The First Step in a Buying and Merchandising Career | Education

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LONDON, United Kingdom — Although buying and merchandising is one of the most sought-after careers among fashion graduates and aspirants, the basic knowledge required to begin your career is often difficult to get hold of. To help better equip aspirants who want to build a career in buying and merchandising, BoF sat down with Susanne Tide-Frater, the brand and strategy director at digital disruptor Farfetch who formerly worked at Selfridges, Harrods and Victoria Beckham, to create a crib sheet of industry terminology to help you get started in your career.

“There is jargon in the buying industry and everyone needs to do a little bit of vocabulary learning,” explains Tide-Frater.

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Comp Shopping

The process of offline/online competitor analysis which notes which products, trends and price points are currently on offer.

“You’ll probably wonder where the buyer gets all their wonderful information from,” Tide-Frater muses. “As a broad brushstroke of what a buyer does to come to his or her decision is first of all this thing we call ‘comp shopping,’ which is like going to market. It is exciting for the buyers because they actually let loose and can go and explore. Really, comp shopping means going to places, looking at competitors, getting an understanding of the market, so as to not work in isolation.”

Going to Market

The phase of the buying cycle where the team is out of the office at market, attending trade fairs, fashion shows and supplier showroom visits.

“I think going to market is the most exciting part of the buying cycle,” says Tide-Frater. “Mostly, we start the day with a team briefing over breakfast, quite early. Everybody is already ranked up, geared up, looks fabulous and we have a team debrief on the day, on the week, etc. We then go to either shows or trade fairs, which are an incredibly useful tool to check the temperature and gauge what is happening, especially at the beginning of a season when you have no measure yet of whether your intuition is actually right.”

Open-To-Buy (OTB)

This is the open-to-buy budget, which is the total amount that a buyer has to spend for a season in order to hit the predicted sales and profit targets.

“It would be fantastic to go out in the market and buy whatever your heart desires. This is how customers shop when they have the money. But buyers, unfortunately, function slightly differently,” Tide-Frater explains. “Buyers have what we call an open-to-buy, which is the budget for the season that allows them to achieve the turnover that the company needs to increase their sale. The open-to-buy is calculated and given by the merchandiser and usually signed off by the buying director. A buyer can obviously be quite creative in season, but they will have to stick to this, otherwise they won’t achieve their targets.”

Critical Path and Retro Planning

The process of creating a schedule, which is called “retro planning” when it starts from the last step of the process, for example delivery to the retail store.

“The critical path is the calendar by which the entire buying and merchandising process operates and with a good critical path you can iron out a lot of problems and create freedom. In my mind, a good critical path is actually retro planning because it starts with a key date on which product is delivered onto the shop floor and then it’s worked backwards,” says Tide-Frater. “When you’re working three seasons at the same time with different tasks that need to work together, the critical path is something that should exist fabulously well in every company, but it doesn’t unfortunately.”


This is an acronym for Stock Keeping Unit and it is the smallest part of the product hierarchy. It is the unique identifier code which all retailers will give to a product and it will typically describe its style, size, colour and department or category.

“In terms of buying vocabulary, another important hierarchy to understand is that we start with styles, which are the silhouettes of the garment,” Tide-Frater explains. “From there you have colourways — black, white, etc — and all this makes the SKU, or Stock Keeping Unit, and the number of pieces that you will have purchased. You don’t have to worry about it much, but it is a fantastic thing if you are able to throw that in a casual conversation.”

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