How to Become a Retail Buyer for Major Stores

You could be responsible for choosing the products consumers buy

Woman carrying shopping bags
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A career as a retail buyer can be rewarding, with diverse and interesting day-to-day job requirements. Retail buyers are responsible for finding, negotiating, and purchasing merchandise sold in stores. It is a fast-paced job that requires knowledge of the retail industry as well as the basics of business.

What Does a Retail Buyer Do?

Retail buyers, also known as purchasing agents, select merchandise and develop product assortments to grow their businesses and increase market share.

Major stores with multiple locations employ many retail buyers, and each buyer may have a particular department or segment to focus on.

For instance, one buyer may focus on sporting goods for a big-box department store while another concentrates on children's toys. In larger companies, every department may have multiple buyers, each with an even more narrow focus. They often will work as a team to coordinate the entire department's merchandise mix.

Retail buyers are responsible for developing product assortments by using market trend analysis information. They also monitor and manage sales and margins. It is a multifaceted position that includes contract negotiations, inventory management, sales planning, forecasting, and close coordination with the merchandising and operations teams.

Buyers identify growth opportunities and risks and develop contingency plans. They are expected to build strong vendor relations and put together solid business plans, including strong and detailed promotional programs.

Some travel may be required, and retail buyers often work more than 40 hours per week.

Experience and Qualities Required

Retail buyers need a sense of retail and product trends and strong analytical experience. Buyers should have computer skills and a working knowledge of resource planning and forecasting.

Excellent leadership, negotiating, and planning skills also are a must.

Previous retail experience often is required. While retail ​buyers aren't working directly with customers on the sales floor, such experience is helpful in being able to understand customers' tastes and how quickly they can shift.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in retail, fashion, marketing, or another related field is preferred. Additional computer training also may be required.

Retail buyers are encouraged to become members of trade organizations such as the National Retail Federation or American Purchasing Society. It also is a good idea to seek continued education periodically to stay on top of the latest trends and market conditions.

Compensation and Job Outlook

Salaries vary with the size of the operation and the number of departments included in a retail buyer's responsibilities.

Compensation ranges from $30,000 to $95,000, and the median wage for retail buyers in 2015 was $52,620 annually or $28.66 per hour. The job outlook for 2014–2024 is estimated at 2 percent growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The grocery, electronics, and building materials industries employ the most retail buyers.

The bookstore, paper product, e-commerce, hardware, and apparel industries have the highest concentration of retail buyers. Computer, electric power, telecommunications, industrial machinery, and apparel retail buyers are among the highest paid.

Buyers generally receive a full benefits package and occasionally relocation allocation.