Retail and Wholesale Buyers - What They Do

Retail and wholesale buyers buy merchandise for resale by retail or wholesale establishments and are usually responsible for the merchandising operations of retail or wholesale establishments. Retail and wholesale buyers who are supervisors and those who are assistants are included in this unit group.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Purchase merchandise for resale by retail or wholesale establishments
  • Review requirements of establishment and determine quantity and type of merchandise to purchase
  • Study market reports, trade periodicals and sales promotion materials and visit trade shows, showrooms, factories and product design events
  • Select the merchandise which best fits the establishment's requirements
  • Interview suppliers and negotiate prices, discounts, credit terms and transportation arrangements
  • Oversee distribution of merchandise to outlets and maintain adequate stock levels
  • Establish and maintain contact with suppliers
  • May supervise the work of other retail buyers.
  • Retail and wholesale buyers may specialize in a particular merchandise line.

Job titles

  • appliance buyer
  • assistant buyer
  • buyer - retail
  • clothing buyer
  • food buyer
  • chief buyer
  • merchandiser
  • produce buyer
  • beverage taster and buyer
  • buyer - wholesale
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is required.
  • A university degree or college diploma in business, marketing or a related program is usually required.
  • Previous work experience in retail or wholesale establishments is usually required.
  • Supervisors and senior buyers require experience in the occupation supervised or in a particular merchandise line.

Essential Skills


  • Read brief e-mail and notes about operational matters such as clarification of purchase orders and confirmation of meeting times and agendas. (1)
  • Read information on product labels and in forms. For example, they read instructions and directions for safe use on product labels. They read descriptions of new product features and merchandising methods in special order forms and new product information sheets. (2)
  • Read catalogues and other promotional materials. For example, they read information about products' quality, pricing structures and packaging in suppliers' catalogues and brochures. (2)
  • Read longer e-mail and letters from suppliers and customers. For example, they may read e-mail from suppliers about major changes to product lines and administrative procedures. They may read e-mail from customers requesting special products and complaining about poor quality products. (2)
  • Read bulletins, memos and notices about a variety of subjects. For example, a music buyer reads weekly bulletins about newly-released products and analyses of overall sales. A buyer of pharmaceuticals reads memos from management about new sales campaigns and changes to agreements with suppliers. A buyer for a large department store chain reads a notice from the chain's legal department about new laws regulating car seats that may affect the type and quantity of nursery products stocked by the store. (3)
  • Read trade publications related to the products they buy and sell. For example, clothing buyers read a variety of women's fashion magazines such as Flare and Elle. Buyers for music stores may read Rolling Stone, Blender and Q Magazine. (3)
  • May read text for flyers and catalogues to check its accuracy. For example, they may read flyers to check that descriptions of products agree with information provided by suppliers and does not contain material that may mislead consumers. (3)
  • Read policies and procedures. For example, they consult a variety of suppliers' policy and procedure manuals to check the ordering, invoicing and return procedures required by suppliers. They read their own companies' policy and procedure manuals for guidance in matters such as negotiating contracts with new suppliers. (3)
  • Read contracts that specify terms of agreement with suppliers governing payments, discounts, rebates, returns, supply volumes, transportation surcharges, and any special incentives and extra fees. They may review lengthy contracts to check that the terms are as negotiated. (3)

Document use

  • Scan product labels for data such as ingredients, date of packaging, brand names, titles, artists, styles, colours and source countries. They also interpret icons on labels which convey information such as cleaning instructions, storage requirements and hazard warnings. (1)
  • Locate data in a variety of forms such as invoices, shipping receipts, special order request forms and new product information sheets. They obtain data such as universal product codes, product descriptions and specifications, prices, discounts, taxes, and comments about suppliers and merchandising methods. (2)
  • Complete forms such as purchase orders, damaged goods claims and inventory change forms. They enter data such as product codes, specifications, prices and descriptions. (2)
  • May interpret graphs of sales data. For example, they may interpret graphs of sales volumes for different items over months and seasons. They may interpret graphs on order fill rates to detect trends in purchasing efficiency and supplier service quality. (3)
  • May interpret scale drawings and assembly diagrams. For example, they may interpret floor plans of stores and assembly diagrams of display fixtures to determine if the fixtures will fit in the stores and will display products effectively. (3)
  • Locate data in lists and tables. For example, they locate data such as dates, quantities, prices and specifications in order schedules, inventory lists and stock and sales reports. They may navigate large tables that list thousands of products and contain information expressed as numbers, codes and specialized abbreviations. For example, a buyer may scan an inventory report to see when products were ordered and received, quantities of stock on hand, number of months current orders will last, and reasons for stock shortages. (3)


