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Job Description for a Category Specialist

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In the retail world, a category specialist finds, markets and evaluates products or merchandise for a company. As a category specialist, you review products, evaluate suppliers and develop merchandising initiatives. Retail knowledge, computer savvy and communications expertise can get you far in this field; however, a bachelor’s degree is required for most positions.

Big-Picture Look at Responsibilities

Category specialists can be found in all types of retail businesses from clothing to food. These workers examine all aspects of merchandising from evaluating supplies and maintaining inventory records to developing category business plans. As a category specialist, you research current buyer trends and your company's selling philosophy to derive the best merchandise for the cost. You also have a hand in developing selling strategies, marketing products and sales support.

Daily Ins and Outs

In the comfort of an office, category specialists evaluate the prices and quality of suppliers, negotiate purchase prices and terms, manage supplier sources, and analyze price proposals and financial reports. You also conduct performance reviews for suppliers and market reviews, as well as handle supplier service disputes and quality issues. These specialists assist marketing teams with developing product promotions and implement merchandising initiatives. On occasion, you may leave the office to attend trade shows or meetings to contact new suppliers and visit suppliers' plants.

Negation Master

Understanding the art of negotiation and mastery of communication skills are key for category specialists. You need strong analytical skills and the ability to make informed timely decisions. The ability to plan and organize communications and build strategic relationships, as well as a focus on customer service can help you to move up the corporate ladder as a category specialist. To compare prices and research cost-effective supplies, you need strong basic math skills.

The Right Education and Training

While the path to a career as a category specialist isn’t always clear cut, most employers prefer or require you to possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Formal education in fields like business, accounting or economics may be extremely helpful. Equally important is one to five years of work experience, typically in retail or merchandising. Some jobs require the ability to lift 20 or more pounds. While not required, you can also boost your resume by earning voluntary certification through a professional association, such as the American Purchasing Society or Universal Public Procurement Certification Council.


Michigan-based Jennifer Betts has been writing and editing education and career articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared on several educational training websites and blogs. She graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design and a minor in English. Betts’ first writing job was working as a ghostwriter creating list articles for blogs.

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