Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents buy products for organizations to use or resell. They evaluate suppliers, negotiate contracts, and review product quality.

Duties

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents typically do the following:

  • Evaluate suppliers based on price, quality, and delivery speed
  • Interview vendors and visit suppliers' plants and distribution centers to examine and learn about products, services, and prices
  • Attend meetings, trade shows, and conferences to learn about new industry trends and make contacts with suppliers
  • Analyze price proposals, financial reports, and other information to determine reasonable prices
  • Negotiate contracts on behalf of their organization
  • Work out agreements with suppliers, such as when products will be delivered
  • Meet with staff and vendors to discuss defective or unacceptable goods or services and determine corrective action
  • Evaluate and monitor contracts to be sure that vendors and supplies comply with the terms and conditions of the contract and to determine the need for changes
  • Maintain and review records of items bought, costs, deliveries, product performance, and inventories

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents buy farm products, durable and nondurable goods, and services for organizations and institutions. They try to get the best deal for their organization—the highest quality goods and services at the lowest cost. They do this by studying sales records and inventory levels of current stock, identifying foreign and domestic suppliers, and keeping up to date with changes affecting both the supply of, and demand for, products and materials.

Purchasing agents and buyers consider price, quality, availability, reliability, and technical support when choosing suppliers and merchandise. To be effective, purchasing agents and buyers must have a working technical knowledge of the goods or services to be bought.

Evaluating suppliers is one of the most critical functions of a purchasing manager, buyer, or purchasing agent. Many organizations 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 potentially cause the organization to lose customers.

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents use many resources to find out all they can about potential suppliers. They attend meetings, trade shows, and conferences to learn about new industry trends and make contacts with suppliers.

They often interview prospective suppliers and visit their plants and distribution centers to assess their capabilities. For example, they may discuss the design of products with design engineers, quality concerns with production supervisors, or shipping issues with managers in the receiving department.

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents must make certain that the supplier can deliver the desired goods or services on time, in the correct quantities, and without sacrificing quality. Once they have gathered information on suppliers, they sign contracts with suppliers who meet the organization's needs, and they place orders.

Buyers who purchase items to resell to customers largely determine which products their organization will sell. They need to be able to predict what will appeal to their customers. If they are wrong, they could jeopardize the profits and reputation of their organization.

Wholesale and retail buyers purchase goods for resale to consumers. Examples of these goods are clothing and electronics. Purchasing specialists who buy finished goods for resale are commonly known as buyers or merchandise managers. Buyers who work for large organizations usually specialize in one or two lines of merchandise (for example, men's clothing or women's shoes or children's toys). Buyers who work for small stores may be responsible for buying everything the store sells.

Purchasing agents and buyers of farm products buy agricultural products for further processing or resale. Examples of these products include grain, cotton, and tobacco.

Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products buy items for the operation of an organization. Examples of these items include chemicals and industrial equipment needed for a manufacturing establishment, and office supplies.

Purchasing managers plan and coordinate the work of buyers and purchasing agents, and they usually handle purchases that are more complicated. Those employed by government agencies or manufacturing firms usually are called purchasing directors, managers, or agents; sometimes they are known as contract specialists. Some purchasing managers, called contract, sourcing, or supply managers, specialize in negotiating and supervising contracts for supplies.

Work Environment: 

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents held about 504,600 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents in 2012 were as follows:

Manufacturing 25%
Wholesale trade 15
Government 12
Management of companies and enterprises 10
Retail trade 8

Most purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents work in comfortable offices. Travel is sometimes necessary, and purchasers for global organizations may need to travel outside the United States.

Work Schedules

Most purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents work full time. Overtime is common in these occupations.

Education and Training: 

Although educational requirements for buyers and purchasing agents may vary by the size of the organization and the type of product, extensive on-the-job training is typically provided. Purchasing managers need a bachelor's degree and work experience as a buyer or purchasing agent.

Education

Educational requirements usually vary with the size of the organization. A high school diploma is enough at many organizations for entry into the purchasing agent occupation, although large stores and distributors may prefer applicants who have completed a bachelor's degree program and have taken some business or accounting classes. Many manufacturing firms put an even greater emphasis on formal training, preferring applicants who have a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, business, economics, or one of the applied sciences.

Purchasing managers usually have at least a bachelor’s degree and some work experience in the field. A master's degree may be required for advancement to some top-level purchasing manager jobs.

Training

Buyers and purchasing agents typically get on-the-job training for more than 1 year. During this time, they learn how to perform their basic duties, including monitoring inventory levels and negotiating with suppliers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

There are several recognized credentials for purchasing agents and purchasing managers. These certifications involve oral or written exams and have education and work experience requirements.

The Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) credential, offered by the Institute for Supply Management, covers a wide scope of duties that purchasing professionals do. The exam requires applicants to either have a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of supply management experience, or for those without a bachelor’s degree, 5 years of supply management experience and the successful completion of three CPSM exams.

The American Purchasing Society offers two certifications: the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) and Certified Professional Purchasing Manager (CPPM). Candidates become eligible for these certifications through a combination of purchasing-related experience, education, and professional contributions (such as published articles or delivered speeches).

APICS offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential.

The Universal Public Procurement Certification Council offers two certifications for workers in federal, state, and local government: Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) and Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO). NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement offers preparation courses for these certification exams.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Purchasing managers typically must have at least 5 years of experience as a buyer or purchasing agent. At the top levels, purchasing manager duties may overlap with other management functions, such as production, planning, logistics, and marketing.

Advancement

An experienced purchasing agent or buyer may become an assistant purchasing manager before advancing to purchasing manager, supply manager, or director of materials management.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. When evaluating suppliers, purchasing managers and agents must analyze their options and choose a supplier with the best combination of price and quality. 

Decision-making skills. Purchasing managers and agents must have the ability to make informed and timely decisions by choosing products that they think will sell.  

Math skills. Purchasing managers and agents must possess basic math skills. They must be able to compare prices from different suppliers to ensure that their organization is getting the best deal. 

Negotiating skills. Purchasing managers and agents often must negotiate the terms of a contract with a supplier. Interpersonal skills and self-confidence, in addition to knowledge of the product, can help lead to successful negotiation.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents was $60,550 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,990, and the top 10 percent earned more than $110,050.

The median annual wages for purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $100,170 for purchasing managers
  • $58,760 for purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products
  • $55,720 for buyers and purchasing agents, farm products
  • $51,470 for wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products

Most purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents work full time. Overtime is common in these occupations.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

These workers will be needed to buy goods and services for business operations or for resale to customers. Growth will vary based on the type of purchasing agent or manager and the specific industry.

Employment of wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products, is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Growth will be driven largely by the performance of the wholesale and retail industries.

Employment of purchasing agents, farm products, is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Slower growth in the agricultural industry has led to slow growth in this occupation, and the trend is expected to continue.

Employment of purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products, is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Continued employment decreases in manufacturing, as well as decreases in federal government, which includes defense purchasing, are expected. However, strong growth is expected for this occupation in health care and computer systems design and related services firms.

Employment of purchasing managers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. The trends affecting growth for agents and buyers will also affect purchasing managers, although there will likely still be a need for purchasing managers to plan and direct buying activities for organizations and to supervise purchasing agents and buyers.                                   

Job Prospects

Although a high school diploma is sufficient for some purchasing agent positions, jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree are likely to have the best prospects. Candidates for positions as purchasing managers will improve their prospects by obtaining a master’s degree in business or supply management. 

For More Information: 

For more information about purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents, including education, training, employment, and certification, visit

American Purchasing Society

APICS

Institute for Supply Management

NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement

Universal Public Procurement Certification Council

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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