Over the last decade, consumer behavior has shifted to more and more purchases being made online. Now layer a pandemic on top of the changes already taking place and 59% of consumers now prefer to shop online. This means that parents and students are expecting to be able to buy their school apparel online and schools who don’t already have such an option are rushing to set one up. But one of the concerns we hear about online shopping is how to understand if what you’re getting is quality apparel since you can’t physically feel it. And, what can you do if there is an issue since there isn’t a brick and mortar to go in to? We recently spoke to a school uniform expert who gave us excellent tips on how to manage both of these things, virtually. Whether you are a school principal, director of operations, or responsible for uniform buying, these tips will help you evaluate your school uniform partner.
Ensuring you find a true partner for your school uniforms is helpful. A poor providers will make your job much harder because you will be fielding parent complaints and having to track down a non-responsive provider. With a good provider, you should have more time to focus on the other core elements of your job. Here are some of the best ways to evaluate a provider.
First, understand whether you need to make a change. If you are changing your logo or your colors, that is a good time to also evaluate providers. It is also important to understand the experience of your school community. Do they want an online option? The best time to ask how the process was for your parents is in the fall, when uniform buying is fresh on their minds. Sending out a quick survey can get you the information you need to either improve your existing relationship or look for a new K-12 school apparel provider.
If you’re making a change or testing the market, make sure you evaluate the following:
Their Customer Service Model
When things are busy during the height of the school uniform ordering season (late summer), you want to make sure you are able to reach your apparel provider quickly. Having a dedicated person, or a knowledgeable, accessible team is critical. Look for a provider where you have a dedicated service representative as well as one that has a robust customer service team accessible via phone or chat. The latter can handle your parent questions around the clock whereas your representative can help you on more global questions (e.g. color questions, delivery timelines, etc).
Reporting and Parent Reminders
If uniforms are a requirement at your school, you will want updates on who has ordered (and who hasn’t) as well as some assistance sending reminders. Some providers have a system where you can view orders and send reminders, others can provide reporting when asked and may help with reminders, other don’t have either capability. The best choice for your school will depend on how you want to handle this process but it is a good question to ask up front so you can be clear on responsibilities during busy ordering time.
The Quality of Their Garments
The quality of the clothing is the hardest item to evaluate when buying online. You want school uniforms to be durable. You kids wear them day in, day out. They learn in them, they play in them, and they eat in them. And, you’re likely only buying 4 of each item to last 180 school days. That means each piece needs to last 45 tough days! It is hard to tell without feeling an item, how good the quality is. However, the following questions can really help and once you are confident in the answers, you should always ask for a sample garment:
- Are the garments soil resistant? Apparel used to come in “stain proof” varieties but those agents were found to be harmful to children so now “soil resistant” is the language you want to look for. It means that a stain is going to be easier to lift out of the garment.
- Do the pants have knee reinforcements? High quality items will have some reinforcement in the areas that are most likely to tear — they knees. Built in knee pads will help the item last longer.
- Does the clothing have fit flexibility? Kids are constantly growing and a high quality garment will account for that in a number of ways. The first is with an adjustable waist in their pants and skirts. This allows for growth during the school year. The second is by offering a variety of fit styles for each garment (e.g. slim). Finally, the garments should include lycra — especially for girls’ clothing. Girls grow differently than boys and having lycra in their pants and polos ensures a better fit.
- Do any of the school uniform pieces have comfort complaints (i.e., what fabrics do they use)? A high quality garment will be comfortable so understanding whether there are complaints about comfort and/or understanding what materials they use is critical. If a child is not comfortable, they will put up a fight every day to not wear that. And one of the things behind uniforms is it’s supposed to make your morning easier. In addition, an uncomfortable uniform can be distracting in class taking away from learning. So always ask what kinds of complaints the provider receives about each item that you are considering. Then, when you receive a sample, make sure to test for comfort.
- Is the apparel wrinkle-free? A high quality garment in the uniform space will be wrinkle free — wash & wear. Adding uniform ironing as a task to your students or parents’ list will quickly end up on your list of complaints so make sure to avoid it!
Moving your school uniforms and/or all your apparel (e.g. spirit wear, booster spirit wear, alumni gear, team uniform and athletic apparel) online can be very convenient for you and your community. You can free up your own time by not having to manage as much of the process, and you can give your parents and students the convenience of ordering from home and having the items delivered. If you ask the questions above, you can be confident that your supplier is a good partner and that your parents will have high quality apparel.