Retail Merchandise Manager: Career & Education Summary

Oct 20, 2021

If you've ever wondered who chooses the items on the shelf at the stores you shop at, you've seen the work of a retail merchandise manager. You should consider earning a bachelor's degree in business or merchandising to gain access to the best job options. This sector requires ongoing learning and professional development to stay abreast of trends and changes.

Essential Information

Retail merchandise managers decide which goods and services to offer customers, buying products in bulk from wholesalers and having those items placed in stores for customers to purchase. Retail merchandise managers constantly review reports to determine how much product to buy and when to promote certain items. Although working up through the ranks of a retail company is one way to become a merchandise manager, many such professionals hold bachelor's degrees. In addition to formal education, experience and knowledge within a retail industry or individual brand is important to becoming a merchandise manager.

Required Education None mandatory; baccalaureate degree related to business or retail sales may be preferred
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029)* 3% growth for purchasing managers;
9% decline for buyers and purchasing agents
Median Salary (2020)* $125,940 for purchasing managers;
$64,380 for wholesale and retail buyers, except those buying farm products (2019)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that retail merchandise managers, also known as purchasing specialists or buyers, focus on acquiring goods and services from wholesalers to be sold in stores to consumers ( Retail merchandise managers decide which items to purchase by reviewing sales reports. Through examining sales reports, retail merchandise managers can determine trends concerning how often customers buy or need particular goods and services.

These professionals also need to secure contacts with wholesalers. Securing wholesalers involves finding wholesale organizations that can provide the required amount of product within a given timeline for the best possible price. After selecting wholesalers, retail merchandise managers must also negotiate contracts concerning how often items will be purchased and delivered while monitoring unit cost fluctuations.

Employment Outlook and Salary

The BLS predicted that between 2019 and 2029 purchasing managers would see job growth of 3%. Buyers and purchasing agents are expected to experience employment decline of about 9% during the same time frame.

Additionally, as technology changes the purchasing industry, retail merchandise managers often order goods and services electronically instead of negotiating with wholesalers in person. Since electronic ordering provides a faster method for procuring goods and services that requires less human interaction, employers may hire fewer retail merchandise managers.

The BLS reported a median annual salary for purchasing managers of $125,940 in May 2020. In May 2019, the Bureau reported the median salary of wholesale and retail buyers, except those buying farm products, to be $64,380 a year.

Retail Merchandise Manager Education

Degree Programs

Although workers can gain informal on-the-job training from more experienced retail merchandise managers, most employers prefer to hire applicants who hold bachelor's degrees, per the BLS. Programs in business management provide a broad educational foundation, but those in retail merchandising management offer specific training needed for workers in this field.

Retail merchandising management coursework often covers importing and exporting, consumer behavior, principles of marketing, visual marketing, business planning, target marketing and branding. Some programs provide concentration options for students who want to specialize in particular retail merchandising niches, such as fashion and textile marketing, product management or small-business retailing. Larger employers, including government agencies, may require workers to hold graduate degrees related to retail merchandising management.

Additional Training

While retail merchandising management degree programs provide workers with fundamental industry knowledge, specific store training is an essential component for retail merchandise managers to complete. Each store has different demographics, particular buying habits and marketing limitations that workers must understand before making large purchases. Retail merchandise managers often start out by assisting more experienced buyers as they learn about store protocols.

Many employers also expect retail merchandise managers to keep on top of buying and purchasing trends by continuously participating in industry learning experiences, such as seminars, trade shows and other professional gatherings. Retail merchandise managers are also expected to continue training on their own by reading trade magazines and other reports related to the retail merchandising industry.

It may sound like you just get to go shopping all the time, but research and training are the cornerstones of a job as a retail merchandise manager. A bachelor's degree in business or merchandising is the best start, but on-the-job learning and industry-specific knowledge are what will keep you sharp and employable in this competitive job market.

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