Three is no longer the magic number? Rumours of the loss of 3-for-2

The rumours of Waterstones stopping the ‘3 for 2’ deal had been floating around since the sale of the company and the appointment of James Daunt as managing director, but it looks like they may have finally come to fruition if the article today on The Bookseller today is correct.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this.  Frequently I’ve been into Waterstones wanting one or maybe two books and come out with a third because, well, it’s free isn’t it?  But more recently the ‘3 for 2’ deal has actually worked in Waterstones favour with me.

Incident one: I wanted to try out Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.  Looking at the prices for the first three, Amazon online and Waterstones in-store ‘3 for 2’ were about the same price.  Plus getting them from Waterstones meant I didn’t have to wait ages for them to arrive by post nor suffer the fear that they might use a courier company that I have had numerous incidents with (once I was on the phone to Amazon for an hour to try and get my books, due to some stubbornness on my part and an excellent customer services rep).  Waterstones won without a doubt.

Incident two: I’d just finished Delirum by Lauren Oliver and was in the mood for another young adult dystopian tale.  I asked for recommendations and rather than buy one book I came out with a ‘3 for 2’ plus another one I picked up at the counter.  Waterstones got two more sales from me and I got a free book, win all round.

These aren’t the only instances, I’ve frequently end up buying more books that I would’ve because the ‘3 for 2’ had enticed me in.  I can say without a doubt that had it not been there, Amazon would’ve been my pick for the Gallagher Girls books.

That said, when Boarders was open in Birmingham I frequently ended up with a third book I didn’t want because trying to tell the staff that you didn’t want a free third book seemed akin to telling them you killed puppies for pleasure.  It became easier to pick up a free third book and donate it to the charity shop or just not buy more than one book.  So I guess in those circumstances the books really were devalued.

Plus, there is, of course, always that issue that the tables of ‘3 for 2’ books were always a bit obvious.  It stopped me looking through the shelves to find something published not quite so recently and not having the buying power behind it of whatever teenager-vampire-ghost-angel-love-story was being released that week.  If the tables of ‘3 for 2’ no longer exist, then maybe other books will get a look in.

I’m really interested to see what Waterstones do in terms of promotions next, if the ‘3 for 2’ really dies disappear.  Half price books sucker me in and I’ve been known to wander around a few stores on release day to take up this offer, so maybe that’s something that might stick around…but it’s not often than the books I tend to read (YA edging away from paranormal romance) get included in this offer.

Aside from the promotional elements, I’m hoping that this means Waterstones will start focusing on what it can offer above and beyond online algorithms – personal service.  I’ve had mixed experiences of going in and asking for recommendations; a couple of times I’ve come out with more books than I meant to because of the enthusiasm of the bookseller, other times I’ve wondered if they even read.

But hopefully if the tables of ‘3 for 2’ really do disappear, it’ll mean a wider range of books get a look in, with more enticing tales that might not have the publishing powerhouse behind them, but rather a bookseller with a genuine love for that tale and wants others to see it.  Still, if it’s true then I’m going to miss being able to justify coming home with lots of books because they were part of a deal, but looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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