How to Become a Retail Buyer for Major Stores

You Could Be Responsible for Choosing the Products Consumers Buy

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A career as a retail buyer can be rewarding and the day-to-day job requirements diverse and interesting. Retail buyers are responsible for finding, negotiating and purchasing merchandise that will be 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?

A retail buyer (or purchasing agent) selects merchandise and develops product assortments to grow the business and increase its market share.

Major stores with multiple locations employ many retail buyers and each buyer may have a particular department or segment that they 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, there may be multiple buyers for the same department, each with an even more narrow focus and they will often 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 multi-faceted position that includes:

Buyers will identify growth opportunities and risks in the assortment as well as 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 it is not uncommon for retail buyers to 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.

  • Previous retail experience is often required.
  • Buyers will have computer skills and working knowledge of resource planning and forecasting.
  • Excellent leadership, negotiating, and planning skills are also a must.

Education and Training

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

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

Compensation and Job Outlook

A retail buyer's salary will vary with the size of the operation and the number of departments the buyer is responsible for.

Compensation ranges from around $30,000 to $95,000. The median wage for retail buyers in 2015 is $52,620 annually or $28.66 per hour. The job outlook for 2014-2024 is estimated at a 2% growth.*

  • 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. 

    *Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics