A Crash Course in Buying

A Crash Course in Buying

Most people do not realize how much planning goes into selecting items for stores. Before I started working in a buying office, my understanding was that designers put a lot of effort and creativity into creating the product, and the product magically floated from their minds and onto shelves, ready to buy. If you’ve ever played a management game on your phone, you know what I’m talking about: you place an order for ten cookies, ten cookies appear in two minutes, and customers buy out your stock. While this is not inaccurate, it is vastly oversimplified.

The buying process starts at fashion week where couture lines showcase trends and fashions for the upcoming season. Buyers review the shows and assess emerging trends, deciding which best resonate with their business, demographic, and branding. With these factors in mind, buyers meet with suppliers to select product styles that will draw customers into their stores.

From here it depends on what kind of model the business runs – are they a department store that sells most of their items at MSRP like Barneys? Are they a flash sale site that purchases last season’s leftover stock like Zulilly? A brick-and-mortar, off-the-rack store like Neiman Marcus’ Last Call? A fast-fashion chain like Forever 21 or Zara? Or even an online retailer like Amazon? Each buying process varies wildly, depending on the intended target demographic.


Department stores have the most traditional buying process. When buyers return to their offices from the selection process, they look over the styles and decide what they like the most (that they can afford to buy). Buyers are given a finite budget with which to purchase their stock for the upcoming season, so they have to carefully choose how to allocate funds. You will often hear that buyer and their buy planner going back and forth: “I have to have this” and “We can’t afford this.” Part of this process is deciding what mix of product to carry – do they want to appeal to a younger crowd? Will they stock a lot of athletic shoes? Categorizing the styles will ensure that the store has a varied selection that appeals to all customers.

A good business will select styles with a specific demographic in mind. For instance, many department stores have multiple departments for young women–Juniors and Modern for instance–but the way buyers stock these departments underscore their differences. Any Juniors department of a department store caters to young, trendy women. When the department’s buyers go to market, they’ll typically select cheap basics and moderately priced trendy items. Most clothes are for occasions like school or hanging out with friends – work and “going out” clothes are a smaller part of the selection. In general teens do not require business clothing and do not frequent bars or clubs, so these types of clothes are not stocked. The Modern department, on the other hand, may also have some trendy items but will be targeted towards older teens and young women. Basics make up a much smaller percentage of the selection, and more of the clothes can be considered “going out” clothing. Some items in Modern can be considered business casual, depending on how strict your workplace is on attire. The department is geared towards college students and young professionals, so it contains work and play clothes at a higher price point than juniors.


After the buyer decides what items they want in their stores, the orders are written and delivered to the vendor. Orders are typically written six months out partially because fashion tends to run earlier than the seasons – you see back to school clothes pop up mid-summer and jackets emerge before the temperature drops — and because suppliers need time to fulfill the orders. If a product sells well, buyers consider placing a replenishment order in order to keep up with demand. If stock is not selling and remains in stores for an extended period of time, they consider marking it down in order to raise demand. It’s always a little experimental – there’s no certainty that a trend is going to take off. Or if a trend does take off, there’s no certainty that it will do well in all regions. Wedge sandals might be prevalent in Arizona but not in Idaho because the demographics or other factors in the states vary.

Departments are by no means static; many customers shop in both departments – a $5 Juniors top might appeal to her for everyday use, but she might also need a nicer top from Modern to wear on a date. If Juniors and Modern were separate stores, they would have very segmented pieces of the market. But together in the department store, they represent a more complete section of the overall demographic. Understanding the way buying works can help you find what you’re looking for based on your knowledge of different departments.

This is the first part of a series of articles detailing the buying process. The next article will focus on the remaining buying processes of other types of businesses.






 Juniors (Fashion catering to young, trendy women)





Fast Fashion Chain Fare (Trendy young men & women)





 Business Casual (Department Store, Men & Women)





 High End Department Store Fare




Catterfly D.so / Reddit Writer
Ab167 | Editor
LadySyrupp | Shopping List
Bhoka | Graphics

Photo 1, 2 via Death To Stock
Photo 3 via Flickr 

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