If you want to save time, log on and buy your children's school uniform online

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The Independent Online

It can't be any accident that the first item Woolworths.co.uk sold after its launch in June was a £10 twin-pack of navy blue school jumpers. When Woolworths the store collapsed last Christmas, parents were left lamenting the loss of one of the mainstays of the British high street. Where were they to find those multi-buy nylon socks and rubber plimsolls in future?

Well, the good news is that Woolies is back in all but physical form – in time for the annual rush for back-to-school bargains. Perhaps predictably, polo shirts and pinafores have been flying off the website's virtual shelves throughout the summer, in a bonanza that has seen schoolwear sales account for three out of five of its top-selling lines.

"People are seeking value for money, so multipacks of shirts, socks, and underwear are popular," says head of brand Matthew Jacques. "Our products respond better to the fact children come in all shapes and sizes: in the past, parents tended to buy a size too big if they wanted something to last, but we offer clothes with adjustable waists and leg-lengths."

While adults of a certain age may recall trailing their parents along Woolworths' shopping aisles with a certain nostalgia, Matthew is convinced the store's main appeal for multitasking, modern-day mums will be the fact they can avoid this ordeal by shopping online. "You can shop at night, which many now do – and you don't have to drag the kids around the shop grumbling. We can also provide more information online about stock availability, so you no longer find yourself traipsing round a store only to find it doesn't have your size."

The site also offers a range of other perks, including next-day delivery for items purchased before 4pm, and a 20 per cent discount on Back to School-branded items bought throughout August. And for those worried about the prospect of unwrapping the uniform on the eve of the new term only to find it doesn't fit, Woolies will pick up returned items from customers' homes, their local post offices, or any shop with PayPoint facilities.

It isn't just online-only retailers benefiting from the rise of the "net mum", though: John Lewis, another stalwart of the uniform market, saw a 127 per cent year-on-year rise in internet sales in mid-July, with parents snapping up £15 blazers and £6 pairs of trousers. George at Asda, meanwhile, has a range of credit crunch-busting deals for parents looking for shirts and skirts in generic colours such as white, grey, and black. New lines available this year include 100 per cent cotton polo shirts and sweatshirts, and clothes lined with Lycra and Teflon, enabling them to stretch, retain their shapes for longer, and resist common stains. The company has also introduced a 100-day money-back guarantee on all school-uniform products bought between now and 13 September. Managing director Anthony Thompson says: "Some retailers are focused on being the lowest-priced at all costs. Others offer quality and high prices. Our quality is comparable to the best, but gives better value for money."

For items that need to be more hard-wearing, such as jumpers and outdoor shoes, buying cheap can be a false economy. Bespoke uniform suppliers Price & Buckland now serve 2,500 schools, while Clarks remains the market leader in quality footwear. Ed Martin, managing director of The Golden Boot, the UK's oldest shoe shop, and one of its biggest Clarks retailers, says: "Clarks' key selling-point is that it offers fitted products – you pay more than at a supermarket, but only Clarks offers different widths and half-sizes, which means shoes are fitted to individual children's feet. You're also investing in high-quality leather, so they can last for six months or a year."

He adds that, while there's always a risk that younger children might outgrow new shoes bought in early summer, many shops will exchange unused pairs if children go through growing spurts.

That's the uniform sorted, then – where to go for all the other paraphernalia? If your child's starting school for the first time and you want an all-in-one stationery set, you could do worse than opt for WH Smith's 145-piece Back to School value pack, which includes a dozen lead pencils and coloured markers, as well as 100 extra name labels for their other belongings – all for £9.95. Ryman has deals for older pupils, including a £9.99 student set and a £19.99 option aimed at budding mathematicians, which comes with a calculator. With prices for electronic goods plummeting, though, some parents are cutting out the middleman. Matthew says: "In our days, it was set squares – these days it's laptops. For £250 at the bottom end, you can't go wrong."

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