With a market worth over £1bn, retailers battling for a stake in the back to school market are taking no prisoners. But which players will finish top of the class?

Why is back to school a big deal?

With the recession forcing retailers to compete hard for their cut of the market, it’s no surprise the big retail names are pulling out all the stops for the back to school period.
According to the TNS Worldpanel Fashion, the school clothing and footwear market is worth £1.05bn for the 52 weeks to April 28, with supermarkets taking 35% of the market share.
This is also the first year that Woolworths, once a key player in the school market, is not competing so there is share out there to be won.

Who are the key players?

The supermarkets have aggressively developed their schoolwear offers, with Asda and Tesco battling particularly hard to win customers this year. Marks & Spencer has traditionally dominated the
market, while the newly created Woolworths.co.uk is also offering big deals to gain market share.

What are they doing?

Asda was first to unleash an attack on its retail competitors by launching its back to school range in June, earlier than ever. Tesco struck back with a £3.75 uniform, its cheapest ever, undercutting Asda’s George offer of £4.75. This in turn led Asda to offer a 100-day satisfaction guarantee.

M&S is offering free delivery on all schoolwear and uniforms from £6.50, while Woolworths.co.uk is offering 20% off schoolwear bought in August.

It’s not just on the apparel front that retailers that are battling it out. There is a huge opportunity for high street stationers such as WHSmith and Ryman to cash in. WHSmith is advertising 75% off certain lines while Ryman and Staples are offering a range of 3-for-2 and bogof vouchers.

Tesco has also picked up on the gap in the stationery market and last week launched national newspaper and poster ads comparing prices against WHSmith’s. Tesco claimed to offer cheaper prices on products such as Pritt Stick, Tipp-Ex and Berol pens.

Who will be the winners?

Verdict analyst Maureen Hinton says supermarkets will again take the biggest share of the back to school market. She said: “Supermarkets are doing a lot for back to school. They can take advantage of their flexibility of space for seasonal items and drive non-food sales further.”

In terms of the future market growth, Hinton added: “I see there’s a greater trend to make back to school more like the US, which goes beyond uniform and stationery and sees items for student flats and accommodation, such as Ikea are offering this year.”