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Retail Buyer Jobs

What does a retail buyer do?

Have you ever looked at the shelves in your local supermarket, department store or favourite clothes shop and wondered who decides which products get sold there? Well, that’s the Retail Buyer’s job! Buyers are responsible for choosing which items make it onto the shelves.

This is a more complicated job than it sounds! Retail Buyers have to justify their choices and ultimately have to make sure that whatever they choose to stock will sell well. As a Retail Buyer you will research the current market, understand trends (what is popular), keep an eye on what competitors are doing, analyse sales figures, and much more. You’ll also work directly with suppliers, negotiating deals to get the best possible price for your company.

Industry: Retail

Retail buyer job trends

How much money can you make as a retail buyer?

£12,000 – £19,000 (UK average)
This is hugely variable depending on experience and level of seniority. A major high street retailer is currently advertising Assistant Buyer jobs paying around £25,000, while an experienced Senior Buyer can make around £50,000 – or sometimes even more.

Recent labour market information says you can earn on average between £18,000 and £70,000 a year as a retail buyer in the UK.

How to become a retail buyer

What skills and qualifications do you need?

There is no set path to go into Retail Buying as a career. Here are several possible routes to consider:

  • Working your way up in a retail environment. This will probably involve starting on the shop floor and then applying for promotions as they become available and as you gain experience.
  • Starting in an entry-level Trainee Buyer or Assistant Buyer role. Not all of these will ask for any previous Buying experience, though a background in retail or the field you’re wanting to buy for (e.g. fashion if you want to be a clothing Buyer) will be helpful.
  • A degree in Fashion Buying.
  • A degree in a related field such as Fashion Design, Fashion Communications, or even Business Studies or Retail Management.
  • An apprenticeship in Buying or Retail Management.

School, college and training

You’ll need very good written English and maths skills to be a Buyer, so GCSE English and Maths are important and A Levels in one or both of these subjects are even better. You can take these as an adult, through a part time or evening course, if you didn’t get the qualifications while you were at school.

You could also do a Level 2 or 3 Certificate or Diploma to help you break into the Retail Buying world. Examples of relevant courses are Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Retail Operations or Level 3 Diploma in Retail Skills.

Apprenticeships

You can enter the retail industry with an apprenticeship. This will give you structured training while you work and earn, and industry-recognised qualifications.

An apprenticeship is a scheme where you train while earning a starting salary. Apprenticeships usually last between a year and 18 months, and anyone aged 16 or over can apply. Sometimes you are guaranteed a job at the end, but even if you’re not, having done an apprenticeship makes you much more attractive to other employers.

The Fashion Retail Academy is a great place to start if you’re looking for a retail buying apprenticeship. Or simply do a Google search for “buyer apprenticeship + (your city)”.

Career progression and further qualifications

Most people breaking into a Retail Buying career will start out as a Trainee Buyer, Assistant Buyer, Apprentice Buyer or other similar title. As you gain more experience you can move up to more senior roles such as Senior Buyer, Buying Controller or Head of Buying. You could also move into related areas of retail such as Product Management, Marketing, or senior leadership roles (such as had of a department, division or area.)

What experience do you need for retail buyer jobs?

Work experience

Some employers won’t require you to have any previous work experience at all. Previous work in the retail industry (including customer service) will always help.

  • Look for part-time or seasonal work (you could do shift work, a few days a week, or seek summer jobs when UK tourism is at its height)
  • Seek work experience in a range of venues including retail stores or supermarket chains. These are places where you can gain an understanding of what sells well to different shoppers and why. It can also help you understand how products might change from season to season, or to match consumer trends.
  • If you’ve had any previous jobs that gave you experience with checking stock, understanding customer needs or working with spreadsheets, this will help your CV stand out on the jobseeking catwalk.

Volunteering

Volunteering is always great on a CV because it shows employers you have the passion to make use of your time out of choice, not because you are forced to do it.

What skills do you need for retail buyer jobs?

Useful skills to highlight to your employer when applying for a retail buyer job include::

  • Self-management skills – you’ll have a heavy workload and be working with lots of different suppliers as well as managing many different tasks, so you’ll need to be extremely organised to stay on top of it all.
  • Communication skills – you’ll need to be a strong communicator and able to confidently put your point across to a wide variety of people. This will include both written and verbal communication as well as public speaking and presentation skills.
  • Negotiation skills – You will need to negotiate deals on behalf of your company, so you must be a skilled and confident negotiator and not afraid to ask for the best deal.
  • Teamwork skills – Buyers need to work closely with a wide variety of people within their company. On any given day you might be working with senior management, the marketing team, designers, merchandisers, shop floor staff, and more. A collaborative attitude is vital.
  • Be customer-focussed – Retail is all about the customer. You’ll need to be smiley, upbeat, positive and friendly, and generally love being around people. You’ll also need to put yourself in the shoes of your typical customer in order to work out what they want.
  • A genuine love of your product – If you’re working in clothing retail, for example, you need to really love fashion. Buying is an ideal job for people with a genuine passion for what their company does.
  • An understanding of budgeting and finance – As a Buyer, you’ll have to work to a budget and justify all purchases. A good understanding of money and budgeting is essential.
  • Digital and IT skills – you’ll use email a lot, and will also need to use software such as Excel, use the internet to carry out research, and possibly get to grips with specialist software.
  • Creativity – You’ll need to think outside the box and come up with plenty of fresh ideas!
  • Flexibility – You’ll need to think on your feet, respond quickly to developments as they happen, and probably occasionally work unsociable hours including some travelling. Flexibility is a must.

Vocational qualifications and work experience will help you build these skills over time.

What do retail buyers do?

Being a Retail Buyer is all about making sure that the things your customers want to buy are on the shelves of your store. Some of the things you might do day to day include…

  • Meeting with suppliers to see new products and negotiate deals.
  • Attending events such as trade fairs to find new products.
  • Negotiating prices, orders, discounts and deals – as well as details such as delivery dates.
  • Keeping an eye on, and reacting to, what your competitors are doing.
  • Working closely with team members including designers, marketing staff and merchandisers.
  • Making and sticking to budgets
  • Getting and analysing customer feedback
  • Keeping up to date with trends, market news and important developments.
  • Presenting your ideas or purchases to senior teams and management.
  • Delivering training or information on new products to front-line staff.
  • Tracking and analysing sales figures.

Your first steps into retail buyer jobs

Jobs like these are advertised under different job titles. When you’re looking on job boards, look for the following types of job:

  • Retail buyer apprenticeship
  • Trainee retail buyer
  • Assistant retail buyer

All these types of job can be a good match for your skills.

Useful organisations and links for retail careers

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