How to Buy a Backpack: A Case Study in Shopping Well

August 20, 2016

Last fall, I was telling a story about buying my kindergartener’s very first backpack, and a friend said, “Shelley, you are so good at that; I never think of those things.”

Shopping smarter, better, and with loads of discernment comes fairly naturally to me now, but it’s taken practice, for sure. There is also a cultural tidal wave that crashes on us every time that we need to shop, convincing us to JUST SHOP and not worry too much about details.

I know that regardless of budget, everyone can shop “good”, so I will share this backpack example to take you shopping with me! I have loads of improvement and am far from faultless, but I’ve learned some things.


Let’s go shopping!


First things first: Questions. The best way to save money, hassle, and yourself from buyer's remorse, is to think through some questions before the actual shopping event.

 

About “need” & need for new:

What do I need and do I really need it?

  • 6-year old is starting school and needs a bag for carrying various whatnots to & from school.

Is there anywhere else I can get it? Something else that would work? Used or hand-me-down version?

  • It doesn't need to be a backpack, but this type of bag will likely have the best longevity.
  • This is an item that will be used for the long haul, so I am fine with investing in something new.
  • Also, it is fun to have something for her to feel proud of as her own as she passes this milestone.

 

About function & what I am looking for:

What functions are required from the backpack?

  • In kindergarten, not much, but I know that at some point it will need to carry notebooks, lunch-kit, etc.
  • It should fit any library book she wants to carry home.
  • She will be using it every day.

How long do I want to have this backpack?

  • I’d like it to have as much longevity as possible, so that brings two considerations: quality & style.
  • Quality = I’d like it to last, so the quality of the materials & zipper are important to me
  • Style = I don’t want anything too cutesy or specific to current interests (no minions or Frozen!)
  • I don’t want to re-buy because of size, so I’ll be looking for a full-size backpack, not a “junior” version (even though she doesn’t need that size this year).

What is my rough budget?

  • I don’t have an exact number in mind, but last year found a great backpack for her sister for around $20, so I know it is possible. I could go big on an investment in a really high quality product that I know would last, like MEC in Canada or Hershel or something from REI, up to $60. This time, for me, I wasn’t hoping for the lower end.

 

Any other considerations?

  • I want her to have something she likes, but I also know that I will be seeing it every day (possibly on the floor ;). So, it needs to be something I like, too. If I hate it now, or find it ugly, I will hate it every time I see it. Just like getting a child to wash his face when he’s driving you crazy (see # 8), a backpack that I, too, enjoy, will make for a happier everyone.

 

Just to be clear, I did not write out a list like this with pros/cons or anything; it was all just going on in my mind. It may seem like excessive thought to go into a backpack, but I promise you that if you wrote out your thought process on a purchase, it would be similar. We have a lot of things churning through our minds!

 

I decided to go to Winners, which I think is like TJ Maxx? It is a place with a collection of new items from different brands that didn’t sell in their original stores for some reason, and appear here at a discount.

They had LOADS of backpacks, but I was having a hard time finding something that she liked (not too boring) and that I liked (not too cutesy or blinking or character-y). We spotted one in a simple style with a two-tone turquoise & white pattern. Great. Do you like it? Yes. Great.

I tried out the zipper and it seemed, well, bad. Kind of sticky, and it just did not seem like it would last. The tag didn’t say anything about the brand, not even a tagline, which I thought was interesting. If a company goes to the trouble to print out a little marketing piece to attach to the bag, it is surprising that they wouldn’t use some of the space to say their unique difference or anything like “Great Backpacks for Kids!” or a website. I was wary.

I did a Google search with “X-brand backpack review” and a few reviews came up that the zipper had failed in a few weeks, few months, mid-year. No, thank you! So, back to square one.

I started to leave empty-handed, but on our way out, walked through the men’s department and found a Vans brand floral backpack for $20. I know the brand, it is built for adults, and I trust that the quality is at least decent. The zipper worked smoothly, and we were both happy with the style. And I was elated about the price!

The one weird thing was that it said it was a special Star Wars edition bag. I couldn’t understand why it was Star Wars, but I figured that’s how it ended up on the bargain rack; not too many guys who like Star Wars are also into coral & floral!

It was only after we got home that we discovered Yoda.

 

Ha! I just silently crossed my fingers and probably prayed that this would not be a deal-breaker. Fortunately, she was unfazed (phew!) and thought it would just impress her friends who play Star Wars games.

Success!!!

Short version:

Needed a Backpack. Thought through my priorities. Went to a store with a variety of backpacks in my budget range. Did a quick quality check by testing it out and a google search. Found a trustworthy bag that we could both be happy with for quality and style. Check!

 

Do you have any great success stories, or bad purchases that you learned from? Share your experiences with the rest of us in the comments below!

 

The styled photos in the article are from State Bags,
an awesome social enterprise doing great work in America.
If you have the means & like their bags, go for it!

Also, you might like: Is Back to School Shopping a Scam?


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