Buyers & Merchandisers – an equal partnership?

Buyers & Merchandisers - an equal partnership? - Article by First Friday


In the world of retail, two key roles often come under the spotlight:

The Buyer and the Merchandiser.

Both play pivotal roles but who is the ultimate decision maker? As an ex-buyer, it’s got to be the buyer, right? As much as I probably spent much of my buying career believing exactly that, maybe I was a little parochial in my thinking.

To help answer the question, we need to understand each role.


Understanding the roles Buyers and Merchandisers

Buyers are the strategists behind the product selection that ultimately appears in stores or online. Their primary responsibility is to predict what customers will want next season, next month or even next week and ensure that these items are available at the right price at the right time. This involves trend forecasting, market analysis and negotiating with suppliers to secure the best possible terms. They are responsible for the product.

It really has got to be the buyer, hasn’t it?

Merchandisers are the think tanks behind the operation. Merchandisers analyse previous seasons and establish a range framework for future seasons identifying the types of products which should make up a range. They calculate how much of a product to buy, how to phase it throughout the selling season and which location should receive what product. Merchandisers effectively manage the purse strings as they are responsible for the stock, and will frequently roll up the numbers to ensure balanced decision making.

Oh hang on a minute,  merchandisers actually are quite important aren’t they?

Together they will trade the range with the ultimate aim of driving profit. Buyers and merchandisers are very different people, with different skill sets, talents and approaches. At its most basic level buyers are creative risk takers and merchandisers analytical risk managers. Each skill set is hugely important and a strong buyer/merchandiser relationship is a great example of where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the two parts. 


It is true to say that often the skill sets between the roles become blurred, there are many buyers more comfortable with numbers than with product development and many merchandisers who like to get involved with the creative elements of the role. Irrespective of where these roles blur, it is extremely rare to come across individuals who can encompass the intricacies of both roles. 

Buyers and Merchandisers work together from planning to trading. They have equal input at the plan stage, buyers have more input at the buy stage, merchandisers have more influence at the move stage, and they both have equal input at the trade stage.

Working towards the same goals but having a different focus will cause natural tension between the two roles. Tension can be both healthy and unhealthy, with the utopia being to achieve healthy tension and here is why: 

Five indicators that Buyers and Merchandisers are balanced in their thinking:

Teams are purpose driven and there is a commitment to achieve the best results for the business. These goals will be transparent and based on challenges related to tasks & goals

2.Strong communication
The hand-offs between both roles is critical and obvious, however, a relationship with healthy tension will have respectful communication. Even when opinions differ the communications remain constructive and focussed 

Healthy tension fosters an environment where employees think critically and creatively driving innovation and growth

4.Solution driven
Finding solutions that benefit the business rather than point scoring against each other

5.Diverse thinking
An environment where different viewpoints are valued and where disagreements are a chance to explore 


Let’s look to music for an example where the relationship between John Lennon & Paul McCartney showcases healthy (& sometimes not so healthy) tension. 

Both Lennon & McCartney were exceptionally talented musicians and songwriters. Their partnership as the song writing duo for The Beatles resulted in some of the most iconic and influential music in history. Songs like ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it be’ are just two examples of their combined creative genius, which produced a body of work far surpassing their individual achievements. 

This balance makes them a highly creative song writing duo despite frequent personal disputes. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who is the buyer and who is the merch!

Of course, the natural tension created depends on the structure & size of the organisation. The power balance might shift depending on the company’s strategy, market conditions, internal organisational structure and product type. The higher the risk being taken – such as own buy fashion – the more need there is for both sets of skills.


Buyers and Merchandisers compliment each other

If I think back to those halcyon days as a buyer, without the logical and pragmatic thinking of a skilled merchandiser alongside, there may have been a few more product disasters. I still think the chocolate cheese yule log was ahead of its time!

The question of whether the buyer or the merchandiser is the true boss is perhaps less relevant than understanding how these roles complement each other. Ultimately, the real boss is the customer! When all the shouting is done, the words of Sam Walton, the founder & CEO of Walmart, ring true ‘there is only one boss, the customer’. 

Buyesr and merchandisers work as an equal partnership.

A strong working relationship between buyers and merchandisers is what allows a retail business to thrive, constantly adapting to market conditions and consumer trends with agility and insight. When you look at the best department performances, a key factor is often a strong relationship between the buyer and merchandiser. Both buyers and merchandisers need to be strategic, responsive and collaborative to navigate the complex retail landscape effectively.


Head over to our Retail Training and Retail Consultancy pages to find out more about how we can help.

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Lara Turner

About the author: Lara Turner

A Training And Change Management consultant who also enjoys training development and delivery, Lara has a background in FMCG and thrives on managing complex, fast-paced cross-functional projects. Lean Six Sigma certified, she is a great communicator that enjoys driving the change agenda within training and supporting clients through business change.

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