Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents
Forty-three percent are employed in wholesale trade or manufacturing
Some firms promote qualified employees to these positions,
while other employers recruit college graduates; regardless
of academic preparation, new employees need 1 to 5 years to
learn the specifics of their employerís business.
Overall employment growth is expected to be slower than average.
Opportunities should be best for those with a college degree.
Nature of the Work
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents make up a
key component of a firmís supply chain. They buy the goods and
services the company or institution needs to either resell to
customers or for the establishmentís own use. Wholesale and
retail buyers purchase goods for resale, such as clothing
or electronics and purchasing agents buy goods and services
for use by their own company or organization such as raw materials
for manufacturing or office supplies. Purchasing agents and
buyers of farm products purchase goods such as grain, Christmas
trees, and tobacco for further processing or resale. Purchasing
professionals consider price, quality, availability, reliability,
and technical support when choosing suppliers and merchandise.
They try to get the best deal for their company, meaning the highest
quality goods and services at the lowest possible cost to their
companies. In order to accomplish these tasks successfully, purchasing
managers, buyers, and purchasing agents study sales records and
inventory levels of current stock, identify foreign and domestic
suppliers, and keep abreast of changes affecting both the supply
of, and demand for, needed products and materials.
In large industrial organizations, a distinction often is drawn
between the work of a buyer or purchasing agent and that of a
purchasing manager. Purchasing agents commonly focus on
routine purchasing tasks, often specializing in a commodity or
group of related commodities, such as steel, lumber, cotton, grains,
fabricated metal products, or petroleum products. Purchasing agents
usually track market conditions, price trends, and futures markets.
Purchasing managers usually handle the more complex or critical
purchases and may supervise a group of purchasing agents handling
other goods and services. Whether a person is titled purchasing
manager, buyer, or purchasing agent depends more on specific industry
and employer practices than on specific job duties.
Purchasing specialists employed by government agencies or manufacturing
firms usually are called purchasing directors, managers,
or agents; or contract specialists. These workers
acquire materials, parts, machines, supplies, services, and other
inputs to the production of a final product. Some purchasing managers
specialize in negotiating and supervising supply contracts, and
are called contract or supply managers. Purchasing agents and
managers obtain items ranging from raw materials, fabricated parts,
machinery, and office supplies to construction services and airline
tickets. Often, purchasing specialists in government place solicitations
for services and accept bids and offers through the Internet.
Government purchasing agents and managers must follow strict laws
and regulations in their work, in order to avoid any appearance
of impropriety. To be effective, purchasing specialists must have
a working technical knowledge of the goods or services to be purchased.
Purchasing specialists who buy finished goods for resale are
employed by wholesale and retail establishments, where they commonly
are known as buyers or merchandise managers. Wholesale
and retail buyers are an integral part of a complex system of
distribution and merchandising that caters to the vast array of
consumer needs and desires. Wholesale buyers purchase goods directly
from manufacturers or from other wholesale firms for resale to
retail firms, commercial establishments, institutions, and other
organizations. In retail firms, buyers purchase goods from wholesale
firms or directly from manufacturers for resale to the public.
Buyers largely determine which products their establishment will
sell. Therefore, it is essential that they have the ability to
predict what will appeal to consumers. They must constantly stay
informed of the latest trends, because failure to do so could
jeopardize profits and the reputation of their company. They keep
track of inventories and sales levels through computer software
that is linked to the storeís cash registers. Buyers also follow
ads in newspapers and other media to check competitorsí sales
activities, and they watch general economic conditions to anticipate
consumer buying patterns. Buyers working for large and medium-sized
firms usually specialize in acquiring one or two lines of merchandise,
whereas buyers working for small stores may purchase the establishmentís
The use of private-label merchandise and the consolidation of
buying departments have increased the responsibilities of retail
buyers. Private-label merchandise, produced for a particular retailer,
requires buyers to work closely with vendors to develop and obtain
the desired product. The downsizing and consolidation of buying
departments increases the demands placed on buyers because, although
the amount of work remains unchanged, there are fewer people to
accomplish it. The result is an increase in the workloads and
levels of responsibility for all.
