Friday, 2 April 2010

Boots bliss

If you've ever been to England, you've noticed a very British tradition on the high streets, and at airports and train stations. The oval blue sign of Boots just seems part of the landscape to me, and seems closely associated with England itself; it's somehow iconic.

Everyone pops round to Boots for prescriptions or toothpaste or a sandwich at lunchtime (you'll see lines of people around noon with a "meal deal" of sandwich, drink and snack in hand for £2.99, which is often consumed on a bench on the high street despite frequently chill winds and threatening rain).

When we first moved here, we went to Boots for prescriptions and not much else. It seemed so very overpriced. It wasn't until later I learned that Boots jacks its prices sky high so it can offer sales and coupons and points on its store loyalty card (which can be spent in-store like cash). And then often marks things down for clearance, frequently leaving them on the regular shelf rather than moving them to a special clearance aisle, which makes it a bit of a fun bargain hunt each time I go in. It was due to deals and coupons that I discovered the fun Soap and Glory range, but I'll get to that later.

I indulged a bit too much in my gleeful bargain hunting when I first discovered all the deals to be had. Many was the time I came home with a bulging bag of heath and beauty products valued at £5.2 billion for which I paid a paltry £8.99. Or something like that. I've reigned that in greatly in the past year, but still have loads of lotions and potions weighing down my shelves as reminders of my early frenzy. I won't need to buy body wash or shampoo for a few years. Or mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss, perfume ....

The phenomenon, no the pastime, that is hunting for deals and getting some amazing finds at Boots is known in online forums as "Bootsing." Yes, people actually discuss their finds and bargains online, and share tips on how to get the best deal. And that's where it really becomes Bootsing, because the best deals are often a bit crazy, so good you wouldn't have guessed it was available (as in, why does that coupon apply to clearance items? Who cares, it just does!). Say a coupon is offered for £1 off a given toothbrush. Well, then Boots will go right ahead and mark those toothbrushes down to £1, and guess what! The coupon still works, the barcode scans, the register accepts it, and the sales assistant bags it up! Presto whamo, free toothbrush. And excited little fingers fly in a flurry to share the news, and then hundreds of Bootsers are storming stores around the land clearing the shelves of toothbrushes.

Or perhaps there will be a range of body butters where Boots is offering 150 points back on your loyalty card if you purchase one (and that equals £1.50 you can spend on almost anything in the store). And perhaps the coupon is aimed at the full-size items that cost £7.50, but it's accepted on the "mini" versions as well, which are on sale for £1.66. So in what is called "Boots logic" you are only paying 16p for the item because you get £1.50 back on your card to spend. And the Boosters are in bliss. And I end up with a stack of mini body butters at home that I didn't really need or want, and loads of points on my card. Those of you who know me will probably get some of these as a "just because" gift the next time you see me.

I have no idea if Boots does this intentionally to clear out items and increase foot traffic, or if it's a thoughtless mistake to mark things down just as a coupon is offered. And these lovely coupons are offered by Boots in a store magazine or in the store Account Card Machine (ACM), so the company knows full well what coupons are out there before they decide what to mark down or put on sale. But I ain't complaining.

The lovely bit about points is no matter how much you spend to earn them, they feel like free money, even though they most decidedly aren't. It's all the better because Boots is not like your average U.S. drugstore in that it also has premium beauty counters -- Dior, Clinique, Clarins, etc., as well as Boots own brand of No7 cosmetics. Visiting the Clinique counter is guilt-free when you're paying with points. Lovely. There's also a good selection of digital cameras, and I proudly took one home last year and presented it to my husband as a glowing example of what I could snag for "free" with points.

Not all of the deals were quite as good as the ones I've mentioned, and I often spent vastly more than I intended in the process of getting them, but it was fun while it lasted. The super deals seem rare these days, and you can't even clean up on the after-Christmas clearance sales online because so many Bootsers log on at once that the system crashes and Boots ends up scrapping the sale. The Golden Days of Bootsing are done, and that's fine by me. I had fun for awhile, but I'm done with getting an overload of items it will take years to actually use.

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