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School Supplies: Walmart vs. Target Head To Head

by Tara Kuczykowski on August 27, 2010 · 17 comments

School Supplies Pencils Erasers August 07, 20103
Photo by Steven Depolo

We're down to the wire on Back To School shopping, and for many of us, kids have either already started or will be starting next week. The National Retail Foundation estimates that the average family will spend $96 on school supplies, which is nearly 10 percent more than last year. Is it too late to score a good deal, or are there still deals to be found if you know where to look?

I headed out to my local Walmart last week with ABC 6 On Your Side to see what we could find out. You can check out that segment here.

After leaving Walmart, I headed over to Target to do a price-for-price comparison. To be completely fair, I didn't use any price matching or coupons, and I only compared like items of the same brand and size. I have to say the results kind of surprised me:

As you can see, Walmart and Target came out dead even. I completely expected Walmart to top Target with their everyday low prices, but then again, I live in a very competitive market.

Of course, if you've been a savvy shopper and stocking up on the loss leaders since the deals started in late June/early July, you'll have picked up the same list for a fraction of what you'd spend right now. But in all cases, we've ended up far below the retail average.

What are some tips for saving on last-minute Back To School supplies?

  • Make a list -- If you create a list and stick to it, you're going to ensure that you get everything you need in one trip. This is especially helpful if you have several students. Combine all of their lists into one master list, and you'll save yourself a huge headache.
  • Take inventory -- I know my kids came home with bags of unused glue sticks, pencils, erasers, scissors, etc. at the end of last year. Don't let these items go to wast. Take them into consideration when making your list for this year. Likely you'll find many of these items listed once again.
  • Do your homework -- Gather up those current sales ads and see what the prices are like this week so you can plan your trip accordingly.
  • Save on gas -- Utilize price matching so you're not running all over town. Carry all of your ads into a store and have that store meet the advertised prices. Walmart and Target both offer this service, but in my opinion Walmart has the advantage here because they will do it right at the register without the additional hassle of lugging your items to the customer service desk.
  • Don't forget your coupons -- More and more schools are asking parents to supply classroom items outside the traditional school supplies. Items on our list include things like hand sanitizer, Clorox Wipes, Kleenex, and Ziploc Bags. You'll find coupons available for all of these items in the Deal Seeking Mom Coupon Database.

So where would I choose to shop given the fact that Walmart and Target were evenly matched in this case? For me it comes down to ease of use.

As you can see in the news segment, my Walmart store was well organized with wide aisles and everything located where I could quickly and easily get in and out. Target, on the other hand, looked like a war zone. I spent a good 30 minutes trying to find all of the necessary items on my list, and several items were out of stock, which left me heading back to Walmart to finish up my supply list.

So what store is your first choice for purchasing school supplies? If you've already shopped, did you come in above or below the national average of $96?

I am a participant in the Walmart Moms program. Walmart has provided me with compensation to perform the above shopping comparison. Participation in this program is voluntary. All opinions are my own, always have been, always will be.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Martha S. August 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Well this is a very interesting comparison! I absolutely would have expected Wal-Mart to come in below Target. That being said, my store of choice is always Target. I will only go into Wal-Mart if it's absolutely necessary (and thank goodness it's usually not). And my supplies list came in at about this total. My son is in pre-k and while the actual supplies on his list were less than you listed, his list also includes those non-trad items you listed.

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2 Rita August 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm

The price comparison doesn't surprise me one little bit. I've done quite a few of them myself on everything from food to cosmetics and every single time, I came out MUCH cheaper by shopping ANYWHERE but Walmart. The first time I did it, I admit, I was surprised. After that I realized that the "everyday low prices" line is just that... A line!!! While it's true that there are a few prices that just can't be beat anywhere else, to me, it's just not worth the HEADACHE and HASSLE of going to Walmart. I've not shopped there in WELL over a year and don't miss it one bit!

As far as your question, we had a family member in the hospital during the blow out school supply sales, so I was not able to get as many good deals as I did in previous years. Last year I spent $3 on all of my daughters supplies. This year I spent about $15.

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3 suzanne August 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I don't know if you know this...Every week Walmart has a list and automatically comps Target's ad for the most part (it is only as good as the asssociate who is doing the comps). I used to be an assistant mgr. at Walmart. Target also "shops" Walmart which between the two adjusting their prices to the other store for the most part makes them comparable.

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4 Amy Brown August 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I shopped at Walmart and Target just because of cirumstances, and I averaged about $60 - we had left over items from last year and I managed to just grab the cheapest items. This is including the additional items like baby wipes, kleenex, hand soap, etc... So I fell below!!

