Retail Buyer

The Job and What's Involved

A retail buyer is responsible for planning, selecting and purchasing quantities of goods and merchandise that are sold in retail stores. Most buyers specialise in one product type, for example clothes, fashion accessories, food and drink, books, furniture, electrical items or household goods.

A retail buyer needs a clear understanding of the customers they are buying for, the prices those customers are willing to pay and the likely demand for products. Reacting to market trends and changes in demand is a key aspect of the job.

Typical duties for a retail buyer include:

  • Analysing trends and consumer buying patterns.
  • Attending fashion shows and trade fairs.
  • Searching out new products and suppliers.
  • Choosing product ranges and deciding on the quantities to order.
  • Placing supplier orders, and negotiating prices and delivery contracts.
  • Evaluating product quality.
  • Gathering customer feedback.
  • Writing management reports.
  • Presenting collections to senior retail managers.

Once orders are placed, retail buyers usually work closely with retail merchandisers, designers and marketing personnel to:

  • Review sales performance figures.
  • Track competitor activities, including pricing and promotional offers.
  • Manage stock levels, where necessary moving goods to different stores.
  • Influence local and national marketing and advertising strategies.
  • Visit stores to gather direct feedback and assess how certain lines are selling.
  • Help visual merchandisers to plan store layouts to promote key lines.

Smaller retailers may combine buying and merchandising roles in a general retail management position.

Retail buyers usually work Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.30pm. However, it may be necessary to work additional hours to meet order deadlines. Flexible hours, job sharing and part-time work may be available.

During the buying season, retail buyers may spend time away from the office visiting trade fairs and shows, sourcing and visiting new suppliers, and assembling a collection or range of merchandise.

Out of the buying season, retail buyers are often office based, although some travel to stores may be required.

Fashion buyers are particularly likely to travel overseas and spend time away from home.

A driving licence may be useful.

Retail buying assistants or junior assistant buyers may earn £20,000 to £30,000 a year. An experienced retail buyer may earn approximately £30,000 to £50,000.

Some retail buyers may receive performance-related bonuses. Benefits such as contributory pension, medical care, life assurance, retail discount and share saving schemes are common.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Virtually all retailers and manufacturers employ someone to take responsibility for buying. In some cases, it may be combined with other sales or marketing duties, or another retail management role.

Around 12,000 people are employed specifically as retail buyers in the UK. There are more applicants than vacancies. Opportunities are available with high street retailers and other shopping businesses, including:

- Supermarkets
- Retail chains and independent retailers
- Department, discount and home improvement stores
- Mail order companies
- Internet retailers
- Television shopping channels

Many retail buying jobs are based in head offices, the majority of which are in London and south-east England. However, opportunities do exist in other parts of the UK.

Vacancies may be advertised through local and national newspapers, employers' websites, specialist recruitment agencies or retail publications, such as Drapers and Retail Week. The website: www.inretail.co.uk also advertises vacancies.

Education and Training

High competition for jobs means that many entrants have a degree or a BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/D). Relevant subjects include business studies, and retail and distribution.

The entry requirements to study a degree vary, but are typically a minimum of two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. Most HND courses require at least one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C), or the equivalent.

Employers of retail fashion buyers typically ask for fashion qualifications. The London College of Fashion runs a specialist two-year foundation degree in fashion buying and merchandising. Entrants usually need to be 18 and possess one of the following:

  • One A level, plus four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and English.
  • A BTEC National Diploma in business, plus four GCSE's (A*-C).
  • A Level 3 Diploma in fashion retail (at merit grade).

It is possible for school leavers to take a less direct route, working as an administrator, trainee or junior buyer. With this experience, they can progress through internal promotion to positions such as assistant buyer and buyer.

It is useful to be able to demonstrate some retail experience, possibly through a work placement or part-time job. It may be possible to enter via an Apprenticeship in retail, and undertake a buying or merchandising placement.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Employers place a lot of value on retail, stock control and business experience.

The Fashion Access Programme (Fashion Business and Fashion Promotions Media) provides a one-year intensive study programme for entrants without formal academic qualifications or those wanting to change career direction. It can also prepare students for entry to the London College of Fashion's foundation degree in fashion buying and merchandising. Entrants to the Access programme need to show a broad interest in fashion, media, arts and current affairs.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many large retail organisations run general store management training schemes for new entrants. This may involve working in different head office and in-store departments, including buying, to gain a solid business understanding. Upon successful completion, trainees may be offered a buying position.

A few companies in the fashion retail sector offer training schemes specifically for buyers. These tend to be aimed at graduates. Training often includes on-the-job mentoring combined with in-house courses in skills such as people management.

Once established in the job, some retail buyers may be encouraged to study for professional qualifications with the Chartered Institute of Marketing or the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply.

Retail buyers may also work towards vocational qualifications, such as the NVQ in supply chain management at Levels 2 to 5 and the Level 4 Diploma in buying and merchandising for fashion retail.

The British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) runs a distance-learning buying and merchandising foundation course for those already working in the profession.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Retail buyers need:

  • Excellent commercial awareness.
  • An understanding of what motivates customers to buy individual products.
  • Good analytical skills.
  • Creativity and the ability to recognise future trends.
  • To be team players with good interpersonal skills.
  • To be articulate, clear communicators.
  • Networking and negotiation skills.
  • Self-assurance and confidence for delivering important presentations.
  • The ability to take responsibility and make decisions under pressure.
  • Good planning and organisational skills.
  • Natural leadership ability.

Your Long Term Prospects

Opportunities vary depending on the size of the employer. In large companies, promotion may be possible to senior buyer, trading manager or buying controller (responsible for allocating budgets to buying teams). However, it may be necessary to relocate or move companies in order to progress.

Many of the business skills acquired in buying are transferable across the retail sector. With experience, buyers may be able to reach manager or director level in product management, marketing or merchandising.

Opportunities for self-employment are limited, although it may be possible to set up in retail consultancy or open a small retail outlet.

Get Further Information

British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA),
Middleton House, 2 Main Road,
Middleton Cheney, Banbury OX17 2TN
Tel: 01295 712277
Website: www.british-shops.co.uk

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM),
Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead,
Berkshire SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427120
Website: www.cim.co.uk

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply,
Easton House, Church Street,
Easton on the Hill, Stamford,
Lincolnshire PE9 3NZ
Tel: 01780 756777
Website: www.cips.org

London College of Fashion,
20 John Princes Street, London W1G 0BJ
Tel: 020 7514 7344
Website: www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

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