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We all have an Achilles Heel. Mine is books. My shelves are groaning. I like to own books, not borrow them. I just cannot help it. Still, I do not spend money on clothes and make up. I do not spend my weekends clubbing. So it is fine for me to buy books, books and more books, right?
I buy a lot from Amazon; with vouchers I earn in various online, You Will Never Make A Fortune You Know activities. I like Amazon. It is like a nice pair of comfortable slippers – not too expensive, easy to navigate and always reliable. I buy a lot from PS Books – they are as cheap as chips and they sell books I would never usually think of looking for. I buy a lot from The Book People – they are also phenomenally cheap, and they are super in particular for children's books. I scour the charity shops and I have a kind friend who scours the charity shops on my behalf. I spend far too much on posh books from the Folio Society. Oh, and I buy from the local independent bookshop in town because, well, because an hour spent browsing in a Real Life bookshop is always a happy hour and because one should support one's High Street, lest all we are left with is a row of supermarkets.
A new addition to the list is www.bol.com.
They are an online book club. Before you dismiss me out of hand, Bol are not one of those dreadful book clubs who send you the Editor's Choice each month whether you want it or not. Neither are the cheapest books available on a joining offer only. I think you should consider them. Really. I shall answer your questions. Read on, MacDuff.
● What is the site like then? ●
Oh, it is easy on the eye, in shades of blue and plenty of clean, white space. It is reasonably quick to load on a dial up connection and I imagine on a broadband connection it would be lightning fast. It is easy to navigate. There are five tabs at the top – the most important being the 60% off one, but more on that later! – one for each main shopping area. To the left are links to the main book areas by sub-categories. At the top of the screen, on the left, is a link to your account. You could not get lost on this site.
● Yes, but I bet joining is a real pain, is it not? ●
No. It is easy to join. Just point your browser to the address at the bottom and start clicking about. Decide which books you would like to order and add them to your shopping basket just as you would on any other site. A handy box keeps score of the items you have added – you will see it at the top left hand side of the screen. Once you have finished shopping, head off to the checkout. As a new member, you will receive a prompt asking you to add your contact details and choose a username and password. One more screen will appear for you to add your payment details and that is it. You have joined Bol. It really takes no longer than making a straightforward order at any other online shop.
● Yes, but admit it, there are onerous conditions, are there not? ●
No. There are no onerous conditions attached to joining Bol. They do not allow you to resell their books – one imagines they would not track you to Ebay though! – and you must promise to buy at least one more book within six months of placing your joining order. That is it. It is hardly onerous, is it? At Bol's prices, I do not think you would have any trouble buying another book.
● So far so good, but isn't their range dreadfully limited? ●
No again. There are thousands of books from which to choose. Bol cover every possible genre and there is something for everyone. Better still, each volume sells for at least 20% off its cover price. Best of all though, is the 60% off list. I use this one – principally because the rest of my book-buying habit goes to the other emporiums I mentioned earlier. However, I cannot resist Bol's 60% deals. At any one time, there are at least a hundred of titles on offer at 60% off – ten or so in each of thirteen categories. Again, there is something for everyone. My last order had three items on it:
The latest McCall Smith book reduced from £14.99 to £5.99 The Harper and Queen person's rant on George Bush reduced from £12.99 to £5.19 The River Cottage Meat Book reduced from £25.00 to £10.00
I saved an awful lot of money on this order, even taking into account other booksellers' discounting. There are always a number of good, populist bestsellers – chick lit, romance, thrillers - but there are always some more unusual and interesting items on these 60% lists. Bol also have a tie up for DVDs and videos with Choices Direct, but I have not yet investigated this.
● Yeah, but I bet their service is awful and they sting you for P&P! ●
I keep telling you no! No! I have ordered three times from Bol and three times I have received timely contact emails. My goods arrived within three to five working days and were all properly, sensibly packed. Postage and packing rates are excellent, and simple. If you order one book, you pay a pound. If you order two books, you pay two pounds. If you order three or more books, you do not pay a single penny in charges. With books as cheap as this, with the range Bol have available, with efficient delivery and cheap postage charges, I am surely convincing you, am I not? They have a clearly defined, no quibbles return policy too, although I have not used it, I have emailed to check and received a prompt, friendly reply confirming the no quibble promise.
● There must be some things you do not like about them! ●
At last, a yes! Yes. I always have nitpicks. Often, the books on the 60% list are not exactly what you would buy in the High Street. They are "special editions" – for "special editions" you can read posh paperbacks, not hardbacks. They will often be softback books, the size and shape of the hardback, but without the hard back… er… you know the kind of books I mean! Therefore, I guess it is a little sneaky to describe them as a real 60% reduction. However, for books of their kind, they are of high quality, so it does not really matter. Bol do not take Solo, which does not matter to me, but I do find this annoying. Online retailers should accept Solo! Additionally, Bol debit your card for payment when you place your order and not at time of despatch. Tsk. I think this practice should be banned. Unfortunately for non-UK residents, it is a domestic only service, although Bol do have sites in Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. That is it. That is all I can find to criticise.
● I guess I might give them a shot! ●
I think you should. After all, I gave them a shot on a recommendation at this site (thanks, Daniel!) so why shouldn't you? Bol are cheap. They give a dependable service. Their customer service people are friendly and polite. If you are looking for a feeder of book habits, you could certainly do worse. Bol also seem to belong to all these online loyalty/money back schemes so if you belong to one, check it out. I got £2.50 cash back at Greasy Palm on my first order. I give them four Ciao stars, although I imagine my battered credit card would feel rather less generous. Grin!