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George fires first shot in back-to-school war

George at Asda has kicked off the fierce back-to-school price war earlier than ever this year.

The supermarket has launched a loss-leader single-price uniform package in an bid to steal a march on rival Marks & Spencer and absorb the sales of Woolworths, which collapsed last year.

George issued flat-rate pricing across school uniforms for all age groups from three to 16-year-olds this week, charging £3 for two twin packs of polo shirts, £3 for a two-pack of sweatshirts and £5 for a two-pack of trousers. Although the total price equals £11, per uniform the cost works out at £4.75, slightly ahead of last year’s £4 deal which only went up to age 12. George said the quality of its uniform had also improved, hence the price rise.

George managing director Anthony Thompson said he hoped to force rival retailers into offering one price across age groups in kidswear, and pointed to the recent bra-pricing debate. M&S was forced to reduce the price of bras that were over a D-cup, which it had previously sold for £2 more than smaller sizes, after pressure from consumers.

Thompson said: “There is a cynical pricing structure as children get older, with a massive hike in prices. We’re offering a different strategy.”
Thompson said the school uniform battle would not just be about price this season and that shoppers were increasingly looking for added value for money. He said: “Retailers talk about the cheapest outfit but we are looking for value for money throughout the schoolwear market, no matter what age range. You don’t pay more for bigger adults’ clothing, you don’t even pay more for larger-sized bras any more. So it is simple - customers should not pay more for compulsory school clothes.”

Thompson said the early launch would also help it capture the ex-Woolworths kidswear shopper following the demise of the chain last year. Its kids’ brand Ladybird had sales of about £250 million. Both the Woolworths and Ladybird brands were bought by Shop Direct Group and are due to be relaunched as online-only operations this summer.

Despite George’s widescale early campaign, Tesco’s head of clothing and hardlines Terry Green was unconcerned. He said Tesco would launch its back-to-school range “with a big bang” in two weeks’ time, about the same time as last year.

Sainsbury’s Tu business unit director Adrian Mountford said the grocer would launch its schoolwear range only slightly earlier than last year’s end of July start date. He added: “It would be an inefficient use of space for us to launch so early. The sales density we get out of womenswear is way in excess of what we’d get out of schoolwear.”

M&S was undecided on its strategy, but sources told Drapers it had no plans different to last year, when it sold a full uniform for £6.50. The retailer maintains its garments are better quality than its rivals, which it says justifies its higher price points.

Uniform prices

How Asda measures up against its rivals (based on last year’s prices)

  • George at Asda £4.75
  • Tesco £15.25
  • Marks & Spencer £21.50
  • Estimated total market £1bn

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