  • Write reminders about tasks to be completed. For example, they may write notes to remind themselves to look up inventory levels for particular products and to mark certain product prices down. (1)
  • Write e-mail about operational matters. For example, they may write e-mail to notify sales staff of changes in products and prices. They may e-mail suppliers about procedures for the delivery and unloading of products. (2)
  • Write product descriptions and merchandising instructions. For example, they may describe the positive features of new product lines in product information sheets for their organizations' sales staffs. They may also write pieces for their companies' bulletins that outline the sales target for products under promotion and explain changes to store fixtures for special displays. (3)
  • Write letters to suppliers. For example, they may write letters to discuss terms of agreement for the purchase of products, complain of problems with product quality and delivery and negotiate compensation. (3)
  • May write procedures for inclusion in their companies' policy and procedural manuals. For example, they may write the procedures for placing orders among departments within their companies and procedures for recording changes in the status of products and suppliers. (3)
  • May write lengthy reports to management. For example, buyers may write periodic reports for submission to their companies' presidents and boards of directors. They present analyses of sales for different products, summaries of promotional activities and recommendations for changes in product lines and merchandising methods. (4)


Money Math

  • Calculate amounts on purchase orders, invoices and notices of returns. For example, a food buyer for a golf club calculates purchase order amounts for concession items and invoice amounts for special events. The buyer calculates amounts for quantities of products at unit price rates, applies volume discounts and adds appropriate taxes for food and alcohol products. A department store buyer checks that totals on notices of returns are correct given the number of units being returned, cost per unit and applicable shipping and handling fees. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Calculate retail prices by applying specified markup percentages to wholesale prices. They may adjust markups according to market conditions. For example, they may reduce markups on products to match competitors' prices and raise markups on products that are in heavy demand. (2)
  • Compare the costs of purchasing options which differ in prices, discounts, rebates, shipping charges, customs fees and currency exchange rates. They also consider the cost implications of suppliers' policies for minimum and mixed orders. For example, a buyer may find that suppliers who offer low product prices also require large minimum orders of unmixed products which may increase costs due to slow inventory turnover. (3)
  • Create and monitor purchasing schedules. They may order different products at daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual intervals to maintain adequate stock to meet customer demand. They factor in the times needed for processing and delivery of orders and also schedule orders to take advantage of promotions by suppliers. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • May measure products using common measuring tools. For example, a clothing buyer uses a tape measure to check if the neck, waist and inseam sizes of items are consistent with the items' size labels. A food buyer weighs expensive items such as lobsters. (1)
  • May calculate product storage and display capacities. For example, a buyer for a music store chain uses measurements of products, display fixtures and store floor spaces to calculate the quantities of products that can be displayed per fixture and per store. A pharmaceuticals wholesale buyer determines whether products fall within warehouse weight restrictions and if they need to be repackaged to fit on distribution centre shelving. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • Monitor inventory levels. For example, they compare quantities available in stock with quantities on order to identify stock shortages. (1)
  • Analyze sales and inventory data for trends in sales and product movement. They may analyze monthly sales for current and past years to identify seasonal variations in sales. They may also calculate year-to-date sales, average inventory levels, inventory turnover rates and order fill rates to diagnose purchasing and distribution problems. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate the time required to have orders processed and delivered. Their estimates depend on shipping distances and previous experience with suppliers. (2)
  • Make forecasts or sales projections to determine the quantities of products to purchase. They analyze existing stock levels and products' sales histories to build inventories that move quickly with minimum returns. They may have only limited data on new products. They also consider unpredictable factors such as changes in weather, consumer tastes and commodity prices that can affect sales. (3)

