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E-commerce for beginners: Hiring buyers

After a long break, I wanted to continue to my “E-commerce for beginners” series with the buyer section. Remember, this series is for beginners who are considering starting up an e-commerce company. So if you are already an expert on e-commerce field, it is better to read other articles =)

Usually, the way you start a company does not keep going  as “I will start a company”, because starting an e-commerce company is just the tool, or the path to reach a better and larger goal. This goal can be either making money, being successful or an intrinsic motivation of selling a particular product/service. In all three options, the way you start a company goes with this statement: ” I will start an e-commerce company which will be selling …..”

Is buying really important?

In e-commerce companies, buyers & merchandisers (can be the same person in some companies) have the most critical role especially if you are just starting it up. The reason is, what products you want to sell and where to find the supplier of those products are the baselines of the course of events for your crawling-stage business.

Do I need to hire a buyer?

If you are not from the industry of what you want to offer on the website, then most probably you have no idea how things work in real life (it is not gonna be the way as it’s written in books) which means you have to find a buyer for the business.  The best e-commerce owners know that buyers are the killer engines for the sustainability of the business. Buyer will be helping you getting  cheapest and trustworthy suppliers, providing with the best products of the season with the best payment terms. There are certain aspects of buyer utilization that you should take into consideration when you hire a buyer:

1) Buyers should be good managers & great leaders: They should be assessed with their past experience on the field. (what kind of challenges they have faced, what was the volume of transactions they leaded etc.) Besides, leadership is another key pillar especially if you are hiring a senior person. One question to assess leadership would be the number of people they supervised or managed. To wrap up, the two dimensions of this aspect are managing actions and leading people.

2) Buyers can bring more than workforce: When you hire someone, you don’t just hire their personality and labor force. In a way, you gain their past experience, the methodologies they used in their previous companies, the habits, the tricks of bargaining and work culture and so on. But the most important think you obtain is the supplier network of buyer, and that’s what you care the most, if you are in the earliest stage of start-up (if you haven’t launched your website yet). If I were an e-commerce owner who has recently started up an e-commerce company, and having an interview with a buyer, I would directly ask “Which suppliers/brands can you bring me in the same month you start working here”. In addition to the answer of this question; the face expression and the attitude during the response will be crucial indicators of the readiness of this person to contribute to your business.

3) Buyers should have analytical skills: Being the star of the field of an industry doesn’t mean putting the best effort and contribution on the business. Efficient positioning, good pricing strategy and unit economics require analytical skills and approach. Lack of monitoring the performance of stock usage, process handling and supplier performance can cause heavy load on the business in the future. This load can be operational, financial or both. So buyers should always try to be the masters of their own KPIs and they should challenge their own achievements as well as their colleagues.  One small measurement of this aspect in the recruitment process would be a case interview. In addition to this, interviewer should try to capture how competent the buyer actually is on Microsoft Excel, including the questions with relative KPIs, dashboards and other reporting mechanisms.



Image source: Flickr

Orkun Basaran


  1. Paul Debahy

    Thanks for the info Orkun!

    Would be interesting to know how would you differentiate, in terms of responsibilities, between the buying team and the merchandising team, especially when scaling your e-commerce company?

    Who would be responsible of analyzing sales, replenishment, budgeting, etc.?

    Maybe in your next post! 😉

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