offering direct entry into buying, in many areas of retail but especially within fashion. These are usually graduate schemes and most take between one and two years to complete. Some large retailers offer training schemes in general store management with the option of specialising in buying after completing the general programme. This way, trainees are given the opportunity to gain skills and experience in all aspects of retail before specialising. Competition is high for these types of programmes so you need to be determined and well-informed about the industry.
Training on graduate schemes is highly structured and covers a specific schedule of content. Other training is mostly done on the job and is of a practical nature.
Many new buyers learn by working closely with more experienced members of staff, either accompanying them to trade shows and site visits, or as they search for new products and contracts. The larger the employer the more structured the training is likely to be.
Most large employers offer a structured continuing professional development (CPD) scheme, supplemented by a range of in-house training, to help develop any specific skills that might be needed.
Some companies offer the opportunity to undertake professional and postgraduate qualifications, such as an MBA, or qualifications with the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS). However, this is not a mandatory requirement to further career progression and many buyers may find it difficult to fit in the time for such courses. Distance learning options are also available, e.g. the Buying and Merchandising course run by bira (British Independent Retailers Association).
Smaller independent organisations tend to offer a different training experience. They have fewer staff so, from the outset, a trainee manager may be directly involved in buying as well as in other areas of management, such as marketing, pricing and merchandising.
The training offered in this setting is likely to be practical, fast paced and intense. This type of multifaceted role may suit some graduates better than working for a larger, more structured organisation in a fixed buying role.
Progression is usually from a graduate trainee position, which may last up to 24 months, into any available buying positions.
Generally, you will start as a buyer's assistant and then progress, usually after two or three years, to the position of junior or trainee buyer. Then, after a similar amount of time, provided you have gained sufficient experience, you will progress to the position of senior buyer.
For those looking for management responsibility, there will be opportunities to progress into senior positions such as buying controller. Each progression brings greater responsibility, with bigger buying ranges and larger budgets.
Lateral promotion is a consideration for those who do not want greater responsibility but want to maintain variety in their work, with the opportunity to move into different buying areas.
Career moves into senior store management, product management, marketing or merchandising are possible. Those seeking a senior management position will find this easier within larger retail organisations.
Geographical mobility can be an issue (to move from head office to a store). Depending on your career development and aspirations, it can take around six years to reach senior management level.
Another option is to set up a business and open your own retail outlet.