Oral communication

  • May listen to messages and respond to prompts on automated telephone ordering and shipment tracking systems. (1)
  • Communicate with co-workers, customers and suppliers about operational matters. For example, they may instruct support staff how to navigate inventory filing systems. They may obtain feedback from store staff about the success of products and suggest ways to enhance sales. They may discuss budgets and forecasts with financial planners and inventory analysts and collaborate with marketing staff on the production of promotional materials. They also discuss product features, purchase orders and delivery procedures with customers and suppliers. (2)
  • Report regularly to supervisors and managers about inventory and sales. They may explain why sales volumes and fill rates are not as expected and persuade management of the need for changes to purchasing strategies. (2)
  • Negotiate contracts and resolve disputes with suppliers. They negotiate terms with new suppliers and changes to agreements with existing suppliers. They try to obtain terms that will be profitable and promote smooth relationships. They may discuss problems such as delivery delays and poor product quality, determine who is at fault and negotiate compensation. (3)
  • May make presentations to management and colleagues. They may make presentations to their companies' boards of directors on the successes and challenges of sales and promotional activities. They may also talk about their work to colleagues at sales meetings. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Find that products cannot be accommodated in store display fixtures and warehouse shelving. They collaborate with retailers and warehouse staff to develop solutions such as repackaging products and rearranging fixtures. (2)
  • Discover inconsistencies in the pricing and coding of products. For example, a buyer for a chain of convenience stores finds that managers of some stores have marked down prices for products. The buyer explains the need for consistency and instructs retailers not to mark down prices independently. A wholesale food buyer receives notification from the warehouse that the universal product codes on products from a supplier are not scanning correctly. The buyer contacts the supplier to trace coding changes and informs warehouse and retail staff of the lot numbers of products affected. (2)
  • Find that shipments do not match purchase orders. For example, retail buyers may receive products of the wrong sizes and styles. Buyers for wholesale distributors may receive complaints from retail dealers about incomplete orders and shipments of damaged products. The buyers contact suppliers and shipping companies to determine the reasons for faulty orders, arrange for alternative shipments and, if needed, negotiate suitable compensation. (2)
  • Experience slow sales. For example, they may find that sales volumes for particular products, departments and stores are significantly lower than for previous years. They investigate the disappointing sales to discover if the declines are due to lower product quality, poor stocking and distribution schedules, ineffective marketing or changing consumer tastes. They develop plans to address the causes including changing product lines and suppliers. (3)
  • Find that suppliers are not performing according to agreed terms. For example, they find that suppliers have raised prices from those originally quoted and are not supplying volumes as specified in agreements. They may find that suppliers to whom they have already sent payments for goods have filed for bankruptcy. They discuss the problems with suppliers to find mutually acceptable solutions and negotiate new terms. They may also seek advice from legal and financial agencies to retrieve payments, obtain needed products and minimize losses. (3)

Decision Making

  • Select suppliers. They consider the products, prices and services offered by each. For example, they may decide to purchase through distributors rather than directly from manufacturers to access larger product range and easier shipping arrangements. They may also choose certain suppliers over others because their staff are more responsive and pleasant to deal with. (2)
  • Set retail prices, sale prices and discounts. For example, a retail buyer may decide to lower prices to clear old stock. A wholesale buyer may decide to pass on greater percentages of suppliers' discounts to retail dealers to retain the retailers' business. The buyers consider the possibility of losing customers and clients to competitors with lower prices and whether the lowered prices will still produce acceptable revenue. (2)
  • May determine the methods for merchandising products. They consider suppliers' suggestions and requirements, store layouts, types of display fixtures available and their own professional experience with customers' responses. (3)
  • May select and modify sales and inventory management systems. For example, a music buyer decides to introduce a new product classification system. The buyer analyzes the needs of various departments, identifies the advantages of a new system and considers the amount of training staff will need to implement the change. (3)
  • Select products to buy and sell. For example, they select new products to place in inventory and choose the types, styles and sizes of products to order. They consider factors such as the type and quality of products available, the sales histories of similar products and the effects of consumer trends and legislation. They may also decide which stores should carry specific products depending on the location, size and customer profile of each store. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Judge the quality of products. They read promotional literature, examine products and packaging, try products out and draw on their own knowledge of particular industries. For example, an office supplies buyer judges the quality of paper by feeling its weight and texture and looking at its colour. A clothing buyer assesses the fabric, stitching and overall finish of garments. (2)
  • Assess the market appeal of products. They analyze sales histories, read trade publications about industry trends and ask sales staff and customers for feedback about products. For example, a food buyer judges the appeal of different types of wines and cheeses. A buyer for a music store chain grades thousands of titles according to criteria such as sales volumes, musical significance and current trends in music production and consumption. (2)
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of marketing methods. They draw on their experience with customer responses to assess the effectiveness of various materials and display methods. They analyze sales data before and after promotional campaigns. For example, a clothing buyer looks at displays to judge if garments are attractively displayed and will draw maximum customer attention. The buyer also analyzes data on sales of featured and related products to identify possible effects of the displays. (2)
  • Assess the benefits and drawbacks of carrying particular products. For example, they may weigh the drawbacks of carrying products with low sales against the benefits of maintaining the credibility of their companies as knowledgeable and reliable carriers of complete product lines. (2)
  • Evaluate the quality of service provided by suppliers. They analyze information about the quality of suppliers' products and reliability of deliveries by reviewing warehouse reports, shipping records and customer complaints. They also consider the knowledge and responsiveness of suppliers' representatives. They may complete formal evaluations at regular intervals to inform the selection process for their organizations' favoured suppliers. (3)
  • Assess the merits and drawbacks of contracts with vendors. They analyze the match between their markets and the vendors' product lines. They consider price quotes and terms for payments, discounts, rebates, defectives allowances, transportation fees and advertising expenses. They also consider the policies on returns and the level of service vendors will provide. For example, buyers may consider whether vendors agree to supply to numerous distribution centres across the country. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Retail and wholesale buyers organize their own tasks to ensure that products are delivered on time and in adequate quantities. They plan their schedules to complete daily tasks such as reviewing stock reports and completing purchase orders. They also organize their schedules to meet periodic deadlines such as the preparation of monthly promotional publications, and quarterly and annual forecasts. They fit in meetings with suppliers, co-workers and managers, and plan their schedules to accomplish work that arises from the meetings. They must frequently reorganize their tasks to respond to enquiries and address operational problems. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Retail and wholesale buyers may coordinate the work of support staff such as inventory analysts and purchasing clerks. They may also organize the work of staff at retail outlets when implementing marketing strategies. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember frequently used codes and abbreviations. For example, they may remember dozens of product and vendor codes and abbreviations used in catalogue tables and purchase order forms.
  • Remember the names and characteristics of different suppliers. For example, they remember which suppliers need reminders to confirm purchase orders and which tend be late with deliveries.
  • Remember the characteristics of different products and marketing techniques. For example, they remember which products sell well at particular locations and which merchandising techniques work best at different times of the year.