Many merchandise managers assist in the planning and implementation
of sales promotion programs. Working with merchandise executives,
they determine the nature of the sale and purchase items accordingly.
Merchandise managers may work with advertising personnel to create
an ad campaign. For example, they may determine in which media
the advertisement will be placedónewspapers, direct mail, television,
or some combination of all three. In addition, merchandise managers
often visit the selling floor to ensure that goods are properly
displayed. Buyers stay in constant contact with store and department
managers to find out what products are selling well and which
items the customers are demanding to be added to the product line.
Often, assistant buyers are responsible for placing orders and
Evaluating suppliers is one of the most critical functions of
a purchasing manager, buyer, or purchasing agent. Many firms now
run on a lean manufacturing schedule and use just-in-time inventories
so any delays in the supply chain can shut down production and
cost the firm its customers and reputation. Purchasing professionals
use many resources to find out all they can about potential suppliers.
The Internet has become an effective tool in searching catalogs,
trade journals, and industry and company publications, and directories.
Purchasing professionals will attend meetings, trade shows, and
conferences to learn of new industry trends and make contacts
with suppliers. Purchasing managers, agents, and buyers will usually
interview prospective suppliers and visit their plants and distribution
centers to asses their capabilities. It is important to make certain
that the supplier is capable of delivering the desired goods or
services on time, in the correct quantities without sacrificing
quality. Once all of the necessary information on suppliers is
gathered, orders are placed and contracts are awarded to those
suppliers who meet the purchaserís needs. Most of the transaction
process is now automated using electronic purchasing systems that
link the supplier and firms together through the Internet.
Purchasing professionals can gain instant access to the specifications
for thousands of commodities, inventory records, and their customersí
purchase records to avoid overpaying for goods and to avoid shortages
of popular goods or surpluses of goods that do not sell as well.
These systems permit faster selection, customization, and ordering
of products, and they allow buyers to concentrate on the qualitative
and analytical aspects of the job. Long-term contracts are an
important strategy of purchasing professionals because it allows
purchasers to consolidate their supply bases around fewer suppliers.
In todayís global economy purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing
agents should expect to deal with foreign suppliers which may
require travel to other countries and to be familiar with other
cultures and languages.
Changing business practices have altered the traditional roles
of purchasing or supply management specialists in many industries.
For example, manufacturing companies increasingly involve workers
in this occupation at most stages of product development because
of their ability to forecast a partís or materialís cost, availability,
and suitability for its intended purpose. Furthermore, potential
problems with the supply of materials may be avoided by consulting
the purchasing department in the early stages of product design.
Purchasing specialists often work closely with other employees
in their own organization when deciding on purchases, an arrangement
sometimes called team buying. For example, before submitting an
order, they may discuss the design of custom-made products with
company design engineers, talk about problems involving the quality
of purchased goods with quality assurance engineers and production
supervisors, or mention shipment problems to managers in the receiving
Most purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents work
in comfortable offices. They frequently work more than the standard
40-hour week, because of special sales, conferences, or production
deadlines. Evening and weekend work also is common, before holiday
and back-to-school seasons for those working in retail trade.
Consequently, many retail firms discourage the use of vacation
time during peak periods.
Buyers and merchandise managers often work under great pressure.
Because wholesale and retail stores are so competitive, buyers
need physical stamina to keep up with the fast-paced nature of
Many purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents travel
at least several days a month. Purchasers for worldwide manufacturing
companies and large retailers, as well as buyers of high fashion,
may travel outside the United States.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Qualified persons may begin as trainees, purchasing clerks, expediters,
junior buyers, or assistant buyers. Retail and wholesale firms
prefer to hire applicants who have a college degree and who are
familiar with the merchandise they sell and with wholesaling and
retailing practices. Some retail firms promote qualified employees
to assistant buyer positions; others recruit and train college
graduates as assistant buyers. Most employers use a combination
Educational requirements tend to vary with the size of the organization.
