Many people use the terms procurement and purchasing interchangeably. But despite their similarities, they do have different meanings. One focuses on transactional functions, for example, while the other focuses on the strategic process of product sourcing.
In this guide, we clarify any confusion on the difference between procurement and purchasing, and deep dive into each area.
Before we begin
What is procurement?
Procurement is the process of sourcing and purchasing goods and services from an external source, like a third-party vendor or supplier. Oftentimes, procurement managers will procure goods and services with limited resources and reduced capabilities. This means they have to make the smartest possible choices to ensure they purchase the best goods and services.
Procurement Managers deal with things like:
- Sourcing activities and tactical sourcing
- Negotiation and vendor management
- Strategically selecting goods and services
- Approving organizational purchase requests
- Receiving goods and services
In short, procurement generally involves making buying decisions under conditions of scarcity.
What’s the difference between procurement and purchasing?
Purchasing, on the other hand, identifies how goods and services are ordered. For example, by creating and fulfilling purchase orders and arranging payment for goods.
Purchasing is the act of acquiring a good or service and how a procurement manager goes about paying for something. This process involves:
- Spend requests and purchase approvals.
- Creation of a purchase order.
- Receiving and checking goods and services.
- Attaching a packing slip to a purchase.
- Passing the completed purchase to the accounts payable team.
In this guide, we’ll explain the difference between procurement and purchasing and the roles that these two important functions play in business.
Table of contents
- What is Procurement?
- What is Purchasing?
- Procurement vs Purchasing: What’s the Difference?
- Automating Your Procurement and Purchasing Strategy with E-Procurement
Procurement is the process of sourcing and acquiring the goods and services a company needs to fulfill its business objectives.
An effective procurement strategy can do many things. For instance, it can save a company money by negotiating favourable terms and pricing. It can also ensure supplier quality, efficiency, and timeliness.
Procurement involves much more than just handing over the company credit card and paying for a purchase. For example, an effective procurement strategy includes everything involved in the procuring process, from identifying which goods and services an organization requires for growth, through to maintaining the right documentation and records.
Keep in mind, however, that how a company shapes its internal procurement process influences factors like the company’s size, industry, available human resources, and organizational structure.
For an in-depth explanation of the procurement process, check out our guide: What are the Stages of the Procurement Process?
Procurement is important in business because it directly impacts a company’s profit margin. For an organization to be profitable, the cost of procuring goods needs to be less than the amount it sells those goods for, minus whatever costs are associated with processing and selling them.
Enacting the best procurement procedures will ensure that the buyer (i.e. the company) is acquiring goods and services at the best possible price at all times.
In addition, procurement is linked to several core business functions within an organization. Therefore, it should always be considered a critical part of any organization’s corporate strategy.
Procurement touches on each of these components.
For instance, procurement and corporate identity are intertwined. If your business is building (or has built) its identity around an environmentally conscious ethic, for example, then your procurement strategy should reflect this decision. However, for this to be successful, policies must be in place to ensure you are sourcing from companies with similar ethics, or that you are sourcing materials that are not environmentally hazardous.
A company’s procurement strategy should also be shaped with its market placement, company capabilities, and management issues in mind. It’s essential that a company has the right people in place to put into action the beliefs and philosophies you want to govern your business by. Handling vendor relationships, then, should reflect company philosophy.
Purchasing is a set of tasks involved in buying goods and services. Purchasing involves tasks such as ordering, raising purchase orders, receiving, and arranging payment.
As a function, purchasing is a subset of procurement. And as such, the purchasing process sits inside the procurement process.
However, unlike procurement-related tasks outlined above, you shouldn’t tailor the steps explicitly related to purchasing to suit the size and scope of each individual vendor you’re purchasing from. This is a fundamental step of good purchasing and makes your process more streamlined. Ultimately, your purchasing process should employ routine best practices across all vendors.
Good question. Essentially, you perform both procurement and purchasing when a company needs to acquire goods and services. But these two functions have different focuses and different methods for achieving their respective end goals.
Here’s a handy table that explains the differences between procurement and purchasing:
Procurement and purchasing both fall within an overarching process known as the procure-to-pay cycle. This cycle encompasses all of the steps a company must take to identify and acquire the goods and services it needs to do business. (In other words, it’s procurement and purchasing combined.)
To help you visualize how procurement and purchasing support one another throughout this cycle, here’s when these two functions get involved in the procure-to-pay cycle.
Procurement steps in the procure-to-pay cycle
- Identify goods and services required
- Approve purchase requests
- Identify suppliers
- Sending inquiries (RFQs and RFPs)
- Receipt of quotes from suppliers
- Negotiate pricing and terms
- Select vendors
Purchasing steps in the procure-to-pay cycle
- Acknowledge purchase orders
- Advance shipment notice
- Receive goods
- Inventory management
- Invoice recording
- Three-way match
- Payment to supplier
Procurement and expense management platforms like Procurify can help your team better oversee all procurement and purchasing activities with features like:
- Purchase requesting functionality for everyone on the team
- Purchasing and procurement workflows
- Purchase order creation, approval, and storage
- Approved vendor catalogues that every team member can access online
- Approval systems based on locations, departments and dollar thresholds, that are easy for employees and procurement managers to follow
- A mobile app that helps you request, approve and receive goods on the go
- Vendor management and vendor performance tracking
- Three-way matching
- Data exporting into your accounting system
The efficiencies that procurement and purchasing software can bring to your company’s procurement strategy can eliminate overspending and yield huge savings (both time and money), regardless of the size of your organization.
Ultimately, purchasing is a process within the overarching procurement process. Despite this, procurement and purchasing are oftentimes interchangeable. In the business world, the practice of using similar terminology in either conversation or printed materials is routine, although it is often confusing and should be avoided.
Procurement deals with the sourcing of activities, negotiation, and strategic selection of goods and services that are usually of importance to an organization. Purchasing, however, explains the process of ordering goods and services. In addition, purchasing also describes the transactional function of procurement for goods or services.
Editor's note Original publish date: 7 Feb 2014 Original author: Matt Lim We've since updated and republished this blog post with new content.