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What Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents Do

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


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

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 cost the organization 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.

They 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.

The following are examples of types of purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents:

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 paper, pens, and industrial equipment.

Purchasing managers plan and coordinate the work of buyers and purchasing agents, and they usually handle more complicated purchases. 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 or supply managers, specialize in negotiating and supervising contracts for supplies.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition