Behind Retail: Buying and Merchandising

Merchandising and buying in the fashion world has long been misunderstood. While the roles have always intertwined, they are completely different careers paths in the industry. Joshua Williams, Fashion Industry Essentials contributor, discusses the intricacies and variances of fashion merchandising and buying.

Watch the full video to learn about:

  • The responsibilities of a merchandiser
  • The role of a buyer
  • Retailing and the importance of vertical integration

What is Merchandising?

In fashion business, merchandisers and buyers have uniquely interconnected yet distinct roles. "The merchandiser’s role is coming up with the collection, or the range, that will be available in retail stores. They understand what customers truly want overall, as well as at the regional store level," Williams explains.

It is up to the merchandiser to decide which strategy is correct for their retailer. Williams points to two of the most well known brands to show two different takes on merchandising. "Global fashion brand Zara carries the same product in every store worldwide. In contrast, Opening Ceremony is highly customized according to their location. Their Lower East Side store will showcase different styles than their Williamsburg, Brooklyn location," he explains.

What is Buying?

"The buyer’s role is usually on the retail side," says Williams. "If you're a vertical brand — meaning you have stores, your design team, and you're making product — the buyer and merchandiser are in the same office." This is even more complex for luxury retailers and brands. "However, if your brand is Dior and you're selling to Bergdorf Goodman, the buyer is at Bergdorf. The buyer is working with the merchandisers and design teams at Dior to ensure they're getting the product they need," says Williams.

Williams continues, "If you go to Nordstrom they sell Prada, but they sell Prada styles exclusively sold at Nordstrom based on what their particular customer wants and needs. The Nordstrom buyer has been working closely with Prada to make sure they're getting the right product for the Nordstrom customer. The buyer is the go-between, between the merchandiser and store."

Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising is the process of planning, designing, and displaying products to highlight their features and advantages. "Using their fashion education background, the visual merchandiser creates the brand experience that builds on the brand values, visuals, and iconography to create a 3D experience for the customer," explains Williams.

Will visual merchandising take place of traditional merchandising? "The visual merchandiser, often with online fashion education experience, is just as important in a physical store as online," assures Williams. "They observe how products are lined up - what colors of products are in a row and in what categories. They understand what customers prefer visually and work to create an appealing shopping experience, virtually or in person, that will ultimately help close the sale."

If you'd like to further explore the worlds of merchandising and buying, download Yellowbrick's Ultimate Fashion Career Guide or head over to Fashion Industry Essentials to sign up for a course sneak peak.

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