Buyers work for a wide variety of businesses, both wholesale and retail, as well as for government agencies. Employers range from small stores, where buying may be only one function of a manager's job, to multinational corporations, where a buyer may specialize in one type of item and buy in enormous quantities.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of May 2018 there were approximately 432,000 wholesale and retail buyers employed in the private sector across the United States. The following industries are the top employers of buyers: management of companies and employers; federal executive branch; merchant wholesalers, durable goods; merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods; and aerospace product and parts manufacturing.
Most buyers find their first job by applying to the personnel office of a retail establishment or wholesaler. Because knowledge of retailing is important, buyers may be required to have work experience in a store.
Most buyers begin their careers as retail sales workers. The next step may be head of stock. The head of stock maintains stock inventory records and keeps the merchandise in a neat and well-organized fashion both to protect its value and to permit easy access. He or she usually supervises the work of several employees. This person also works in an intermediate position between the salespeople on the floor and the buyer who provides the merchandise. The next step to becoming a buyer may be assistant buyer. For many department stores, promotion to full buyer requires this background.
Large department stores or chains operate executive training programs for college graduates who seek buying and other retail executive positions. A typical program consists of 16 successive weeks of work in a variety of departments. This on-the-job experience is supplemented by formal classroom work that most often is conducted by senior executives and training department personnel. Following this orientation, trainees are placed in junior management positions for an additional period of supervised experience and training.
Buyers are key employees of the stores or companies that employ them. One way they advance is through increased responsibility, such as more authority to make commitments for merchandise and more complicated buying assignments.
Buyers are sometimes promoted to merchandise manager, which requires them to supervise other buyers, help develop the store's merchandising policies, and coordinate buying and selling activities with related departments. Other buyers may become vice presidents in charge of merchandising or even store presidents. Because buyers learn much about retailing in their job, they are in a position to advance to top executive positions. Some buyers use their knowledge of retailing and the contacts they have developed with suppliers to set up their own businesses.
Get at least some short-term experience in retail sales. It can give you important insights into the nature of consumer preferences and the importance of marketing in shaping those preferences.
Ask contacts who have jobs in retail sales or other aspects of sales and marketing what they have learned from their jobs.
Examine the Career sections of the Web sites of organizations like the American Purchasing Society or the Institute for Supply Management and see what they have to offer to help you plan a career path as a buyer.
Consider that all the things you think about when you are thinking about making a new purchase—such as price, quality, availability, reliability, and customer service—are also things that a buyer must consider as part of that job.
Consider specializing as a buyer in the areas of either health care or computer systems design, and their related services firms. These two areas are projected to show more growth than other sectors in buying or purchasing.