Buyers:  The Most Influential Position in Retail

Buyers: The Most Influential Position in Retail

February 11, 2013
Retail Industry Insights

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FADA
RDBA Executive Director

Buyers have perhaps one of the most powerful roles in the retail industry – deciding what products actually end up on the store shelf.  With approximately 40,000 items in the typical supermarket, this is no small task.  Buyers consider many factors, including competitive products, new products coming out in private label or owned brands, seasonality, flavor and market trends, financials and margins, and of course, health and wellness.  By building strong partnerships with buyers, retail dietitians can leverage their expertise to impact what the customer is offered on the shelf.

Understanding their Perspective
The bottom line in any retail company is, of course, the bottom line.  It’s essential to keep this in mind.  There may be a great new line of low sodium soups, but if they don’t sell well, they won’t last long in the planogram.  Buyers are continuously evaluating sales and margins of products, brands, and categories, and it’s essential for retail dietitians to understand these terms and measures.  Set up informational interviews with your key category buyers to understand their world.  Seek to understand how they make decisions about products in their assortment, if they have an overall category margin goal, products and brands that are selling well as well as those lagging in sales.  Learn the process they use to evaluate new products.  

Timing and Action
When talking with buyers, discuss whether there is a cycle to their assortment planning.  In some companies, there is a cycle for full line reviews, and this may be a great opportunity for you to provide input on better-for-you products to add to the assortment.  Seasonality has greater impact in some store departments than others, and these areas may review current and new products more frequently.   

Bring Value
Every employee wants to be successful in their role, and by being strategic, the retail dietitian can make buyers more effective in their jobs.   Track food and nutrition trends over time, organizing them by buyers’ areas of responsibility.  Prior to a line review, set up a meeting with each buyer to discuss trends you are seeing and suggest some products that could be added to the assortment to take advantage of these trends.  Ensure your pitch includes numbers, facts and figures, as this information will be important to buyers.  Leverage relationships with vendors and ask to sit in on your buyers’ meetings with vendors.  You’re positioned to ask questions the buyer may not have thought of, and at the same time, you’ll gain further insight into how buying decisions are made.  After key conferences, put together a short deck and take your buyers through the presentation.  They’ll appreciate your efforts to help them understand their categories from another vantage point.  Finally, suggest that you attend industry conferences with your buyer.  Together, you’ll be more effective at evaluating products on the show floor, and how they might fit into your stores’ assortments.  

By building partnerships with buyers and being strategic in your interactions with this influential retail staffer, retail dietitians can positively impact customer behavior change.