Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Summary

purchasing managers buyers and purchasing agents image
Buyers and purchasing agents evaluate suppliers, negotiate contracts, and review product quality.
Quick Facts: Buyers and Purchasing Agents
2014 Median Pay $58,520 per year
$28.14 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 443,200
Job Outlook, 2014-24 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 7,200

What Buyers and Purchasing Agents Do

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.

Work Environment

Most buyers and purchasing agents work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Buyer or Purchasing Agent

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for buyers and purchasing agents was $58,520 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

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 be needed to buy goods and services for business operations or for resale to customers. Employment growth will vary with the type of purchasing agent and the specific industry.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for buyers and purchasing agents.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of buyers and purchasing agents with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about buyers and purchasing agents by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Buyers and Purchasing Agents Do

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents
Purchasing agents and buyers consider price, quality, availability, reliability, and technical support when choosing suppliers and merchandise.

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

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

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents
Buyers and purchasing agents typically work full time in an office setting.

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.

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

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents
Buyers and purchasing agents typically receive on-the-job training which lasts for more than 1 year.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Pay

Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Median annual wages, May 2014

Business operations specialists

$63,880

Buyers and purchasing agents

$58,520

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

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

Buyers and Purchasing Agents

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Business operations specialists

7%

Buyers and purchasing agents

2%

 

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.

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 SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Buyers and purchasing agents

13-1020 443,200 450,300 2 7,200 [XLSX]

Buyers and purchasing agents, farm products

13-1021 12,900 13,500 5 600 [XLSX]

Wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products

13-1022 129,500 137,500 6 8,100 [XLSX]

Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products

13-1023 300,800 299,300 0 -1,500 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of buyers and purchasing agents.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers plan programs to generate interest in products or services. They work with art directors, sales agents, and financial staff members.

Bachelor's degree $123,450
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks produce financial records for organizations. They record financial transactions, update statements, and check financial records for accuracy.

Some college, no degree $36,430
Financial clerks

Financial Clerks

Financial clerks do administrative work for many types of organizations. They keep records, help customers, and carry out financial transactions.

High school diploma or equivalent $36,260
Food service managers

Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants and other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages. They direct staff to ensure that customers are satisfied with their dining experience, and they manage the business to ensure that it is profitable.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,560
Lodging managers

Lodging Managers

Lodging managers ensure that guests on vacation or business travel have a pleasant experience at a hotel, motel, or other types of establishment with accommodations. They also ensure that the establishment is run efficiently and profitably.

High school diploma or equivalent $47,680
Logisticians

Logisticians

Logisticians analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain—the system that moves a product from supplier to consumer. They manage the entire life cycle of a product, which includes how a product is acquired, distributed, allocated, and delivered.

Bachelor's degree $73,870
Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.

See How to Become One $58,380
Financial managers

Financial Managers

Financial managers are responsible for the financial health of an organization. They produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

Bachelor's degree $115,320

Purchasing Managers

Purchasing managers plan, direct, and coordinate the buying of materials, products, or services for wholesalers, retailers, or organizations. They oversee the work of procurement-related occupations including buyers and purchasing agents.

Bachelor's degree $106,090

Contacts for More Information

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

American Purchasing Society

APICS

Institute for Supply Management

Next Level Purchasing Association

The National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP), Institute for Public Procurement

Universal Public Procurement Certification Council

O*NET

Buyers and Purchasing Agents, Farm Products

Purchasing Agents, Except Wholesale, Retail, and Farm Products

Wholesale and Retail Buyers, Except Farm Products

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Buyers and Purchasing Agents,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/buyers-and-purchasing-agents.htm (visited February 10, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015