Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Buyers and Purchasing Agents Do[About this section] [To Top]

Buyers and purchasing agents buy products and services for organizations to use or resell. They evaluate suppliers, negotiate contracts, and review the quality of products.

Duties of Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Buyers and purchasing agents typically do the following:

  • Evaluate suppliers on the basis of the price, quality, and speed of delivery of their products and services
  • 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

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 they are purchasing.

Evaluating suppliers is one of the most critical functions of a buyer or purchasing agent. Many organizations run on a lean manufacturing schedule and use just-in-time inventories, so any delays in the supply chain can shut down production and cause the organization to lose customers.

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.

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 may 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.

Buyers who work for large organizations often specialize in purchasing one or two categories of products or services. Buyers who work for smaller businesses or government agencies may be responsible for making a greater variety of purchases.

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.

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

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

Work Environment for Buyers and Purchasing Agents[About this section] [To Top]

Buyers and purchasing agents held about 443,200 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most buyers and purchasing agents were as follows:

Manufacturing 23%
Wholesale trade 15
Retail trade 9
Management of companies and enterprises 9
Federal government 8

Most 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.

Buyer and Purchasing Agent Work Schedules

Most buyers and purchasing agents work full time. Overtime is common in these occupations. About 1 in 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

How to Become a Buyer or Purchasing Agent[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Buyers and Purchasing Agents near you!

Although a high school diploma may be sufficient for some positions, many employers require buyers and purchasing agents to have a bachelor’s degree. Most entry-level positions require some form of on-the-job training.

Buyer and Purchasing Agent Education

Educational requirements usually vary with the size of the organization. Although a high school diploma may be enough at some organizations, many businesses require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. For many positions, a degree in business, finance, or supply management is sufficient.

For those interested in a career as a buyer or purchasing agent of farm products, a degree in agriculture, agriculture production, or animal science is often beneficial.

Buyer and Purchasing Agent 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 certifications available for buyers and purchasing agents. Although some employers require certification, many do not.

Most of these certifications involve oral or written exams and have education and work experience requirements.

The Institute for Supply Management offers the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) credential, which covers a wide scope of purchasing professional duties. To receive the CPSM credential, candidates must pass three exams and those with a bachelor’s degree must possess at least 3 years of relevant work experience while those without a bachelor’s degree must have at least 5 years of relevant work experience.

The American Purchasing Society offers the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) certification. The CPP certification is valid for 5 years. Candidates must earn a certain number of professional development “points” to renew their certification. Candidates initially become eligible and can renew their certification 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. Applicants must have 3 years of relevant business experience or a bachelor’s degree in order to be eligible for the CSCP credential. The credential is valid for 5 years. Candidates must also earn a certain number of professional development points to renew their certification.

The Next Level Purchasing Association offers the Senior Professional in Supply Management (SPSM) Certification. Although there are no education or work experience requirements, applicants must complete six online courses and pass an SPSM exam. Certification is valid for 4 years. Candidates must complete 32 continuing education hours in procurement-related topics to recertify for an additional four-year period.

The Universal Public Procurement Certification Council (UPPCC) offers two certifications for workers in federal, state, and local government. The Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) credential requires applicants to have earned at least an associate’s degree, possess at least 3 years of public procurement experience, and complete relevant training courses. The Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO) requires applicants to have earned a bachelor’s degree, possess at least 5 years of public procurement experience, and complete additional training courses.

Those with the CPPB or the CPPO designation must renew their certification every 5 years by completing continuing education courses or attending procurement-related conferences or events.

The National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP), Institute for Public Procurement offers preparation courses for the UPPCC certification exams.

Advancement for Buyers and Purchasing Agents

An experienced purchasing agent or buyer may become an assistant purchasing manager before advancing to purchasing manager, supply manager, or director of materials management. Buyers and purchasing agents with extensive work experience can also advance to become the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) for an organization.

Important Qualities for Buyers and Purchasing Agents

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

Decisionmaking skills. Buyers and purchasing agents must have the ability to make informed and timely decisions, choosing products that they think will sell.

Math skills. Buyers and purchasing 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. Buyers and purchasing 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 negotiations.


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Buyer and Purchasing Agent Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for buyers and purchasing agents was $58,520 in May 2014. 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 $34,370, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,070.

Median annual wages for buyers and purchasing agents in May 2014 were as follows:

Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products $60,980
Buyers and purchasing agents, farm products 55,080
Wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products 52,270

In May 2014, the median annual wages for buyers and purchasing agents in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $78,760
Management of companies and enterprises 62,240
Manufacturing 59,160
Wholesale trade 53,170
Retail trade 48,060

Most buyers and purchasing agents work full time. Overtime is common in these occupations. About 1 in 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

Job Outlook for Buyers and Purchasing Agents[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of buyers and purchasing agents is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations.

These workers will continue to be needed to buy goods and services for business operations or for resale to customers. In addition, buyers and purchasing agents often play an important role in controlling costs for an organization.

However, growth may be negatively affected due to more outsourcing of less complex procurement functions like processing purchase orders or making one-time purchases of items. Some organizations also may rely on third parties to handle other tasks, such as performing market research or supplier risk assessments. Organizations may outsource these functions in order to focus on more complex or core procurement tasks and to reduce costs.

In the public sector, employment demand may be negatively impacted by the increasing use of cooperative purchasing agreements. These agreements allow state, local, and municipal governments to share resources in order to buy supplies and make other general purchases. Because the same standard contracts can be used multiple times by multiple government agencies, the rise of purchasing cooperatives may limit the need to hire additional procurement officers.

The projected decline in the manufacturing industry may also limit the demand for buyers and purchasing agents employed within this industry.

Buyers and Purchasing Agents Job Prospects

Job prospects for those interested in becoming a buyer or purchasing agent should be good. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree, in addition to strong negotiating, communication, and interpersonal skills, are likely to have the best prospects.

Employment projections data for Buyers and Purchasing Agents, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Buyers and purchasing agents 443,200 450,300 2 7,200
  Buyers and purchasing agents, farm products 12,900 13,500 5 600
  Wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products 129,500 137,500 6 8,100
  Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products 300,800 299,300 0 -1,500


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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