How to Become a Retail Merchandise Planner
If you have a passion for a product and the sharp eye for knowing what will sell now and in the predictable future, a role as a merchandise planner could be an excellent career choice. Here, we'll explain the essential qualities needed to get into merchandising and how to create the best resume for a position as merchandiser or fashion planner.
What is merchandise planning in retail?
The best merchandise planners are logical about predicting their customers' needs. The more passionate they are about their product, the better they're able to forecast the future needs and sales of their department, store or organization. And they'll be more likely to excel in their role. Merchandise planners can work in a variety of retail sectors, including fashion, home décor, grocery and "general merchandise" for big box retailers and variety stores. But merchandise planning is part of the management of very small retail businesses too, and may be folded into another role in sales, management or operations, depending on the business size.
As of 2018, a typical merchandise planner makes an average salary of $67,600 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This role can translate into several diverse titles such as fashion planner, ecommerce merchandise planner, visual merchandising, director of merchandise planning and allocation, merchandise manager, merchandise analyst and merchandise supervisor.
My path to becoming a merchandise planner
In my early 20s, I landed one of the best jobs a recent college grad could hope for: assistant wine merchandise planner. It was an entry-level retail job, but due to the subject matter, there was stiff competition for the role. Fortunately, I had some experience working in a small gourmet wine shop and consequently knew a few key wine facts, such as the general differences between Alsatian Gewurztraminer and Alsatian Pinot Gris.
However, the deciding factor was probably that I had previously worked with the head merchandise planner, who was still a good friend. Sometimes, it's all about using your connections. (Remember: networking events and having an excellent profile on the networking site LinkedIn can help create and cement these connections.)
When you don't have that kind of luck, however, landing a merchandise planning role relies as much on experience as it does education. In the wine industry, for instance, there were plenty of reps with bachelor's degrees in subjects like Communications or, like me, English. What mattered was their knowledge of, and passion for, wine. Customers could tell when they were excited about a new varietal, vintage, single-estate production or vineyard.
At the same time, the wine representatives we worked with seemed to have a sixth sense about what their customers would like. The reps that sold to our store, for instance, knew our head merchandise planner had a deep love for Oregon Pinot Noirs, Washington Cabernet Sauvignons, and Italian Super Tuscans. They always brought a few more of those and almost always sold her more than she intended to buy. Then again, she sold those cases practically the moment they arrived, or even before, so it was a practical and fruitful balance all around.
Retail merchandise planner skills
In addition to a passion for their product, a retail merchandiser should be able to:
- Buy products based on the prediction of customer needs and potential sales
- Gauge what products will maintain and build on the quality and reputation of the company while also knowing what will sell
- Passionately pursue product research
- Gain in-depth knowledge of the industry
- Conduct accurate sales tracking
- Liaise well with the sales, marketing and buying departments
- Train employees thoroughly on new and existing products
Highlighting these attributes in a well-written cover letter and an organized resume can help get you noticed by a hiring manager (create both documents in a snap using our Cover Letter Templates and Resume Templates).
How to become a merchandise planner
When writing a retail merchandise planner resume, keep in mind hiring managers typically look for a degree in marketing, business or design. However, as mentioned before, knowledge and experience in the industry — especially something as complex as wine — can be more appealing than a specific college degree. The best resumes and cover letters are the ones that balance experience, skills, education and enthusiasm.
When reading a job listing, look for keywords that you can repeat from the original job description. Keywords are words that are used to describe the most important skills and work experiences that a candidate should possess. They can be easy to spot in a job description because they are frequently repeated throughout the job description.
Your resume may be run through an ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, which scans for keywords and unique phrases that support its search parameters. So it will help you "beat the bots" when you customize your application materials for each role you apply to, and put focus on making sure you are including the keywords from the job description in the exact same wording that's included in the description. For example, if the job description calls for "excellent verbal and written communication skills," do not write in your resume that you possess "superior communication skills." Use the exact wording found in the job description.
You'll also want to identify the hiring manager and learn a little about them to help target your cover letter storytelling and resume summary and keywords. Try looking them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms to determine where they stand on issues in the industry. Review some of the content they've shared to understand their theories on leadership, team work, and the ways people should work together.
Find three ways to describe past merchandise planning experience uniquely. Include other forms of merchandise planning descriptors when applicable, such as visual merchandising, fashion merchandising, merchandise buyer or merchandise analyst. For more on how to write a modern, ATS-friendly resume, How to Write a Resume page.
Whether you're starting on the sales floor, as an assistant like I did, or working in a relevant supporting role while you earn your degree, a great application package can help you land the job you're searching for. Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder can help you stand out from the competition and secure a role in merchandising. With step-by-step guidance and expert advice, you'll be sure to create application materials that get your foot in the door.