Friday, May 31, 2013

What is a merchant?

I started my career in fashion as a designer. It was so easy when someone outside of fashion asked ‘what do you do?’ I could easily say ‘I am a fashion designer.’ The reaction was fun. When you tell someone you are a fashion designer, they get excited; start asking questions and look at you with amazement. Everyone knows what a designer is. Fashion designers are glamorous in the eyes of the non-sartorial focused. It was a fantastic conversation starter.

After I switched into merchandising, I began to dread when someone would ask what I do. Before I realized how this kills a conversation, I would say ‘I am a merchant.’ The response from non-fashion industry folks was always: ‘Oh’ paired with confused looks. The fact is that merchandising can be a confusing term to both outsiders and insiders.

For blog readers who are seasoned fashion industry veterans, you can stop reading. This may bore you. If you are young in your career or thinking of entering the industry,  keep reading. 

At its core, the job of a merchant is to deliver the right product at the right price at the right time to the target customer. It sounds simple, but the actual day to day job of a merchant can vary greatly between companies- even within the same company. There are also different types of merchants. Even worse, different companies can give different titles to merchants who have the same role. How can we untangle this web of merchandising? I’ve created a cheat sheet below, but it’s rather crude and not an absolute. If you are looking to work in merchandising or are thinking about moving from your current company, get clarification on what the company means by merchant so you know what job you are applying for.

You can see how complex the word merchandising can be. Eventually, I simplified my response when people ask me what I do. I now say I am on the product and business side of fashion. This is less scary for people. If anyone has a better answer to this merchant conundrum, please post your comments.

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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