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Supply chain management is the backbone of any type of company. While purchasing functions are often associated with buying supplies, the role of purchasing extends into profitability management. Smart purchasing practices are essential to the bottom line, and purchasing clerks manage the flow of goods and supplies to ensure smooth and cost-efficient business operations.
The majority of a purchasing clerk's work day is spent preparing purchase orders. Many companies use a purchasing clerk as a gatekeeper between the requesting department and the supplier. Departments inform purchasing of their supply needs with a requisition for purchase, and the purchasing clerk prepares a purchase order to send to the supplier. A copy of the purchase order is also provided to the requesting department. Another copy of the purchase order is filed by the purchasing clerk for reconciliation when the order arrives. Purchase orders can also be created without department involvement for items inventoried in the storeroom.
Purchasing clerks contact suppliers and contractors to request bids on projects. Considering cost, quality and other factors, the purchasing clerk makes a decision based on the total value provided by the bidder. The lowest price is not always the best choice, so a purchasing clerk must be knowledgeable about the services and materials included in the bid to know which one will best suit the company.
In addition to filing purchase orders, purchasing clerks keep records of price lists, contracts and shipping details. The purchasing clerk also responds to department and supplier questions about orders. Purchasing clerks often work closely with the receiving department to track order shipments and ensure that all items ordered are delivered. In many cases, the items from a single purchase order may be delivered in multiple shipments, so it is necessary to keep accurate records to know that no products are missing. Purchasing clerks will also handle returns when incorrect items are shipped.
Many purchasing clerks use computer-based inventory management systems to monitor the cost of goods. The purchasing clerk must be highly familiar with the software. If purchase orders are not created from the inventory system, he or she needs to manually enter the information into the inventory management system. Reports can be printed from the system to identify usage trends or theft. The purchasing clerk may also use inventory reports to perform price audits or seek out substitutions.
Heather Lacey is a freelance writer who has been specializing in print and Web articles since 2008. She is a regular contributor to "Go Gilbert!," "Scottsdale Health Magazine" and other local publications. Lacey has a professional background in hospitality management and studied journalism at Phoenix College.