Purchasers, also known as buyers or purchasing agents, buy supplies for use by their own organizations or goods to resell to customers. These professionals use their skills of negotiation and persuasion to find the best deals. They typically work full-time from offices, with occasional overtime, but may travel to supplier locations around the country or world.
A purchasing job starts with research. Purchasers must be familiar with what’s out there, what it costs, and how it can benefit the company. They gain knowledge by scouring catalogs and industry journals, going to conferences, browsing online databases, visiting supplier plants and interviewing vendors. Purchasers look for the best combination of quality, price, payment terms and delivery speed. They then negotiate contracts and policies with suppliers. They also monitor deliveries to ensure compliance with contracts. If goods are defective or unacceptable, they contact vendors to work out concessions and solutions.
Responsibilities of purchasers vary by their job type and product specialty. Wholesale and retail buyers focus on resale goods for consumers. For large companies, such as department stores, they may specialize in particular product lines, such as toys or furniture. Farm product specialists concentrate on agricultural goods for processing or resale, such as grain or tobacco. Non-farm product specialists focus on supplies needed by an organization to function, such as computer paper, pens or factory equipment. Finally, purchasing managers hire and train purchasing agents, and oversee their activities. They set purchasing goals and standards, and define the best ways to reach those goals.
Product knowledge, self-confidence and interpersonal skills are necessary to negotiate the best contracts with a supplier. Purchasers must be good with math so they can compare quantities and prices from different sources. They must be able to carefully analyze the advantages and disadvantages of different vendors and contract terms, and be able to choose the best option so products come in at the scheduled time and under the proposed budget. Many purchasers document their expertise by getting certifications from national organizations, which have varying requirements. For example, the Certified Professional in Supply Management certification demands at least three years of supply management experience plus a bachelor’s degree.
Education and Outlook
A small shop may accept purchasers with a high-school diploma, but a large factory might require that applicants for purchasing jobs have a bachelor’s degree. Technical companies, such as computer hardware manufacturers or medical instrument distributors, prefer purchasers with a technical degree, such as in computer technology or engineering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for purchasers are expected to grow by 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the average for all occupations. The biggest gains will be for wholesale and retail buyers of non-farm products at 9 percent.