Buyer Job Description - How to Become a Buyer
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What Does a Buyer Do?
The role of a buyer or purchasing officer is to ensure the purchase of all those products and materials that a company needs to keep running efficiently.
Buyers are therefore responsible for planning and managing all company procurements, as well as for coordinating and monitoring all purchasing activities, with the overall aim of optimising inventories, improving storage workflows and processes and reducing costs.
In some companies, buyers may be responsible for purchasing the raw materials needed for production purposes, as well as for buying any materials and/or products needed for the daily operations of a company’s internal departments (e.g. ranging from office supplies to energy supply contracts). People performing this function are more typically known as procurement or purchasing officers. By contrast, wholesale buyers buy merchandise directly from manufacturers and resell it to retailers, while retail buyers typically purchase goods from wholesalers for resale to consumers through retail outlets (e.g. a fashion buyer for a fashion retail brand).
A buyer’s main duty is to plan purchases based on a company’s needs and its supply chain requirements, with the aim of ensuring an efficient procurement process and securing costs savings. Specifically, buyers (or purchasing officers) identify and select potential suppliers, analyze suppliers’ proposals (aiming to obtain the best possible price-quality ratio), qualify and contact selected suppliers, and negotiate purchase terms and supply conditions (including quantities, timeframes, prices, and delivery terms). They are also responsible for entering into purchase contracts, managing orders from an administrative standpoint and for maintaining commercial relations with domestic and international suppliers. Finally, buyers verify compliance with the agreed terms and procedures (e.g. delivery times, product quality, payments), working where necessary together with the quality control department, negotiate claims and returns, monitor stock levels and maintain the company’s supplier records.
A crucial element of the job of a buyer is liaising with suppliers. Buyers need to be able to effectively negotiate for the purchase of goods and services and to obtain the most competitive price without compromising on quality or going over budget. Scouting for new suppliers is a key activity, with buyers regularly visiting trade fairs and exhibitions, i.e. B2B (business-to-business) events in which manufacturers aim to showcase their best products and services.
Buyers also need to have good analytical skills in order to anticipate market and price trends and possess an in-depth understanding of a company’s operational model to be able to anticipate its needs. They also require a strong knowledge of contracting principles and practices and need to be familiar with the technical and production characteristics of the goods or services that are the subject of the negotiations. Buyers are constantly analyzing information from internal departments (production, sales and marketing, logistics), suppliers, the company’s sales network, and the market (competitors, financial and economic data) and making adjustments to the purchasing plan based on the information received.
If a company operates on a project or contract basis, the assigned project buyer will need to plan purchase orders based on the specific material requirements and priorities of the project, working in close coordination with the project manager.
Retail buyers are responsible for purchasing products for resale and therefore need to possess an in-depth understanding of the relevant market. They use sales figures broken down by merchandise category and by brand, analyses of current trends and information regarding competitors’ actions in order to select and purchase products that are aligned with consumers’ tastes and preferences and to make sales forecasts. As part of their job they work in close contact with Store Managers and Area Managers, producing ‘sell in’ and ‘sell out’ reports for retail outlets and providing support and assistance with restocking and stock control. The duties of a retail buyer may also in some cases include defining plans for the introduction of new items. This may involve, for example, planning merchandising operations and training on new products together with the marketing department and sales managers.
Buyers are employed by manufacturing companies in all production sectors (groceries, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ICT, engineering, automotive, fashion, textiles and many others) as well as in trading companies, distributors, wholesalers and retailers (supermarkets, high street shops, online retailers).
Typically, their workplace is the purchasing office of the company they work for, although they may also be required to make visits to suppliers. Working hours are usually standard full-time.
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Buyer Responsibilities and Duties
Buyers working in a purchasing office carry out a range of duties during a normal working day. Here are some of the most important:
- Planning the purchasing of goods and raw materials based on company supply chain requirements
- Scouting and qualification of best suppliers in terms of quality-cost ratio
- Negotiating economic and contractual conditions, i.e. time, cost, quantities, delivery terms
- Managing purchases and inputting orders and details using management software
- Monitoring deliveries and stock levels
- Producing reports on purchasing department activities
- Analyzing market trends
- Evaluating purchase and introduction of new items
How to Become a Buyer - Education, Training and Requirements
To become a buyer in a purchasing office, some form of business or marketing studies may prove an advantage. Some job vacancies for buyers may require a degree, preferably in Economics or Engineering Management. There are also a variety of master’s degrees and postgraduate training courses on purchasing and logistics that will provide aspiring buyers with a knowledge of key issues, such as procurement management and supply chains, inventory organization and management, integrated logistics, distribution, administration and management control.
In addition, buyers need to have good IT skills. They should be able to use the most common office automation tools and be familiar with the business management software applications (e.g. SAP) typically used to monitor the status of orders, payments and deliveries, manage administrative procedures relating to purchases and to monitor suppliers.
Candidates are also often required to have a knowledge of foreign languages, as this may be needed when dealing with overseas suppliers and taking part in international trade fairs.
A knowledge of the relevant industry sector and prior experience in a similar role represent additional advantages, which may be valued even more highly than a candidate’s educational qualifications.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Buyer?
The main skills needed by a buyer include:
- Purchasing, inventory and distribution management skills
- Knowledge of the relevant product sector
- Managerial abilities and budgeting, forecasting and cost control skills
- Negotiation skills and ability to close business transactions
- Knowledge of administrative procedures relating to purchase orders
- Knowledge of regulations concerning commercial transactions
- Ability to use principal IT programs and management software applications
- Analytical skills
Career Path and What to Expect
So, what's the career goal of a Buyer?
The career of an aspiring buyer (or purchasing officer) may begin in a company’s commercial, sales or marketing department. More commonly, though, buyers start out in a purchasing office, working as a junior or assistant purchasing officer, where their tasks will typically include delivery and stock control and producing reports.
More experienced buyers, who have shown a talent for identifying and selecting suppliers and handling negotiations (i.e. an ability to obtain the best quality at the lowest price and with the most favourable terms), may advance to a senior buyer role. Senior buyers, who enjoy a greater degree of autonomy and authority, are tasked with ensuring that the procurement process is as efficient as possible. They personally handle negotiations with vendors, manage purchase requests, implement cost reduction and cost sharing initiatives and liaise on a daily basis with company management.
Subsequent career advancements may take the senior buyer into more senior managerial roles, such as that of purchasing director or purchasing manager.
Top Reasons to Work as a Buyer
Buyers play a strategic role in a company, because purchasing, together with logistics and distribution, are among the key levers that management has at its disposal to optimize costs and maximize the efficiency of business processes. Buyers are responsible for ensuring the company they work for always has sufficient levels of products in stock to meet its operational requirements and thus remain competitive and flexible. The work done by the purchasing office is therefore instrumental for the success of a company, which may be a source of great professional satisfaction.
The characteristics of the role are such that a buyer’s working hours tend to be generally fairly stable. In some cases, there may be opportunities for buyers to travel - for example to visit suppliers or to participate in international trade fairs.