Model at a Nordstrom Fashion Show
|Competencies||Analytical skills, Creativity, Enthusiasm, Judgment, Flexibility (personality)|
In the retail industry, a buyer is an individual who selects what items will be stocked in a store, based on his or her predictions about what will be popular with shoppers. Retail buyers usually work closely with designers and their designated sales representatives and attend trade fairs, wholesale showrooms and fashion shows to observe trends. They may work for large department stores, chain stores or smaller boutiques. For smaller independent stores, a buyer may participate in sales as well as promotion, whereas in a major fashion store there may be different levels of seniority such as trainee buyers, assistant buyers, senior buyers and buying managers, and buying directors. Decisions about what to stock can greatly affect fashion businesses.
Buyers are supported by the garment technologist, merchandisers, and designers. The garment technologist is the technical expert that offers advice on textile engineering and controls the development of samples. The merchandiser aids the buyer in the design of the stock mix, which is a strategy supported by analysis of trends. The merchandiser also manages the budget and directs delivery of stock and stock distribution. The designer offers creative direction and the buyer chooses from product designs spawned by the designer.
They typically specialize in one type of merchandise such as women's dresses. However, in a smaller retailer, a buyer may buy for a larger, less specialized range such as women's casualwear which may include shirts, skirts, pants, and jackets. The larger the retailer, the more specific the product area is for a buyer. Large companies that have a broad range of products will often have separate buying departments for menswear, womenswear, and childrenswear. A buyer at a smaller retailer may buy name brand products while a large company buyer may have the opportunity to be involved in the design and development of the products. A buyer with experience will travel to learn new fashion trends and to visit clothing suppliers.
Assistant buyers play a smaller role in the selection of merchandise since they are still gaining experience. They may help senior buyers with basic aspects of retailing. Assistant buyers may also be in charge of orders and shipments, supervise sales personnel, keeping records, and dealing with customers who are returning or exchanging merchandise.
Buyers work alongside their buyer colleagues because they receive helpful advice from one another. A buyer can have frequent meetings with the buying manager to discuss the development of the range of garments. Buyers also interact often with the merchandising, design, quality control, and fabric technology departments. A buyer will meet with the finance, marketing, and retail sales personnel on a less frequent basis.
Some buyers meet regularly to update each other about price ranges as well as to receive or give advice. Buyers will often travel together so that they can advise one another on ranges and to coordinate ranges. For instance, a buyer for women's jackets will coordinate with the buyer for women's blouses since the two garments are frequently worn and purchased together.
"The Role of the Fashion Buyer" states that one part of a buyer's job is to negotiate prices and details of delivery with the supplier. Since this is an important aspect of a buyer's job, some retailers provide their buyers with negotiation training courses. When the buyer meets with the supplier, the sales executive of the garment manufacturer will submit a "cost price" for a garment. Then the buyer calculates the price that the garment will need to be sold for in order to reach the retailer's mark-up price. The markup price is the difference between the selling price and the manufacturer's cost price. The retail selling price is typically 2.5 or 3 times the price of the manufacturer's cost price. While it may seem like a retailer is making a large profit from this markup, the proceeds are used to cover many costs such as the buyer's salary, store rent, utility bills, and office costs. The markup must be high enough to cover the retailer's expense of "housing" a garment on a rack or a shelf for anywhere from a few days to an entire season, plus the risk that some garments will inevitably have to be marked down to cost to get them out of the store.
Based on how much consumers are willing to pay, buyers can determine the optimum cost price which they should expect to pay. Suppliers take a different approach to the optimum cost price. The suppliers determine the price based on how much it will cost them to produce the garment. The manufacturer's salesperson are typically able to accurately anticipate the price that buyers will expect to pay.
Buyers and suppliers both want to make the largest profits for their companies. The buyers want to buy the garments at the lowest possible price and suppliers want to sell the garments at a high price. Suppliers and buyers must agree on a price and/ financing terms and in some cases they may not agree. If the two cannot agree and the buyer cannot reach a price within the retailer's target margin, the buyer may ask the buying manager for permission to buy the garment at a higher price or else the style may be dropped.
Negotiation with suppliers
One of the main roles of a buyer is to negotiate with the clothing suppliers. Buyers may negotiate with suppliers on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. It is important for a buyer to establish a strong relationship with the suppliers since it will be beneficial to both parties. Suppliers and buyers have the same goal which is to sell as many garments as possible to customers so they must work together to achieve this goal. Buyers rely heavily on suppliers to "enable ranges to be bought successfully".
The buyer must remember that the retailer and manufacturer share similar goals and that the two need to form an honest relationship based on respect and integrity. Buyers not only select clothing, but are also involved in the ordering and delivering of garments. In some cases, the buyers may also be involved in the product development and display processes.
According to Peter Vogt, buyers predict months and in some cases years in advance what accessories and apparel will sell and at what prices. The buyers need to stay current with the fashion industry. Depending upon the item and season, buyers will purchase merchandise 6 months before it sold in stores. Therefore, they must be able to anticipate fashion trends and consumer needs. In order for buyers to anticipate future trends, they familiarize themselves with current merchandise in catalogs and line sheets and travel to seasonal fashion weeks and shows to view new styles. Companies such as Zara have drastically shortened the buying and production time lines. It is also necessary for a buyer to know his/her customers. They can achieve this by viewing sales records and by spending time on the selling floors.
Interaction with internal departments
Fashion buyers interact frequently with other departments within the company to get advice. It is important to have a large fashion range and to achieve that requires team effort. Buyers will coordinate and discuss ideas with the merchandising, marketing, and quality control departments. The internal departments are dependent of one another and they need to work together if the company is to be successful.
Qualities of a successful buyer
There are many qualities that are necessary to be a successful buyer. A few of the qualities are enthusiasm, creativity, imagination, decisiveness, good judgment, and strong analytical skills. Some of these qualities can be obtained from experience and others cannot be taught. The most important qualities that cannot be taught are enthusiasm and self-motivation, all else can be taught on the job. A buyer needs to be flexible because they may be working in the office one day and traveling to another country at short notice. A buyer also needs to be analytical and computer-savvy. Buyers must possess a strong analytical ability because they will have to study past and present fashion trends in order to forecast future trends. Buyers must also be able to work under pressure since they will often find themselves in high pressure situations. If one has some of the above qualities and is willing to learn the rest, they have the potential to become a successful buyer.
Though specialized training is not absolutely necessary, if you want to work in the industry and are confident in your desire, proper training is best. 
A Bachelor's degree in retail, buy, marketing, fashion, business, or related field is preferred for a buyer position. One's major does not necessarily matter if the person is familiar with the fashion industry. It is beneficial if one has retail experience such as the executive training program or a previous sales associate position since it is helpful to have an understanding of the selling floor. The executive training program is sometimes offered by larger retailers and it prepares participants for jobs as assistant buyers and eventually buyers for the company.
Additionally, there are a number of academic textbooks that cover the role and its responsibilities. Some of the most popular titles are "Fashion Buying and Merchandising: From mass-market to luxury retail" by Miguel Hebrero, or "Fashion Buying" by David Shaw.
Typical Buyer Salaries
A buyer’s salary can range from $30,000 to $100,000 depending on one’s location, position, experience, and company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004 the average income for a buyer was $42,230.
Advancement in a company depends mainly on performance. Therefore, an assistant buyer can easily work their way up to senior buyer within 3–5 years. Higher levels of management in a company will usually require a graduate degree in business.
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