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How to become a retail or fashion buyer in the UK: A guide

If you are interested in working in the retail industry but are not yet sure what type of job you are interested in, you might want to think about a possible career as a buyer.

Read on to find the Talk Retail guide on becoming a retail buyer.

What does a retail buyer do?

If a day at the shopping mall is your idea of fun, and if the supermarket shop is the highlight of your week, then a career as a retail buyer might just be perfect for you. Essentially, buyers choose products for retail outlets to sell. A buyer will usually specialise in one particular type of product such as clothing, food or electrical goods.

The job also includes reviewing current merchandise and understanding customer trends and needs in order to make the best choices about current and future products to stock. Buyers find and work with suppliers, negotiate prices to maximise profit, and help to co-ordinate deliveries of products to stores. They must also deal with budgets and sales reports and must pitch their ideas to the management of their organisations.

What training and qualifications are needed?

There are several routes to a career as a retail buyer. If you wish to enter directly into a career as a buyer, it is usually necessary to have a degree in a subject relevant to Retail or Business.

Courses for becoming a buyer

Possible university degree courses for a career as a buyer include:

  • Marketing
  • Fashion Buying and Merchandising
  • Fashion and Business
  • Retail Business Management

Generally, any degree course that gives you experience and grounding in business, merchandising, sales or management is a good choice to help you secure a job in retail buying.

How to become a buyer without a degree

It is possible, however, to become a retail buyer without obtaining a university degree first. This will usually involve starting out in a more junior role such as working on the shop-floor, or working as an assistant buyer.

Working as a visual merchandiser can also lead to a career as a buyer, and can be helpful to gain experience in the field as a buyer will often work closely with employees in merchandising positions. These jobs can help you gain the experience you need to progress in the industry, and it might be worth considering these options if you would prefer to be earning money while you learn and progress.

You might also consider carrying out a retail-based apprenticeship which could then lead to a career as a buyer. If you are particularly interested in being a fashion buyer, you may wish to find a fashion-specific apprenticeship to help you on the path to your career, as this will help you build the specific fashion based experience and skills needed for this job.

Many graduates are particularly interested in becoming a fashion buyer, as this can be quite a glamorous and exciting job for those who want to be a part of the fashion industry.

For more information on the kinds of apprenticeships available, visit: www.apprenticeships.gov.uk/apprentices/browse-apprenticeships

College-based Level 2 Certificate or Level 3 Diploma courses could also help progress you on your way to a career in buying. There are several retail and business-based courses you can choose from.

What skills are needed?

Here are a few desirable skills that potential employers will likely be looking for in a buyer.  Be sure to keep this in mind if you apply for a job as a buyer or if you attend an interview!

  • A passion for retail and sales: It is important to show that you have genuine care and passion for retail, and in particular the types of products that your organisation will be selling.
  • Ability to deal with pressure: You will often have important decisions, to make and will need to show that you are able to cope with making tough choices, and also dealing with any issues that arise, for instance, if a product you choose is not doing well.
  • Analytical and mathematical skills: Budgeting and finance will be a big part of your role, as well as analysing and understanding trends and patterns in the market and understanding supply chains.
  • Business skills and knowledge: This is important as you will have the responsibility of making decisions that will affect your company’s profit margins.
  • Ability to self-manage: This is important as you will likely have a variety of different tasks to juggle at once, and at times your workload will be heavy. You will often be working to tight deadlines and should be able to deliver your work in a timely manner.
  • Good communication skills: Both your writing and speaking must be of a high level as you will have frequent correspondence with suppliers, colleagues and the management of your organisation. You will also be likely to be asked to make presentations to management, and you should be able to do this confidently.
  • Negotiation skills: These are very important in ensuring that you always get the best possible deal on products that you are buying.
  • IT skills: You will most likely need to use email and Excel regularly, and you may also need to use specialist software in some cases.
  • Creativity: You will be expected to come up with new ideas for products to stock, and should also be able to review current products with a fresh and imaginative eye.

Working environment

retail buyerMost buyers work in an office environment, often the head office of their organisation. In the UK, many head offices are based in and around London. Some buyers will work within the store itself, particularly in smaller organisations. Working hours can sometimes be long, especially close to deadlines. You may also be required to attend events such as fairs or retail shows, or perhaps fashion shows if you are working as a fashion buyer. As a buyer, you will usually work closely with merchandisers and with the organisation’s management.

Graduate schemes

If you have carried out a university degree in a related subject, it is possible to enter onto a graduate scheme for retail buying. A number of major retailers in the UK run graduate schemes. Look online to explore the various opportunities available.


A buyer’s starting salary usually ranges between £18,000 and £25,000. More experienced buyers may earn up to £45,000, whilst those in the most senior positions may earn as much as £70,000.


A career as a retail buyer can be extremely exciting and rewarding. A buyer has a large amount of responsibility and must have a lot of knowledge and understanding of retail, business and many related topics in order to be successful in this role. If you think you can manage the pressure well and use your creativity to help ensure your organisation’s success, then you could be very well suited to a career as a retail buyer!

For further industry information and ideas, visit the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply’s website: https://www.cips.org