The Mom Stop: Internet eases school shopping

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When I was growing up, back-to-school shopping was a big deal.

It meant going to Wal-Mart and picking out the newest Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper and matching rainbow, puppy-emblazoned No. 2 pencils. It meant picking out new shoes and going to the Parisian department store to get fall clothes for school — nothing said “back to school” like loading up on sweaters, corduroys and jeans when it’s still 95 degrees outside.

But as a kid, going back-to-school shopping with my mom was a ritual I savored, because it marked the excitement of the new school year. It meant a new grade, a new teacher, starting fresh.

Back-to-school shopping was a ritual I looked forward to. Which amazes me now, looking back, because it’s something I dread as a parent. I braved the masses last week at Wal-Mart to get supplies for my son’s 6th birthday party, and I had forgotten that it was tax-free weekend for school supplies. Hordes of shoppers surrounded giant bins in the aisles, sifting through crayons, pencils, markers and other goods like it was Black Friday, only in the middle of July.

I honestly couldn’t get out of the store fast enough.

I love a good deal. I love buying new things for my growing kids. But I hate swimming through crowds trying to find every item on a very specific back-to-school supply list. Having to do that with my three kids in tow? No thanks. Which is one reason I love shopping online.

I’m an Amazon Prime mom and have only recently been sucked in by Prime Pantry. Need a new thermometer and a pack of paper towels, but it’s midnight, you are in bed and you don’t have time to go to the store? Amazon Prime. Need to buy your husband’s birthday gift, diapers and over-the-counter allergy medications? Prime gets it to my door in 2 days with free shipping.

When you work full time and you are busy busing kids to soccer practice or Girl Scout meetings, when you already cram as many errands as possible into a one-hour lunch break, services like Prime can be a lifesaver. And so can other time-saving services, like Wal-Mart’s grocery pickup, where you can place an order for your entire grocery list online, schedule a time to pick up and they’ll bring the groceries out to your car — for free. Avoiding a cereal-aisle meltdown with my 2-year-old and being able to actually stick to my grocery list? Sign me up. I tried it for the first time last week, and I have to say I’m a fan.

And other retailers are getting on board, too. Target offers “school list assist” online, where schools upload their school supply lists. Parents can simply go online, click on their child’s school and their grade and then all the required supplies are loaded into the online shopping cart. Parents purchase online and then choose to either pick up the collected items at the front of the store or have them shipped directly to their home. No fighting the crowds or sifting through supplies? Sign me up.

Other companies are working directly with schools to package and sell the school supplies and ship them directly to the school. At my oldest daughter’s school, the company Schoolkidz sells the pre-packaged school supplies tailored to the students’ grade, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale benefits the school. I order her supplies online at the beginning of summer and never have to worry about anything else, because they’ll already be in her classroom by the start of school.

But am I cheating my children out of a rite of passage? By ordering online and going with convenience, are my two school-age kids missing out?

While I look fondly back on the back-to-school shopping time with my mom, I somehow suspect the experience was a little more stressful for her than it was for me. At the end of the day, my kids still get the school supplies they need, but they get to spend more quality time with mom and dad because we aren’t dragging them from store to store.

It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned — and I can still pick out those rainbow, puppy-emblazoned pencils, only now they’ll arrive at my doorstep.