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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: 19 January 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

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 about $590 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 past week seems to be telling us that the best and biggest savings can be had at one particular retailer or another.

But which retailer really is 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. Its basket cost $21.37, which is $4.03 cheaper than the most expensive basket.

Our basket of 17 items cost:

  • Officeworks: $21.37
  • Big W: $22.50
  • Kmart: $25.40.

This price comparison includes the various specials available on the day of our mystery shop. 

Off Target?

You might be wondering why we didn't include Target in our comparison. The reason is that Target 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.

Depending on when you shop, you might not get the same specials we got, so we've also compared the total cost of each basket, based on each item's non-sale price.

Officeworks still had the cheapest basket at $21.37.

Kmart was about $4 more expensive at $25.40, while our Big W basket was nearly $15 more expensive than Officeworks, totalling $36.08.

But even if the same specials we found don't apply, it's likely that some items will be on sale at these retailers and you won't pay full price. 

What's in the basket?

We created a standard list of school essentials that would suit most students. It comprised: 

  • 5-pack HB pencils
  • 12-pack coloured pencils
  • 2 pencil sharpeners (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
  • Eraser (large)
  • 2-pack glue sticks
  • A4 exercise book (64 pages)
  • Roll of adhesive book covering (2m)
  • A4 spiral-bound notebook (120 pages)
  • 2-ring binder (25mm)
  • Water bottle (BPA free, 550mL or closest)
  • Scissors
  • Ruler (30cm)
  • 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 prefer to shop online rather than instore, you can choose whether to collect your order or have it delivered. 

Big W and Officeworks both have free pick-up. Kmart charges $3 for orders that cost less than $20. 

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

How we did 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 instore and then double-checked prices online. Wherever possible, we priced name-brand items rather than the stores' own brands for a fairer comparison.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE