Should you be doing your back-to-school shopping in-store or online?

ByDonna Tetreault, ABC Parenting Contributor KABC logo
Thursday, August 6, 2015
(ABC Owned Television Stations)
ABC Owned Television Stations

American parents with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend an estimated $24.9 billion back-to-school shopping this year. From pencils and folders to that all important first day of school outfit, back-to-school shopping can be stressful and time consuming for even the most patient parent. Moms and dads trying to juggle that never-ending to-do list of work, kids and home are sure to be looking for ways to save time and money, so we decided to see which works best -- shopping online or in-store.

First we headed to Office Depot armed with a stopwatch and a 5th grade school supply list. There were big banners indicating where we could find all the supplies we need. Happily, the store had everything we were looking for, even a "polyexpanding file" (that's a seven-pocket expanding file folder to us non-academics).

We reached the cash register line by the 18-minute mark, faster than we were expecting. But then we ended up spending an additional 8 minutes waiting. (No big deal, that's what iPhones are for.)

Total cost: $70.43

Total time: 26 minutes

Considering the National Retail Federation says most families will spend $97.74 on school supplies alone, we're doing better than average. Actually, not really, as we didn't buy a backpack. Better to let our kid pick his own. The backpack will cost about $15-$30, depending on the store, bringing our total right in line with the National Retail Federation estimate.

When it came to online shopping, we headed to Amazon expecting to find impressive deals. It was a little overwhelming with so much to sift through, so we ended up searching each item and then clicking on the best deal. It took 19 minutes (not bad) and we spent $99.08, including shipping (no Amazon Prime). Yes, we saved a little time, 7 minutes in total from shopping in-store, but we were out an additional $30 because we bought more in quantity. We only needed one highlighter, but we ended up buying 3 because that's how they were packaged. Our kids will need a few extra highlighters at some point, right?

For good measure, we also tried shopping Office Depot online. It takes 20 minutes -- a little faster than walking through the aisles -- but we spend $84.19. Again, we buy more items due to packaging and we had to pay for shipping.

So, what does this all mean? Parents are probably going to go for whichever style is more comfortable for their lifestyle. Some people prefer the more tactile experience of being able to browse the aisles while shopping in-store. As long as you don't mind a little down time in the check-out line, you can save some money by only buying what you need and skipping shipping fees. But if time and convenience are the top priorities, online shopping may be the way to go.

One more thing -- let's call it the "kiddo factor." Parents know that sometimes letting your kids have a say in just what folder or eraser they want to buy is just as important as getting the best deal. But that can add precious minutes to your shopping experience, no matter if you're at the store or sitting in front of the computer.

So which back-to-school shopping method do you prefer -- in-store or online? Got any tips on how to save time or money? Let us know in the comments.

Happy Shopping!