Buyers and Merchandisers are responsible for ensuring that shops and retail outlets have the stock they require to thrive. As such, they have a big influence on high streets and supermarkets. As a team, Buyers and Merchandisers need to be forward-thinking and always planning ahead to make sure that products are selling and customers are happy.
While Buying and Merchandising does not require a specific degree, a Business, Marketing or Fashion degree would be advantageous. Experience in the retail industry and extensive product knowledge are also impressive to employers.
How to Get a Job in Buying
Buyers are responsible for making sure stock is of good quality and suitable for the company. Certain key skills are required:
1. Excellent communication skills
Communicating with suppliers, merchandisers or senior colleagues is a vital part of a Buyer's work. Candidates must be able to show employers that they are effective communicators able to speak confidently about ideas for products and ranges.
2. Product knowledge
Buyers must have a good grasp of the products their company buys and sells. For example, a supermarket chain buyer would need an understanding of seasonal food, food importation, and shelf life, while a high street clothing outlet buyer would need to be aware of fashion trends, seasonal planning, and pricing. While much of the knowledge can be picked up on the job, candidates should emphasize any previous experience or expertise.
3. Brand understanding
Understanding the brand means having a good grasp of the customer's expectations, their tastes and how the brand fits into the market. It is essential for Buyers to be able to determine which products and goods will generate profits. Candidates should think carefully about a company's branding, as a demonstrable knowledge of the brand is important in applications and interviews.
Buyers often work on many tasks at once, dealing with different ranges at different stages of the buying process. Candidates should be able to show evidence of their organisational skills and their ability to multi-task in demanding situations.
How to Get a Job in Merchandising
Merchandisers work with Buyers to determine which products are needed for upcoming seasons, establish pricing and presentation, and research trends and histories.
Candidates wanting to work in Merchandising should display the following:
1. Business sense
Merchandising is target and profit driven. Candidates must demonstrate a keen business sense with regards to handling Buyers, managing the cost of production and supply chains, and determining store branding and layout - all of which require planning, organisation and Commercial Awareness.
2. Numeracy skills
Merchandising involves figure analysis, reviewing sales histories, and budgeting, so numeracy skills are important. Candidates should be comfortable working with numbers, and have at least a GCSE in Maths.
3. Analytical skills
Merchandisers must be able to not only understand statistical research, but take it further to extrapolate trends and produce reports and recommendations for Buyers. Evidence of analytical skills obtained in degrees such as History or Economics should be emphasized in applications.
4. Interpersonal skills
Teamwork and diplomacy are important skills for Merchandisers, as they will often have to liaise with Buyers. Graduates can provide examples of their interpersonal skills by highlighting time spent playing on a university sports team, engaging in a student society, or experience working in customer service.
Buying Case Studies
You need drive, ambition and passion to succeed...
The Employer - Annie Jones (Recruitment Co-ordinator - Next)
Name: Annie Jones
Job Title: Recruitment Co-ordinator - Next
What competencies do you like to see in candidates?
We are looking for an awareness of the job role and a real drive to succeed in the profession along with problem solving skills, product skills and the ability to work in a team and communicate clearly at all levels. Also, you need to have an awareness of trends, but it is something you can learn. You can pick up what trends are for each season providing you've got an analytical mind, numeracy skills and an understanding of the customer. We can teach you the principles of Merchandising, but you do need those basic skills to build upon. You do need to have an awareness of who our competitors are as well. We are looking for you to be enthusiastic in your approach, have done your research on the company and to ask questions. Employers always want new recruits to be keen and enthusiastic.
Can you talk us through the application process?
The first part is the online application form, which involves candidates answering 10 questions covering the company. Part two is online ability testing, which is a numerical and verbal reasoning test. Part three requires you to upload a video interview. Part four is a telephone interview which lasts approximately 25 minutes. The final stage is a half day assessment centre at Head Office. During the day there are two tasks, first a one on one interview followed by a group exercise.
What academic qualifications do you require?
We do not screen on academic qualifications, and accept applications from all degree disciplines. The only mandatory requirement is a GCSE in Maths and English at Grade C or above. We believe that if you can successfully get through our recruitment process, then you are suitable for the role.
What is the main piece of advice you would give a graduate entering the sector?
The biggest piece of advice that we would offer is to do your research! Make sure that you are fully aware of the job role but also understand the company and the marketplace. This applies to any scheme that you apply for. Throughout the application process take all opportunities to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role. Specifically for the Trainee Merchandiser role at Next, you need to understand the customer, be analytical and also you've got to have an awareness of fashion and trends. You also need drive, ambition and passion to succeed
What's the main challenge graduates face when they start?
Sometimes trainees are not completely aware of the requirement for them to drive their own development and that they need to continually push themselves to succeed. Our training scheme is well renowned for equipping our Trainees with a fantastic skill set in Merchandising and for supporting them as much as we can. This is done through our courses which deliver the principles of Buying and Merchandising.
The Employee - Jessica Geeson (Trainee Merchandiser - Next)
Name: Jessica Geeson
Job Title: Trainee Merchandiser - Next
University: University of Warwick
Course: French & Italian Studies (4yr)
Graduation Year: 2012
How did you find your graduate job in Merchandising?
I finished university in July and went travelling for six weeks because I knew it would be the only chance to do it. Then I started applying for jobs as soon as I got back and was working at Next less than a month later. I went for the interview and thought there's no way I'm not going to get this job because I need it! I didn't know there was a job that combined my favourite things in fashion, trends and numbers. Next now promote the Trainee Merchandiser role as a mixture of those things.
Why do you think you were successful at Next?
I did a weeks work experience at Aurum Holdings in Leicester in a buying and merchandising role so it linked directly with the Next Trainee Merchandiser scheme. At the assessment centre I was sure to show my excellent teamworking skills. On the assessment day, there was a teamwork task and it's one the assessors really keep an eye on, so I was keen to impress. The skills I gained from learning languages really helped too. It is things like communication skills and going out of my comfort zone.
What do you actually do?
As a trainee, the focus is on you getting to grips with the process of being a merchandiser and learning as much as you can as quick as you can. You've got jobs that relate to this current season, the upcoming season and you've also got jobs relating to the season a year in advance. In-season, or current season, is all about stock management, stock control, putting stock in the right place, making sure you've got enough stock, monitoring sales, rebuys and cancellations. For future seasons, it's more about ranking products, analysis of sales, analysis of attributes and what you want to put in the range.
What skills do you need?
You don't know anything when you start and you have to learn as you go and ask questions when you need. You have to learn really quickly. When you apply, one of the first application stages involves a numerical test. It is quite hard but if you've got Maths GCSE C you should be fine. I showed that I had the confidence to speak up and could present confidently which is a big part of the job and has helped me a lot so far.
What is the best thing about your job?
I think the main thing is feeling like a big part of a massive company like Next. You don't understand how many people work for Next until you get exposure to it. For example, I went on a warehouse visit in Doncaster and it was huge! To see the volume of product was astounding and it really made me realise just how much goes into making Next a successful company.
What is the worst thing about your job?
There is a lot of pressure on getting things done. Another challenging aspect of the job are the working hours. You work flat out all day and often work beyond your contracted hours - you do what you have to do to get the work done. But it is what I expected anyway - Next is a fast moving company, things change all the time and we're here to make money.
What advice would you give to graduates applying to Next?
It's quite a gruelling application process so you have to put time into it and do your research. Once it comes to the assessment centre it's crunch time. If you don't do well in that, you're probably not going to be successful. If you can speak up but are still able to listen, that is a good start.
If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with Next PLC, please take a look at their minisite.