Marks & Spencer has thrown down the gauntlet to George at Asda and forced its rivals into heavy promotions after unveiling the cheapest school uniform on the market.
M&S, which according to TNS WorldPanel Fashion, is the market leader in schoolwear with a 12% share of the £502m category, has reduced the price of its entry point back-to-school offer by 30% this year compared with 2007, offering a complete uniform for just £6.50.
Last year, George raised the bar by starting its back-to-school promotion earlier than the previous year in June with a £9.96 school uniform.
But George has yet to unveil its back-to-school strategy for this year, despite in-store promotions from its rivals kicking off this week to coincide with the start of the school holidays. M&S has already been offering customers a three-for-two deal on individual school uniform items, but this is due to end on Sunday.
The price cuts come just weeks after M&S was criticised for neglecting fashionability and quality to focus on a price-driven strategy, which analysts said had contributed to the chain issuing a profit warning last month. The retailer’s total clothing sales fell by 3.6% for the 13 weeks to June 28.
Pali International analyst Nick Bubb said the bargain uniform strategy was a "strange" move for M&S. "Veering away from mid to premium products towards really low prices could make M&S customers question the quality."
Sainsbury's Tu, which avoided a promotion last year and opted instead for an 8% price cut across all its back-to-school offer, has been forced to add a three-for-two promotion this year.
Tu business unit director Adrian Mountford said: "We want to grow our back-to-school market share, so we’ve been forced to give in this year."
Adams Kids chief executive David Carter-Johnson said M&S’s heavy discounting had also forced it into a three-for-two promotion this week.
Woolworths is also offering a three-for-two promotion across all schoolwear until August 4. Prices are in line with last year, but a value-driven schoolwear range under its Worth it! brand will launch in November ahead of the Christmas holidays.