Back-to-school shopping: Online vs. in-person

GapKids \'\'Shine On\'\' in Back-to-School Campaign. (PRNewsFoto/Gap Inc.)

Kristi King,

WASHINGTON – With Maryland’s tax free week ending with the close of business Aug. 20 and schools in the area getting ready to start up, shopping is on almost everyone’s mind. The question remains whether the best deals can be found in person, or online.

Add Maryland’s 6 percent tax break to clothes and shoes costing less than $100 and the greatest savings are likely to be at brick and mortar locations.

A secret shopper study detailed in PC Magazine finds in-store purchases cost $21 less on average compared to purchases made online.

Those savings are equal to about $1 a minute when comparing time devoted to shopping. Online shopping takes about 20 minutes less than shopping at brick and mortar stores. That doesn’t include time spent driving to store locations.

Shipping costs for online purchases account for about half the difference in prices.

Other online shopping criticisms from the study include some items being harder to find online. Also, online purchases frequently show up in multiple boxes, sometimes over many delivery days.

The study compared pricing on a shopping list of set items, customer service, and shipping at Target, Walmart, Costco, Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot. Among those stores the secret shoppers preferred Office Depot for both online and in- person shopping.

Time for back-to-school shopping is quickly slipping away for some. School starts next week in Prince George’s, Calvert and St. Mary’s in Maryland and Fauquier and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia.

D.C. and many Maryland school systems begin Monday, Aug. 27. Most Virginia school systems begin the academic year Tuesday, Sept. 4.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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