A Day in the Life of a Retail Buyer


Ever wondered how a product buyer spends their day? Maybe you envision them swimming through a sea of product samples or debating price per unit in a boardroom. Or perhaps wandering the long halls of their warehouse, clipboard and flashlight in hand, memorizing UPC codes? You answered right if you guessed that all of these activities and more make up daily life for a retail buyer.

We traced the steps of one of our favorite buyers, Ashleigh Deline, who works at much loved online retailer Well.ca, to find out how she takes products from concept to shelf. We follow her daily routine and bust the myths about cold calls, assortments and free shipping. If you don’t know what a buyer is thinking when they are introduced to your product, you’ll never go back after learning the truth.

8:19AM – Email check-in: Any fires? Any marketing wins? Any new products?

I am inundated with email but I think every buyer loves to find new products, it’s what makes you most happy. I get about 10 inquiries a week. I hate it when I’m pitched on Linkedin but when they email me and I’m interested, I email them back with logistics questions like, ‘What’s your minimum order?’ and ‘Do you ship for free?’ If a new brand wants to do business with us and reaches out, the first things I look for are:
– Are they in the green and natural space like us?
– Are they Canadian? Doing direct business with US is really difficult with the dollar, my margins get crushed.
– Do they have more than 10 products?

It’s really hard if there’s only a few products, they should be big enough to come out with products regularly. As a benchmark, L’Oreal launches 50 new items a year. We know it’s hard for smaller brands to keep up, plus if you are in the green and natural space, production costs are higher. But to be competitive you still need to be launching often! To begin with, I’ll carry their top 25 to start and once I see sales, I’ll add another 25.

10:03AM – A brand responds…but they want me to pay for shipping?
The longer a brand takes to respond, the less likely I am to trust them as a vendor. I take pride in my relationships with my vendors and distributors; if they email me, I try to respond in 24hrs and I’ll bend over backwards to support them. Sure, some brands are often one man shows and don’t have a team of merchandising assistants, but I still need vendors to complete their forms promptly which reassures me they will deliver the products just as timely.

Today a brand was shocked I asked if they’d ship for free to my warehouse. Here’s the reality: if i have to pay to have it shipped to me and then also to the customer, that might lead to a loss. I calculate that 15% of my margin is taken away by shipping since we do free shopping over a certain amount. So if they can they provide free shipping to our warehouse, then we can keep talking.

10:30 AMInternal sales performance meeting to recap highs and lows

11:00 – Meeting with a new vendor
I do a lot of meetings with new brands where I explain our business model. Getting UPCs are usually a surprise for new brands but we have a hard time listing beautiful products without them! If I look at my “All Products Report” and check my category alone, I see 6000 SKUs across about 400 brands. When you have a big warehouse, you need to something to scan so you can find it, right?

I also review their online content. The more descriptive content brands add about their product, the better it performs. Think about it: customers are usually on the page for less than 30 seconds so the image has to stand out and the content should tell them exactly what it is. Oh, and I always review shipping – again, a lot of vendors don’t realize how much it costs to ship goods!

1:00PM – Meeting with a big vendors
Most of the big vendors ask for a regular, even bi-weekly sales meeting but the cadence for small brands is basically quarterly or only when I have results of a promotion or am concerned about performance. We deal a lot with distributors, even for big brands.

2:30PM –  Internal brainstorm session to design email promotions

4:10PM – Visit the warehouse
We carry 40,000 on the website so there’s no possible way to have samples in my office, we always sneak around the warehouse to actually see it. That said, my rule of thumb is to always try everything before I list it.

4:37 – Uh oh, a product came in with no UPC
Gotta go, gotta track it down…


Image credit / seika

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