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Staples vs. Amazon for back-to-school supplies

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

As summer is slowing down, overjoyed parents everywhere are looking forward to that first day of school. Their kids? Not so much. But one sure way to get them excited is by going back-to-school shopping. And families are expected to shell out about $510 per household for the upcoming school season, according to a recent shopping survey by Deloitte.

About a fifth of that, $112, will be set aside for supplies. Where are the deals? We did the homework for you by comparing prices at Staples (SPLS) and Amazon (AMZN), and here’s what we learned.

Staples gets an A+ for notebooks and folders, with even lower in-store price tags. We found folders for as low as 15 cents and one-subject notebooks for 25 cents. On Amazon, deals are harder to score with smaller one-off items, and the lowest price we could find for a one-subject notebook was $1.

For bigger-ticket items like graphing calculators, Staples wins again. This color-screen Texas Instruments calculator was priced at $124.99 at Staples, 15% less than Amazon. Another deal that’s tough to beat: Staples’ 110% price-matching policy that not only matches the lower price, but offers an additional 10% discount on the item.

When it comes to shopping for the No. 1 back-to-school accessory – backpacks – you really can’t beat Amazon’s selection. Just type in “backpack” in the search bar and you’ll see over 200,000 results. With a selection that wide, you’ll find plenty of solid low-cost options under $20.  

The online giant also gets an A for better backpack prices. For example, we found this Jansport laptop backpack selling for $46.74 at Amazon, 15% less than Staples.

But right now at Staples, there is an ongoing backpack promotion that could sweeten the deal: if you order one online, they’ll knock 20% off your entire order with coupon code “29908” at checkout. Once that code is applied, that same Jansport backpack ends up costing a few bucks less at Staples.

For some back-to-school items like printer paper, lunch bags and lunch boxes, locker combination locks, and planners, we found it really doesn’t matter where you shop. If you just need smaller items like pens and pencils, art supplies, glue, rulers, and tape, Staples is the way to go.

Related: The best back-to-school tech deals this year

Amazon makes shopping easier for families who need to buy things in bundles of two or more. And new to this year’s school shopping season, teens 13 through 17 can acquire logins for their parents’ account and shop independently using the Amazon app. Parents can (and should) set spending limits and approve orders based on the way they customize the process. Students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges are eligible for a free 6-month Prime membership. After the trial period, Prime Student is 50% off a regular membership.

The final report card for back-to-school supplies? Staples gets an A for weekly better deals overall, especially in-store. This year, if you spend $25 or more in store, you get a code to enter into a scholarship sweepstakes that’ll award prizes of $25,000 to $50,000Amazon gets a B- for not having cheaper add-on items or any real promotional deals going on for this season.

Have any unbeatable back to school savings to share? Tweet me @Jeanie531 or leave a comment below.

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