Evaluating the back-to-school retail experience

| August 31, 2016
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The weeks before the beginning of the school season are a busy time for shoppers and retailers. Parents shopping online or in stores have to prioritize price, quality, and convenience when making their purchase decisions, and the decisions of the retailer can make the customer experience positive or negative.

Here at UserTesting, we wanted to identify which back-to-school shopping experiences were the best across multiple devices and in stores.

To compare the back-to-school shopping experience among five top retailers, we ran an unmoderated, remote competitor study with 270 participants. We evaluated Target, Walmart, Staples, and Office Depot online and in stores, and Amazon online only.

Mobile website evaluation

We measured the ease of use on each website across several key tasks:

  •   Finding a school supply
  •   Going through the checkout process
  •   Determining the shipping cost
  •   Finding out when the item would arrive
  •   Locating and summarizing the return policy

All five retailers received lower ease-of-use ratings on their mobile website than their desktop website. It’s common knowledge that many people find mobile shopping websites less satisfying than their desktop counterparts, but it’s not always clear why. In our study, we found one of the major differences between the desktop and mobile experiences was attention to detail: the small frustrations on mobile sites added up to a poorer user experience.

Target received the highest ratings because of its seamless checkout experience and the ability to easily locate shipping information.

Amazon, Office Depot, Staples, and Walmart received lower ratings. Some of the common user complaints were poorly organized (or difficult to filter) category pages, unclear shipping information, and hidden return policies.

Desktop website evaluation

We measured the ease of use on each website across the same tasks as the mobile website study.

The five retailers earned fairly close scores on ease of use, spanning from 5.5 to 6.3 on a scale of 1-7.

The highest-rated retailers were Staples, Target, and Office Depot, while Amazon and Walmart were rated lower. Some of the positive interactions with these retailers included clear shipping information and smooth checkout processes.


Negative experiences included irrelevant search results, unclear shipping options, and inability to check out as a guest.

Brick-and-mortar evaluation

For the in-store portion of our study, we measured the ease of finding the back-to-school department in the store and finding a supply from participant’s back-to-school list.

Most in-store experiences suffered from confusing or hidden signage, which made it difficult for shoppers to locate the back-to-school section of the store.

Once in the correct part of the store, many of our participants were confused or disappointed by the layout and organization of the items. However, other factors such as competitive prices and helpful staff could make up for the initial confusion.

See the detailed results

To see the complete results from our back-to-school study, including take-away recommendations for other retailers, download the full report now.