You’ve got a background in procurement and a little bit of experience in a retail buying position. Now you’ve got an interview lined up for a buying position with a major retailer. Do you know what questions they’re going to ask – and what the best answers are? Get prepared by looking over these top 10 buyer interview questions:
1. How is retail buying different from internal procurement?
This question is designed to find out if you know what’s involved in buying a product that your company will resell instead of a product they’ll use internally. A good answer would be something like this: “When you’re in procurement, you just have to worry about cost and functionality. You’re focused on getting a product that does the job from a reliable vendor and at the lowest price. With retail buying, you have to consider not only cost, but sales data, profit margin, what the competitors are doing, and a whole lot of other factors, depending on your particular business.”
2. You mentioned profit margin. Which is more important, margin percent or margin dollars?
The purpose of this question is to find out how well you understand key business metrics. One good answer would be: “Well, each company has its own metrics that it focuses on. In general, though, margin dollars are more important because that’s what you put in the bank.”
3. Tell me about a difficult negotiation, and what was the outcome?
Almost any buying job in the private sector will include a lot of negotiating. Most employers will be looking for a win-win scenario, so it would be best to avoid bragging about how you beat a vendor down to the point where they didn’t even make a profit. Focus instead on a fair, ethical negotiation in which you got the best possible deal for your employer without making it a terrible deal for the vendor.
4. You’ve got a product that’s been steady for years, but now sales are down 20 percent. What do you do?
With this question, your prospective employer is trying to get a feel for your problem-solving skills, analytical skills, and familiarity with key sales data. A good answer would sound something like this, “Well, first I’d look at sales and market data to find out whether it’s just us or if our competitors are dropping, too. If it was everybody, I’d then check things that affect the whole market, like whether it’s been replaced by a better product. If it was just us, I’d get online to see if I could find out what people are saying about it. I’d also find out whether anything had changed, like our pricing, our competitors’ pricing, our vendor’s manufacturing process, catalogue data, etc. I’d also talk to the vendor to get their insight.”
5. If you’re negotiating a big deal with a vendor, what levers are there?
This question is designed to find out how well you understand the many factors that going into making a business deal. One good answer would be: “Well, it’s not just about the lowest price. You can play around with things like exclusivity, payment terms, return policies, the length of the agreement, fill rates, etc.”
6. Let’s say you take over a new product category. The product has a quality problem that’s been getting worse for years. What do you do?
This is another question that’s designed to delve into your problem-solving ability and your business knowledge. The right answer could sound like this: “First, I’d go back to the timeframe when the problem first started and find out whether anything changed at that time. Did we switch vendors? Did our vendor switch suppliers or implement a new process? If so, does that account for the whole problem or just part of the problem? If it didn’t account for the whole problem, I’d next look at things like how customers are using the product and whether anything in the environment changed. Finally, I’d make a recommendation based on what I had learned.”
7. What do you think are the most important skills for a buyer?
Your prospective employer is asking this question to find out how well you understand the job and its requirements. Your answer should include skills like research, analysis, building a consensus, making decisions based on data, negotiating, etc.
8. Tell me about your most important achievement as a buyer.
This is another question designed to find out how well you understand the position and what it requires. While a candidate for a procurement position might talk about negotiating a really low price, a candidate for a retail buying position should talk about end results: increased sales, higher profits, better margins, etc.
9. Who are our main competitors?
This question is simple: Your prospective employer just wants to know if you did your homework. For any retail buying job, prepare by researching the market – who the big players are, any recent news (like an acquisition or merger), whose market share is increasing, whose is decreasing, etc.
10. Name the stakeholders affected by any purchasing agreement a buyer makes.
With this question, your interviewer is trying to find out how well you understand the big picture. A good answer would include at least the following groups: vendors, customers, supply chain, operations and shareholders. An exceptional answer would include the fact that the bonuses of employees in both companies could be affected by the decision.
Being a buyer for a major retailer is a big job. Your interviewer will want to make sure that you understand all of the business components and that you have the interpersonal skills needed to put it all together. Reading over these questions and developing your own answers will be great preparation.
Have you ever had to answer any of these questions?
This article was first published in November 2014.