Buying into the retail trade

NAME: Laura Henderson AGE: 27 PERSONAL: Laura did a BA degree in textiles at Goldsmiths College, London, but although she enjoyed the subject, she wasn t interested in pursuing a long-term career in design. While researching jobs that would relate to her

NAME: Laura Henderson

AGE: 27

PERSONAL: Laura did a BA degree in textiles at Goldsmiths College, London, but although she enjoyed the subject, she wasn't interested in pursuing a long-term career in design. While researching jobs that would relate to her qualifications, she worked in one of her favourite high-street fashion stores.

After developing an interest in buying, Laura asked her current employer and other high-street chains for work experience shadowing their buying team. She then applied to a department store that was advertising for trainees to join its scheme for graduate buyers, which allowed her to gain experience of several different product ranges in the store.

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On completion of the scheme, Laura became an assistant buyer in the women's fashion department, where she selects stock aimed at the middle of the market. She hopes to gain experience across other ranges within the section before applying for a senior buyer's job with the same firm.


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Retail buyers plan, select and purchase merchandise for shops. They assess what they think will sell, considering factors including customer demand, current trends, budget and store policy on goods, then go out and source the things they want, negotiating deals with suppliers that will uphold their employer's standards regarding quality and price. Depending on the size of the company, it may employ more than one buyer - the biggest stores often have teams of people dealing with different goods or different areas within one department, such as fashion.

As well as getting in new stock, buyers will review existing products to make sure they're still turning a profit for the store. When not buying, they're keeping up to date with manufacturing and design trends, which can involve attending trade fairs to find out what the next big things are likely to be, and how current products are evolving. Buyers also need to make sure they're fully aware of customers' ever-varying desires by demanding accurate feedback on their stock and reacting to changes in demand.

Paperwork is the curse of every office-based job, so when not out buying or sourcing stock, buyers can be found writing reports, predicting sales forecasts, and analysing sales figures to illustrate whether what they're purchasing is profitable.


Confidence and an ability to form immediate rapport with people is very important in the role, as buyers are constantly meeting suppliers, manufacturers and customers. To do good deals, you also need to be a good communicator.

The main skill necessary to be effective in the role is negotiation - if you can't get a great price for your raw stock, argue the toss with manufacturers and balance customer needs with those of the firm, you probably won't last long.


Employers often run graduate schemes for buyers, but even if you're not joining a fast-track programme, applicants for this kind of job are usually expected to have a degree. While the subject is not really important, studies in business or a field relating to the firm you want to work for - for example, fashion or food science - can help.

It's also helpful for candidates to have work experience in the field they're applying for. Fashion buyers will benefit from a stint on the store's shop floor, while food buyers may have worked in the processing industry.

Most of the training received will be of the on-the-job variety, with junior buyers teaming up with more experienced staff to meet suppliers and visit trade shows, as well as searching for new products. Bigger companies may offer in-house training courses that will complement anything learned outside the firm, and even offer opportunities to secure business-related qualifications such as an MBA.

Working for a smaller firm may mean you miss out on this kind of formal training, but with fewer staff, there will be more opportunity to learn about related aspects of the business, including marketing, pricing and merchandising.


Financially, purchasing is a healthy area to get into. Trainee buyers can expect a starting salary of around £18,000, rising to £30,000 as their experience and skill level develops. Senior buyers who rise to the level of controller can rake in a very healthy £40,000 or above.

Applicants usually start off as a buyer's assistant, progressing through to junior buyer, assistant buyer and then senior buyer. For the ultra-ambitious, the top step of the company ladder is usually buying controller. Each promotion sees staff take charge of wider ranges, commanding bigger budgets and more important products.


"Travelling around between stores to meet suppliers and going to trade fairs means the hours are often long and pretty tough."


"Selecting fabric, garments and other stock fulfils my creative side, while the deal-making aspect of it stops me from getting bored. It's the perfect marriage of creativity and cutting-edge business."


InRetail website:

Skillsmart Retail Careers website:

British Retail Consortium:

Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply:

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