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- What's it all about?
Like shoppers, retailers make purchases to satisfy needs. A retail Buyer purchases products to profitably resell to customers.
The role of the Buyer can be extensive, including pricing, merchandising and promotional functions. A good Buyer needs, effectively, to assimilate large volumes of information, be highly competent in the mathematical appraisal of suppliers' terms and performance indicators, and also be an effective communicator and negotiator.
The structure within a buying team is developed to suit the size and the structure of the retail operation, the ranges of products sold and the strategic focus of the company. For example, a chain of largely homogeneous DIY stores may be best served by a strongly centralised buying function, whereas a diverse grouping of department stores may need to allow limited buying at branch level.
Retailers specialising in staple goods in steady demand, such as branded groceries, will focus the buying operations upon the negotiation of the best possible terms. Those specialising in high fashion goods will be no less interested in terms but will also have to take on board the task of forecasting demand in areas where sales can fluctuate violently.
Buying within the larger retail organisations is organized into product categories such as men's outerwear, men's tailoring, ladies' tailoring etc. A retailer must also decide how much of the buying function is undertaken internally and how much to rely on outside agencies.
One of the Buyer's initial tasks is to determine the order quantities. At least part of the responsibility for sales forecasting and stock decisions rests with the retail Buyer. In a small retail organisation the Buyer may in fact have complete responsibility for these functions, but in a larger company, Merchandisers and those responsible for physical distribution take full responsibility.
For example, the Merchandiser may be responsible for estimating/forecasting sales and required stock levels within defined commodity groups, e.g. Men's Suits. The Buyer then translates these projections into actual purchases and may hold responsibility for the allocations between specific sizes, colours and styles.
The next stage for the Buyer is product and supplier decisions. The complexity of the decision is enormous. Buyers must frequently evaluate new product ideas and constantly re-evaluate the existing product assortment. There are three main sorts of buying decisions:
1. Product Development
When a new product is needed; requiring information, setting product specifications, evaluating sources of supply and establishing an order routine, e.g. high fashion.
2. Repeat Buying
A routine repurchase that may have been done numerous times before and does not need further research e.g. socks.
3. Continuity Buying
When the old product is reassessed, for example, the product is the same but the colour, size etc. may be slightly changed, e.g. tailoring, men's trousers.
Once this has been established, it has to be decided which supplier/s should be used. Decisions on choosing a supplier should be based on:
- Past Experience
- Marketing reputation of the supplier
- Price in comparison to competitors
- Ability of the supplier to cope with expected volume
- Flexibility in the production, design and delivery
- Ability to develop and produce new products.
Where do I start?
As a Buyer's Assistant or a Buyers Administrator, working on a specific product area with a Buying Team.
What will I be doing?
You will be supporting your team by setting up and monitoring the Critical Path for each product item in the range right through from product development stages to delivery into the warehouse. You might also gather information about the market, looking at competitors and customers to feed into the buying decisions. You will learn about the buying process and how to build a balanced and commercial range. As a BA you will be expected to carry out routine administrative work, be a team player in order to support the team.
Have I got what it takes?
It is essential that you have:
- a fashion related degree
- some retail experience
and it is an advantage to have done some work experience in a Head Office environment.
There are some further skills that you should be able to show evidence of, and these are outlined below.
You need a sound idea of fashion trends and a good understanding of what is going on in the high street. You should have an intuitive sense of what looks from the catwalk can be translated into viable stories for the high street market.
From an early stage, you will be on the phone negotiating with suppliers trying to get the best deals on price and quality. You should be articulate and be able to think on your feet. As internal communication is equally important you must be confident enough to justify any decisions you make to colleagues at all levels including senior members of the buying team as well as the whole merchandising team.
You will often be working under significant time pressure and it is important that you are able to remain calm and focused in these conditions. You must be able to prioritise effectively.
Although you must be willing to take responsibility for bad decisions that you may make, you need to take criticism well and learn from your mistakes, not dwell on them.
In buying you need to have a certain level of enthusiasm for the product area. If you are buying for a high street fashion chain, you need to eat, live and breathe fashion. You should keep up to speed with current trends by reading the relevant trade press, by reading fashion magazines and by keeping an eye on the high street.
Where do I go from here?
Once you've gained the basic training and understand how the buying process works there will be opportunities to progress and take on further responsibilities. All large retail organizations will offer strong candidates the opportunities to progress to Assistant Buyer and Buyer levels. You could be responsible for sales and budgetary control of a multi-million pound department and managing a team of people all within five years of joining.
If you would like to speak to someone about applying for a buying job or for a complete list of our nationwide buyers jobs, please get in contact!
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