A retail buyer selects products to be sold in retail outlets.

What does a retail buyer do?

Most buyers specialise in one product type, for example, clothes, homeware or food and drink. You need a clear understanding of your organisation’s customers, the prices they’re willing to pay and the likely demand for products. Reacting to and forecasting market trends and changes are key aspects of the job.

You'd be responsible for one area of an organisation, category or brand – such as footwear, cosmetics, or beers and wines. In some areas, such as fashion and the beauty industry, the work is seasonal with different tasks at certain times of the year.

Typical duties include:

  • analysing trends and consumer buying patterns
  • attending trade fairs or fashion shows to search out new products and suppliers
  • choosing product ranges
  • judging product quality and getting customer feedback
  • placing supplier orders, and negotiating prices and delivery contracts
  • presenting collections and writing reports
  • working closely with retail merchandisers, visual merchandisers, designers and marketing staff
  • reviewing and tracking sales performance figures and competitor activities
  • taking action to maximise sales and minimise losses

What do I need to do to become a retail buyer?

Usually, you start as an assistant buyer, go on to become a junior buyer and work your way up. To go straight into a buying role, you’d probably need a degree in retail or business.

It’s possible to enter without a degree and spend more time learning, doing training and gaining qualifications. For example, this could be in a general retail role where you’d gain experience on the shop-floor, or as a buyer’s administration assistant, where you’d provide support all through the buying cycle.

A few companies in the fashion retail sector offer training schemes specifically for buyers. These tend to be aimed at graduates. Other types of retailers offer general store management training schemes with the option to specialise later on. It’s also possible to enter buying from retail merchandising.

You could find out about working in retail by contacting one of the retail skills shops set up by the National Skills Academy for Retail. These are based in shopping centres and high streets all over the UK.

To get some of the skills needed to work in retail, you could think about doing a relevant Level 2 course at college. You might also start your career with a retail apprenticeship. 

Related skills

  • Analytics
  • Business management
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • IT
  • Numeracy
  • Organisation
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Academic route

  • Degree in retail or business

Vocational route

  • Retail apprenticeship
  • Level 2 Award in Understanding the Retail Selling Process
  • Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Retail Operations
  • Level 2 Certificate in Procurement and Supply Operations
  • Level 2 Certificate/Diploma in Fashion Retail
  • Level 2 Diploma in Retail Skills

Related subjects

  • Business studies

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You would be office-based, but would also travel widely to meet suppliers and attend trade fairs, sometimes abroad. 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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