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Become a Buyer for a Major Department Store: How-To Guide

Learn how to become a department store buyer. Research the education and career requirements, licensure and experience required for starting a career in retail purchasing.

Should I Become a Department Store Buyer?

Department store buyers are responsible for purchasing the goods and products that are sold in stores. These products can range from clothing and accessories to sporting goods and furniture. Buyers must find the best products for the lowest prices. Specific duties include evaluating inventory, researching new suppliers and traveling to trade shows. Overtime work is common and an assertive personality is necessary to negotiate prices with vendors.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent, though a bachelor's degree is preferred
Degree Fields Business, economics or accounting
Experience 3-5 years of experience and/or training
Certification Not required, but available
Key Skills Strong communication and negotiation skills, the ability to meet deadlines
Salary (2014) $52,270 per year (Median annual wage for wholesale and retail buyers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com (August 2015).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for working as a retail buyer. However, those who wish to advance to management positions must hold at least a bachelor's degree. A degree is also required for certain voluntary certifications.

Individuals can pursue a bachelor's degree program in business, retail or fashion. Students in these programs take courses in sales, management, merchandising, marketing, buying and selling. While a degree in business provides students with the necessary skills to work as buyers, a fashion or retail degree features courses in visual merchandising, fashion trends, fashion inventory and apparel merchandising.

Success Tip:

Gain experience in retail. While pursuing a degree, students can work part-time in a retail position to gain experience. Retail experience is beneficial in understanding the industry and is required for employment as a buyer.

Step 2: Gain Experience as an Assistant Buyer or Purchasing Agent

Before being offered a buyer position, entry-level graduates may need to work as assistant buyers. Workers in this position assist a buyer in the purchasing process. The duties vary depending on the department store and employer, but common duties include managing the flow of samples, sending out purchase orders and coordinating logistics with buyers.

Success Tips:

Develop key skills. In preparation for a career as a buyer, assistant buyers learn about the industry and how to communicate with other professionals in the field. Assistant buyers also have the opportunity to develop fundamental knowledge product and good purchasing, negotiating prices, managing time and solving problems.

Earn voluntary certification. Several professional organizations offer certification for non-management purchasing agents. The American Purchasing Society offers the Certified Purchasing Professional certification. The Association for Operations Management offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional credential.

Step 3: Advance to a Management Position

The BLS states that five years of experience is typically the minimum requirement for moving into purchasing management positions. Experienced buyers can advance to assistant purchasing manager positions and gain additional experience and on-the-job training. Senior management positions include supply manager and purchasing manager.

Success Tip:

Earn advanced voluntary certification. Those who hold a bachelor's degree and have at least three years of management experience qualify to earn the Certified Professional in Supply Management credential.

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