The Buyer Role and Responsibilities in Merchandising

Buyers play an important role in the retail industry. They select and order merchandise to be sold. The skill within which they do this directly affects the sales volume of their store and its share of the total retail market.

Buyers may be responsible for buying for a department, an entire store or a chain of stores. It is important that buyers maintain a balanced inventory and a budget agreed upon between themselves and the store or merchandising manager. Although computers help maintain inventory records and analyze customer purchasing preferences and trends, buyers still have to make key decisions concerning style, taste and customer motivations.

Central Buyers work for chain stores and mail order houses. They may be located in divisional headquarters, the parent store of a chain, or in offices in wholesale market areas. Associate or Junior Buyers usually buy specific items for a department or division of a firm which is too large to be served by one buyer. The associate or Junior Buyer assumes responsibility for the specified item purchases but coordinates with the Head Buyer.

Assistant Buyers are responsible for routine aspects of the work. They coordinate stores or departments, supervise personnel and maintain sales and inventory records.

The responsibilities of a buyer are listed below:

1) Developing the merchandising strategies for the product line, store or organization that he / she is responsible for.
2) Planning and selecting merchandise assortments. This requires a keen understanding of the current market trends and economic developments. At the same time, it requires an understanding of the needs and wants of the target consumers and locating a product to suit these needs.
3) Vendor selection, development and management. Negotiations with vendors for favorable terms and services are a delicate issue handled by the buyers.
4) Pricing the merchandise to achieve the required targets in terms of gross margins.
5) Inventory management – allocation of merchandise to the various retail stores is also an integral part of the functions of the buyer. Hence, a buyer needs to control inventory, which includes not only procurement but also providing the goods as per the needs of the stores, so that under ideal circumstances, there is never a situation when the product is not available in the retail store. In case there is merchandise which is slow moving then mark downs or moving the merchandise to other locations also needs to be finished.

The structure of the merchandise department largely depends on the organizations structure adopted by that particular retail organization.

Many organizations may also have a position known as a Purchase Agent. Purchase agents and buyers commonly focus on routine purchasing tasks, often specializing in a commodity or a group of related commodities such as steel, cotton, grains, fabricated metal products or petroleum products. Purchase agents usually track market conditions, price trends or futures markets.

While job in merchandising or buying is very exciting, the working conditions are often strenuous. Traveling frequently, to visit branch stores and domestic and sometimes foreign market areas is often required.

An awareness of the general economic conditions is also required, which will enable anticipation of consumer buying patterns. Anticipating consumer preferences and ensuring that goods are in stock when they are needed requires resourcefulness, good judgment and self confidence. Buyers must be able to make quick decisions and take risks. Marketing skills and the ability to identify products that will sell are also very important.

In addition, they must keep abreast of style and manufacturing trends, read fashion and trade magazines, follows ads in newspapers and other media, and check retail competitor’s sales activities. The job of buying and merchandising can often call for long hours and tremendous pressure to achieve targets. —