Finding Information

  • Find information about products and suppliers by consulting product catalogues, searching suppliers' web sites and speaking with sales representatives, co-workers, colleagues and managers. (2)
  • Find information about competitors' marketing strategies by reading industry publications and doing comparison shopping at competitors' establishments. (2)
  • Find information about stock and the status of orders by consulting their companies' inventory management systems and speaking with sales and warehouse staff, suppliers and retailers. They may also walk through warehouses to survey stock on hand. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use graphics software. For example, they may download photographs from digital cameras, access images from clipart graphics galleries for insertion in other documents and create slide presentations that include imported graphs and tables. (2)
  • May use bookkeeping and billing software. For example, they may use programs such as the Merchandise Planning System to obtain information about sales, purchases, markups and inventory. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they exchange e-mail about orders, delivery schedules and merchandising methods with co-workers, suppliers and customers. They may attach reports and photos and send email to multiple recipients. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they search suppliers' web sites for information about products. They may use secure web sites to place purchase orders and access information about their accounts. They may also use their organizations' Intranet read internal memos and carry out other computer use tasks. (2)
  • May use other computer and software applications. For example, they may use automated telephone ordering systems such as Telxon to place orders and may use personal organizers to manage contact information and job task schedules. (2)
  • Use word processing software. For example, they write letters, memos and reports using basic text editing and page formatting functions. They may also insert photos and graphics from other programs, use colours, borders and font selection to enhance documents, and use mail merges to send letters to groups of co-workers, suppliers and customers. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they may use Access, SQuirreL, Data Warehouse, Retek and databases in other sales management systems to enter and access sales and inventory data, and to complete and review documents such as purchase orders and price changes. They may also create and run queries for information such as sales by vendor, product, category, department and time period. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they may create spreadsheets for tracking inventory, planning ordering schedules and calculating costs for purchases. They may develop formulae, set up multiple workbooks and worksheets and generate graphs of data. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Although retail and wholesale buyers perform some of their work independently, they also work in teams with co-workers to ensure effective forecasting, product distribution and marketing. For example, they may collaborate with comptrollers and other buyers to make forecasts and build inventories that are compatible with their companies' sales strategies and budgets. They may coordinate the work of inventory analysts and warehouse staff in handling orders and returns. They may also collaborate with marketing and retail staff to plan and implement sales promotions and marketing campaigns. (3)

Continuous Learning

Retail and wholesale buyers engage in continuous learning to stay abreast of new products and market trends, and to operate new automated sales and inventory management systems. They learn through daily work experience, by reading trade publications and by talking with co-workers, colleagues and suppliers. They may attend industry events related to their product lines such as fashion shows, wine tasting gatherings, pharmacy distribution management conventions and office supplies trade shows. They learn how to operate new computer systems by reading software manuals, obtaining instructions from co-workers and participating in training sessions provided by equipment and software suppliers. (2)