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Back-to-school supplies – which store is cheapest?

We compare prices at Kmart, Big W and Officeworks.

back to school supplies on yellow
Last updated: 20 January 2020

If you haven't seen the many ads from Kmart, Big W and Officeworks urging you to buy your back-to-school essentials from them, you're doing better than us. And it's no surprise that retailers want your money, since back-to-school is big business, with parents spending around $540 to get each child ready for the start of the year.

Every second TV ad, online banner and print ad we've seen in the last week seems to be telling us that the best and biggest savings can be had at one particular retailer or another.

But which is really the cheapest? 

We put together a list of 17 stationery and back-to-school essentials and checked the prices at three stores to work out which one would help kids head back to school stocked up, with some canteen money to spare.

The store with the cheapest basket is… Officeworks

This year's cheapest shop for school supplies was found at Officeworks. Their basket cost $26.87, more than $2 cheaper than the next in line, Big W. Kmart's basket cost us $30.

Our basket of 17 items cost:

  • Officeworks: $26.87
  • Big W: $29.69
  • Kmart: $30

If you're familiar with the results of 2019's back to school survey you might be wondering why Target was included last year but left out in 2020. Unfortunately, even though we visited two of their stores, they just didn't have the range on offer for us to source products for the entire list. That's also why we've not included any supermarkets in our comparison. 

What's in the basket?

We created a standard list of school essentials that would suit most students. Our list included:

  • 5-pack HB pencils
  • 12-pack coloured pencils
  • Pencil sharpener with receptacle to hold shavings
  • 10-pack ballpoint pens
  • 10 pack colouring pens
  • Pencil case – the kind where you cut out letters to slip into the slots
  • 4-pack highlighter pens
  • 2-pack erasers
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 64-page exercise book
  • Roll of adhesive book covering (2m)
  • A4 spiral-bound notebook (120 pages)
  • 2-ring binder (25mm)
  • Water bottle (stainless steel)
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Correction tape

We didn't include a backpack or lunch box in the list because there was too much variation in quality to make a fair comparison.

Ordering online?

If you can't face a visit to the shops then online shopping might be your preference, in which case you can then collect your order or have it delivered. Big W and Officeworks both have free pick-up, Kmart charges $3 for orders less than $20. 

For delivery, Big W and Kmart will charge depending on your location – for metropolitan deliveries, fees start from $7.90 for Big W and $10 for Kmart. At Officeworks it costs $5.95 for delivery or they'll deliver for free to metropolitan areas if you spend more than $55. 

How we conducted our price spot-check

We shopped at Kmart, Big W and Officeworks stores in Sydney on the same day in mid-January. We noted prices in-store and then double-checked prices online. Wherever possible, we priced name-brand items rather than the stores' own brands for a fairer comparison.

Shopping in-store meant we also noticed which store had the best customer service on the floor. If you want help finding specific items, you're more likely to find staff to assist you at Officeworks – in both Big W and Kmart we were very much on our own.