Large stores and distributors prefer applicants who have completed
a bachelorís degree program with a business emphasis. Many manufacturing
firms put yet a greater emphasis on formal training, preferring
applicants with a bachelorís or masterís degree in engineering,
business, economics, or one of the applied sciences. A masterís
degree is essential for advancement to many top-level purchasing
Regardless of academic preparation, new employees must learn
the specifics of their employersí business. Training periods vary
in length, with most lasting 1 to 5 years. In wholesale and retail
establishments, most trainees begin by selling merchandise, supervising
sales workers, checking invoices on material received, and keeping
track of stock. As they progress, retail trainees are given increased
In manufacturing, new purchasing employees often are enrolled
in company training programs and spend a considerable amount of
time learning about their firmís operations and purchasing practices.
They work with experienced purchasers to learn about commodities,
prices, suppliers, and markets. In addition, they may be assigned
to the production planning department to learn about the material
requirements system and the inventory system the company uses
to keep production and replenishment functions working smoothly.
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents must know
how to use both word processing and spreadsheet software, as well
as the Internet. Other important qualities include the ability
to analyze technical data in suppliersí proposals; good communication,
negotiation, and mathematical skills; knowledge of supply-chain
management; and the ability to perform financial analyses.
Persons who wish to become wholesale or retail buyers should
be good at planning and decisionmaking and have an interest in
merchandising. Anticipating consumer preferences and ensuring
that goods are in stock when they are needed requires resourcefulness,
good judgment, and self-confidence. Buyers must be able to make
decisions quickly and to take risks. Marketing skills and the
ability to identify products that will sell also are very important.
Employers often look for leadership ability, too, because buyers
spend a large portion of their time supervising assistant buyers
and dealing with manufacturersí representatives and store executives.
Experienced buyers may advance by moving to a department that
manages a larger volume or by becoming a merchandise manager.
Others may go to work in sales for a manufacturer or wholesaler.
An experienced purchasing agent or buyer may become an assistant
purchasing manager in charge of a group of purchasing professionals
before advancing to purchasing manager, supply manager, or director
of materials management. At the top levels, duties may overlap
with other management functions, such as production, planning,
logistics, and marketing.
Regardless of industry, continuing education is essential for
advancement. Many purchasers participate in seminars offered by
professional societies and take college courses in supply management.
Professional certification is becoming increasingly important,
especially for those just entering the occupation.
In private industry, recognized marks of experience and professional
competence are the Accredited Purchasing Practitioner (APP) and
Certified Purchasing Manager (CPM) designations, conferred by
the Institute for Supply Management, and the Certified Purchasing
Professional (CPP) and Certified Professional Purchasing Manager
(CPPM) designations, conferred by the American Purchasing Society.
In Federal, State, and local government, the indications of professional
competence are Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) and
Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO), conferred by the National
Institute of Governmental Purchasing. Most of these certifications
are awarded only after work-related experience and education requirements
are met, and written or oral exams are successfully completed.
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents held about
520,000 jobs in 2004. Forty-three percent worked in the wholesale
trade and manufacturing industries, and another twelve percent
worked in retail trade. The remainder worked mostly in service
establishments, such as hospitals, or different levels of government.
A small number were self-employed.
