If you’ve got a passion for fashion, great analytical, decision-making and negotiation skills, a career as a retail fashion buyer might be for you. It’s a career that sounds like fun, and one that’s cloaked in mystery. What do they actually do?
We spoke to Edwina Walsh, Founder of Bamboo Monkey, and former Retail Buyer for Myer and Target department stores. She gave us the inside story, from a typical day to the highs and lows and what it takes to make it in the industry.
What does a retail fashion buyer do?
In a nutshell, retail fashion buyers decide which products stores should sell. They research market trends and monitor fashion forecasts. They are responsible for product development plans and relationship management with vendors. They may also assist with a store’s visual merchandising and product displays.
Day in the life of a retail fashion buyer.
8 – 9 am Review sales data
First up, I will review sales data for the previous week. I look at what worked and what didn’t, and decide on a strategy.
9 –11 am Departmental sales meeting
In the meeting, each team presents their sales results to the Department Head, who reviews what’s working and what isn’t. The best and worst sellers are presented to the team.
Next a strategy is advised to address sales fall-outs or to maximise best sellers. For example, the strategy might involve repeating best sellers or running promotions for slow sellers.
11–12 noon Action sales strategy
Time to action the sales strategy with China or local suppliers. We may book repeat purchases and cancel bad sellers or restyle (for new products).
12 – 2 pm Attend fittings
I meet with our Quality Assurance (QA) Technician to fit garment prototypes of future orders on a live model.
2 – 5 pm Departmental advertising meeting
In the afternoon, I attend the departmental advertising meeting to review upcoming catalogues and departmental promotional activity.
5 – 6 pm Return email/phone calls
At the end of the day I catch up on emails & phone calls.
The highs are an “adrenaline rush.”
Walsh says the excitement of getting it right is a definite high of the job. “It’s an adrenaline rush when you’ve created a product that you believe to be commercial, and in its first week on the floor it gets a 20 per cent sell through*. It’s a great feeling!”
“Buying is very much a gut reaction, you have to make quick decisions all day every day on style, fabric, colours, units, price and most importantly fit and quality.” If any of these elements is wrong sales suffer. “To get them all right consistently takes experience and a great team, but when it works it’s an amazing feeling of pride.”
The lows “from hero, to zero.”
A bad sales week can leave you feeling low, says Walsh. “You wear your heart on your sleeve as a retail buyer. The buck stops with you.
“You are the head of the team, the face of the company. Ultimately a lot can be out of your control. Interest rates could rise, suppressing sales or unseasonal weather can stall new season merchandise.
“Regardless you will still be the one fronting up to explain. Any buyer is only as good as their last weeks’ sales – so the saying “from hero to zero” is appropriate. You have to be very tough and resilient to shoulder the pressure,” she says.
How to become a retail fashion buyer
Walsh says she studied retail buying in New York before returning to Australia to work as a fashion buyer for Myer. It was a meeting with a Myer executive that landed her a dream job. “He asked me to create a concept for a new menswear label. I went back, pitched my concept and he offered me the job.”
Do you have what it takes?
A career as a retail fashion buyer is not for the faint hearted, says Wash. “It’s also not for the rigid and inflexible. You need to be constantly seeking newness and moving forward. There is no room for complacency, only passionate optimism and a burning desire to deliver excitement,” she says.
What’s the next step?
If a career as a retail buyer interests you, Australian Online Courses offers an industry-approved Certificate of Retail Buying . This professional development course will take you one step closer to an exciting career as a retail buyer by teaching you the strategies, skills and knowledge required to purchase retail merchandise, develop buying plans and more.
When you choose Australian Online Courses as your education provider you have access to high-quality course content written by industry experts to enhance your employment opportunities. The courses are delivered exclusively online via our e-Learning system so you study at your convenience with access to administration, tutor and technical support 7 days a week.
* Sell through = Sales / Stock on Hand (BOM) x 100 (to convert to a percentage) or in our example (20 /100) x 100 = 20 percent. Courtesy of The Balance.