Our guide to better buying

When you’re counting the pennies it pays to be a savvy shopper, says Lindsey Marsh, author of The School Fundraising Handbook

Good timing

The more time you allow for managing procurement, the more negotiating power you will have, especially when you can show suppliers you are prepared to walk away or wait for the right deal. Last-minute purchases (unless planned for) can be expensive and lead to costly mistakes. Moreover, if you need goods quickly, you might have to pay higher delivery charges, and could miss out on opportunities to source from further afield.

Observe the market and buy at the right time. For example, you can save money by buying only fruit that is in season, or save on the cost of school trips by taking advantage of off-peak rates. You’re also able to negotiate better deals when there is less demand for certain supplies, by organising a garden installation during winter rather than summer, for instance.

Good deals

There are always deals to be had. Some are ongoing, some last until stocks go and others last for a limited time only.

Look out for:

  • Lightning deals, usually lasting a few hours
  • Flash sales, lasting up to 72 hours
  • Daily deals, running for 24 hours
  • Deals of the week, lasting for seven days
  • Early-bird and late deals

Many stores also run in-store promotions, offering free gifts with purchases or ‘buy one, get one free’ offers. Sales events – such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, back-toschool offers and end-of-season sales – can help schools squeeze more out of their budget.

Good research

With fluctuating prices and so many products, promotions and suppliers on the market, seeking out the right ones may seem overwhelming. However, there are several ways to help you make confident, informed buying decisions. For instance, you can find multiple suppliers under one roof by attending a trade show or exhibition. Not only will this give you a feel for what’s out there,  it will also offer seminars and networking opportunities.

You can also find approved suppliers by:

  • Speaking to your existing supplier to see if they offer additional products or services
  • Asking for recommendations from other schools or your local authority, or by posting on Twitter
  • Contacting trade associations and using websites such as trustatrader.com
  • Looking at third-party deals negotiated by organisations you are part of. The NAHT, for example, has special offers with carefully selected partners. E-commerce platforms are useful for locating multiple vendors and products ‘under one banner’. These include online marketplaces (such as eBay and Amazon), and price comparison websites (such as comparethemarket.com and idealo.co.uk), and deal aggregators (such as allthedeals.co.uk).

Price-tracking websites and browser extensions allow you to source goods quickly and efficiently. Websites such as Price Spy (pricespy.co.uk) can help you determine the best time to buy and who to buy from. Price Spy provides information about daily deals and a full pricing history of products. You can also set up alerts for products you are sourcing, so that you are notified when prices drop to a price level you specify. These trackers are an efficient way to research and stay up to date with the market.

Clearance sales

Clearance stock is often sold brand-new and in perfect condition, but is cheaper than the RRP because it is end-of-line, and the seller needs to make way for new stock. Many businesses sell clearance items on their websites. Big-name retailers such as Argos and Tesco have eBay outlets for clearance stock, while others release their stock to clearance wholesalers. Schools can also purchase discontinued stock from redistribution charities such as In Kind Direct. You could even ask businesses directly if they have any surplus stock.

Refurbished products A range of resources can be bought second-hand and refurbished, saving perfectly good items from going to landfill. Amazon offers a ‘certified refurbished’ programme to ensure that buyers feel confident about the quality of products on offer. Only carefully approved sellers can offer certified refurbished products, as goods must be inspected, tested, cleaned and repaired to ‘look and work like new’, and come with a minimum one-year warranty.

Refurbished products

A range of resources can be bought second-hand and refurbished, saving perfectly good items from going to landfill. Amazon offers a ‘certified refurbished’ programme to ensure that buyers feel confident about the quality of products on offer. Only carefully approved sellers can offer certified refurbished products, as goods must be inspected, tested, cleaned and repaired to ‘look and work like new’, and come with a minimum one-year warranty.

Bulk buying

The bigger your order, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to negotiate on costs and deals. Buyers can buy in bulk (and even job lots) on sites like eBay and Amazon. Many wholesalers also have a minimum order threshold, which will qualify bulk buyers for lower unit costs and free delivery. Even small schools can bulk-buy by placing one large order instead of multiple smaller ones across the year, or joint purchasing with other buyers (whether that be schools or buying hubs, or by using framework agreements).

Using a framework

When it comes to making high-value purchases, schools can choose to manage the tendering process themselves, or they can use a procurement specialist framework. There are lots of benefits to using a framework: it saves time and work (as deals have already been negotiated) and you have assurance that deals are legally compliant and approved. If anything goes wrong, you will be supported by the organisation that negotiated the framework. You can find a DfE approved framework at gov.uk/guidance/find-a-dfe-approved-framework-for-your-school

Good decisions

As well as securing best value, it’s important to avoid making costly mistakes. Make sure you follow your school’s procurement procedures and get written confirmation of agreements (ask experts to look over these). Avoid late charges and fines by keeping track of key dates for payments, contract renewal, notice periods, deadlines for returning equipment, etc. Spot and fix problems early and make sure resources are used properly to extend the life of purchases. Make use of warranties and guarantees (including money-back and pricematch guarantees). Think through purchases carefully – don’t buy ICT equipment without school-wide consultation as you will need to ensure compatibility with the rest of the schools’ infrastructure.

For further guidance

See the DfE’s guide Buying for Schools at gov.uk/guidance/buying-for-schools