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5 Sarah K. August 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for sharing this. I don't have kids to do Back to School shopping for yet (although our niece did get some nice stuff from us, heh), but more than anything to me this proves that planning in advance, shopping the sales over time, and being willing to spread purchases out beats waiting until the last minute... times 3!

I also think it's interesting that your Target is the war zone and your Walmart is nice. Here it's the opposite-- I hate going into the Walmart, everything is spread out and it always seems crowded, despite being enormous, and our Target is sparkling clean and organized.

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6 Tara Kuczykowski August 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm

You know, usually our Target is nicely organized, but someone clearly hasn't been doing their job. It was even worse when I sent my husband back over on Wednesday because I lost my receipt with all of the prices. Our Walmart was just recently remodeled, and you can tell they're really striving to keep it clean and organized.

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7 Coreen August 27, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I've done apple for apple pricing on Target vs. our local cheapest grocery store and there was only .70 difference. I've always said that Target is just the same as Walmart when it comes time to shop. I really really dislike Walmart and will shop at Target any day. It's cleaner and every time I go in there one of their employess says something to me. Not at Walmart. It's dirty, the people are disgusting and the employees are rude and not helpful and you can never find one on the floor when you have a question. Sorry if you work at Walmart.

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8 Rachel G August 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

This year I've done most of my back to school shopping at staples and office depot. i've haven't done this before because i don't normally shop there and there isn't one really close. I've taken advantage of the rebates and .01-.25 sales. I bought a few pens at Target that I got for free with coupons and .25 glue sticks at wal mart and that's pretty much it for those two places. it's been rather nice.
I have the same feelings at wal mart as coreen. i know go there as little as possible. i think i'm only going there a few times a year now when i used to go about once a week.

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9 Farhana August 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I'm in the Houston area and both stores compete fiercely. I recently did price comps for various products and realized that Walmart is not usually the cheapest.

Not surprised that most people prefer to shop at Target. I've always had the same preference. Luckily though both stores here are clean and well stocked. But the staff at Walmart isn't always polite or coupon friendly which prompts me to go to Target more often.

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10 Donna August 27, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Simply amazing!

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11 Gina August 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I'm SO glad I follow your website, and how to get the good deals. That's an amazing difference in price(s)!
Hats off to you Tara for the time and energy you put into compiling this list for us.

Thank You!!

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12 Angela August 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

My Target is awful too. I went there for their freebies you listed a few weeks ago and their selection was small and disorganized. Not to mention what they had was mostly out of stock anway! I ended up going to Walgreens and Walmart to get good prices. I just stopped by the Walgreens one day on the way to church and then when I did my grocery shopping I got the remainder at Walmart. This way I wasn't running all over town just for school supplies.

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13 Alan August 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Interesting post.

Yeah, I echo most people's sentiment on Target vs. Walmart. Target is usually very close (sometimes even less, overall) and even if a tad more, I'd pay a little more to shop in a brighter more cheerful store. Also, Target returns are usually MUCH easier... always seems to be a long and slow line at our Walmart.

Plus, I can get in and out of Target a little faster.

Having said that, I have to give Walmart props for improving overall employee compensation/benefits in the past few years and also for their positive environmental activities. I at least shop there SOMETIMES (once every / every other month or so) now due to these changes, whereas before I wouldn't step foot in one.

I didn't know about the Target and Walmart competitor ad price matching. That's great, I will have to look into it.

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14 Kelly August 27, 2010 at 8:04 pm

I actually wrote Targets corporate office today to complain about the store where I usually shop. I have been very disappointed.
I guess I thought WalMart was cheaper on most things but I recently compared 4 items from Publix with Walmart and Publix was cheaper on all 4.
I do find WalMart to be cheaper on the staple items like milk, eggs, bread, juice etc..

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15 karmella August 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

Most of the time, it is really about customer service. We all want to get our money's worth. If we pay for the cheap price, we usually get cheap service as well. We get what we pay for. However, that is no excuse for extending a little help to customers. Oh well, we all have our own judgment on which store satisfies us and we have our own basis for choosing them.

~The Thrifty Fashionista

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16 jessica August 29, 2010 at 9:10 pm

My son is starting 1st grade this year. He was homeschooled last year, so this is my first year sending him off. I was getting a little irritated that I hadn't gotten a list from the school (public). I called and they told me that there are no school supply lists for our county! The school system provides everything the kids need except for a backpack. I was SHOCKED ... in a good way!!!! When we went to meet the teacher, sure enough each desk had scissors, pencils, erasers, glue sticks, etc. Now all the free Staples stuff is for me! :)

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