Walmart vs. Target vs. Staples: Where Are Shoppers Going for the Best Deals on School Supplies?

Male hand choosing new green ring binder file folder from colorful shelf display in stationery shop.
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The inflation rate dropped from a 40-year high of 9.1% in June to 8.5% in July, and gas prices have fallen back under $4 from their record highs above $5 in early summer. Even so, back-to-school shopping will be much more challenging this year for millions of American families.

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A new GOBankingRates survey of more than 1,000 adults shows how people are coping, what they plan to spend, and where they plan to shop as the school year approaches. Interestingly, about 45% of the study’s respondents don’t need school supplies this year. Here’s how the remaining 55% plan to head back to class in style this fall.

People Are Finding Creative Ways to Cope

The largest plurality of respondents who will do back-to-school shopping — about 35% — are looking for coupons and sales more often than before. Another 30% are switching to less expensive alternatives, 13% are buying store brands more frequently, 12% are shopping at discount stores and 10% are cutting back in other places to pay for school supplies.

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So, What Are Shoppers Planning To Spend?

A vast majority of people anticipate spending less than $500, with about 40% planning to cap their back-to-school spending at $200 and another 33% expecting to spend between $200-$400. About 11% will go all the way up to $600, with much smaller single-digit percentages expecting to spend $800, $1,000, $1,500 or beyond.

And the Winner is… Walmart

In this challenging year, more than half of the study’s respondents — 52% — will rely on Walmart for their back-to-school shopping needs. For context as to just how big a 52% majority is in this case, the next-biggest group, which plans to take their business to Target, is only about 22%. Only 2% plan to shop at Staples, with the rest spread among Amazon, Costco, dollar stores and local small businesses.

It’s not hard to understand why the world’s largest retailer is this year’s hot ticket.

“When it comes to school supplies, you’d be hard pressed to beat the prices at Walmart,” said MyElearningWorld.com founder Scott Winstead, who covers online deals for school and tech supplies. “You can find items starting at $0.25 here, but will also find over 100 back-to-school items under $1. Walmart’s website also makes it easy to enter your school and grade to see your supply list right there on the site.”

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Staples, Target, Walmart: Is One Really Better Than the Others?

All three big-box chains are well aware of the back-to-school shopping rush and plan their sales with the competition in mind.

“Target, Staples, and Walmart will all pretty routinely have the universal sort of school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, crayons, markers, and more for $1 or less each,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews. “These are name brands as well as store brands in many cases. For instance, at Target, you may be able to get their store-brand crayons for $0.25 cents a package, but you could also get Crayola for $0.50, so either way, you can pick up the necessities without breaking the bank.”

With That Kind of Parity, You Might Be Wise To Stick With Your Go-To Store

According to Ramhold, it generally makes sense to stick with Target and Staples if you’re a loyalty program member who shops at those stores regularly because your savings can accumulate over time.

“For instance, Target Circle members will earn 1% back on all purchases,” said Ramhold. “If you have a Target RedCard, then you actually earn 5% back on all purchases, so if you’re a frequent shopper there, it may be worth getting all your school supplies there. Staples Rewards members will also earn 2% to 5% back on purchases depending on their tier of membership, as well. Even better, both rewards programs are totally free to join.”

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Pick Your Store With Age and Grade Level in Mind

“Prices are going to be pretty similar across each store,” according to Ramhold, but different retailers excel at serving different student demographics. 

“Target is going to be really great for older students, but also has a fair amount of items for younger kids as well,” said Ramhold. “Target also has a decent selection of Apple items, and if you pay with your RedCard, you should earn 5% back on your purchase. That might not sound like much, but given that Apple items rarely see discounts, this can be a good way of saving a little something. Target also tends to have more looks that are on-trend for many ages, but especially older kids. Staples can also be good for college students, especially if they’re looking for new devices, an office chair for a home desk setup, or even if they’re looking for smart devices from brands like Amazon or Google. Staples will also be ideal for shopping for desk organization sets, if that’s something your kids are wanting for the new school year.”

If you’re an educator, on the other hand, the choice is clear.

“Something I’d like to mention right off the bat, if you’re a teacher looking to purchase school supplies for your class, you need to know about Target’s 15% off deal for teachers,” said Winstead. “You just have to join the Target Circle club and verify your teacher status.”

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 1,004 Americans aged 18 and older from across the country between July 21 and July 24, 2022, asking five different questions: (1) How much do you expect to spend on back-to-school supplies/items this year (for yourself or others)?; (2) How has inflation affected your back-to-school shopping?; (3) How are you shopping differently to spend less on back-to-school supplies this year?; (4) Where are you shopping for back-to-school supplies this year?; and (5) Has the current rise in prices and cost of living affected your college plans for you or your family?. GOBankingRates used PureSpectrum’s survey platform to conduct the poll.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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