The following tabulation shows the distribution of employment
by occupational specialty:
Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail,
and farm products
Wholesale and retail buyers, except farm
Purchasing agents and buyers, farm products
Overall employment of purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing
agents is expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations
through the year 2014. Offsetting some declines for purchasing
workers in the manufacturing sector will be increases in the services
sector. Companies in the services sector, which have typically
made purchases on an ad hoc basis, are beginning to realize that
centralized purchasing offices may be more efficient. Also, many
purchasing agents are now charged with procuring services that
were traditionally done in-house in the past, such as computer
and IT (information technology) support in addition to traditionally
contracted services such as advertising. Demand for purchasing
workers will be limited by improving software, which has eliminated
much of the paperwork involved in ordering and procuring supplies,
and also by the growing number of purchases being made electronically
through the internet and electronic data interchange (EDI). Despite
slower-than-average growth, some job openings will result from
the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations
or leave the labor force.
Employment of purchasing managers is expected to grow more slowly
than average. The use of the Internet to conduct electronic commerce
has made information easier to obtain, thus increasing the productivity
of purchasing managers. The Internet also allows both large and
small companies to bid on contracts. Exclusive supply contracts
and long-term contracting have allowed companies to negotiate
with fewer suppliers less frequently.
Employment of wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products,
also is projected to grow more slowly than average. In the retail
industry, mergers and acquisitions have caused buying departments
to consolidate. In addition, larger retail stores are eliminating
local buying departments and centralizing them at their headquarters.
Employment of purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and
farm products, is expected to increase more slowly than average,
limited by the increased globalization of the U.S. economy. As
more materials and supplies come from abroad, firms have begun
to outsource more of their purchasing duties to foreign purchasing
agents who are located closer to the foreign suppliers of goods
and materials they will need. This trend is expected to continue,
but it will likely be limited to routine transactions with complex
and critical purchases still being handled in-house.
Finally, employment of purchasing agents and buyers, farm products,
also is projected to increase more slowly than average, as overall
growth in agricultural industries decreases and retailers in the
grocery-related industries consolidate.
Persons who have a bachelorís degree in business should have
the best chance of obtaining a buyer position in wholesale or
retail trade or within government. A bachelorís degree, combined
with industry experience and knowledge of a technical field, will
be an advantage for those interested in working for a manufacturing
or industrial company. Government agencies and larger companies
usually require a masterís degree in business or public administration
for top-level purchasing positions.
Median annual earnings of purchasing managers were $72,450 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $54,150 and $94,970
a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,300, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $121,600 a year.
Median annual earnings for purchasing agents and buyers, farm
products were $43,720 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $33,100 and $59,420 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned
less than $25,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$82,330 a year.
Median annual earnings for wholesale and retail buyers, except
farm products, were $42,230 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $31,550 and $57,010 a year. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $24,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $79,340 a year. Median annual earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of wholesale and retail buyers,
except farm products, in May 2004 were:
Management of companies and enterprises
Grocery and related product wholesalers
Wholesale electronic markets and agents
Building material and supplies dealers
Median annual earnings for purchasing agents, except wholesale,
retail, and farm products, were $47,680 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $36,760 and $62,600 a year. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $29,640, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $79,710 a year. Median annual earnings in the
industries employing the largest numbers of purchasing agents,
except of wholesale, retail, and farm products, in May 2004 were:
Federal executive branch and United States
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
Management of companies and enterprises
General medical and surgical hospitals
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents receive the
same benefits package as other workers, including vacations, sick
leave, life and health insurance, and pension plans. In addition
to receiving standard benefits, retail buyers often earn cash
bonuses based on their performance and may receive discounts on
merchandise bought from their employer.
Workers in other occupations who need a knowledge of marketing
and the ability to assess consumer demand include those in advertising,
marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers; food
service managers; insurance sales agents; lodging managers; sales
engineers; and sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing.
See the Career Database for
more information on these careers.
Sources of Additional Information
Further information about education, training, employment, and
certification for purchasing careers is available from:
American Purchasing Society, North Island Center, Suite 203,
8 East Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL 60506.
Institute for Supply Management, P.O. Box 22160, Tempe, AZ
85285-2160. Internet: http://www.ism.ws/
National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, Inc., 151 Spring
St., Suite 300, Herndon, VA 20170-5223. Internet: http://www.nigp.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition