/ Shopping

3 for 2 at B&Q, but the bill might be a surprise to you…

I like to think I’m a savvy shopper who knows how to weigh up how good special offers are. But a recent experience with B&Q’s ‘3 for 2 all plants’ special offer showed me I’ve still got tricks to learn.

After an entire summer of digging out bindweed and ground elder from my flowerbeds, I can finally enjoy filling my neglected garden with flowers.

I’ve got many spaces to fill on a tight budget, so I was delighted to see the massive ‘3 for 2 ALL PLANTS’ signs at my local B&Q. ‘I can choose from all the plants – if I get three of each, I’ll get one of them free,’ I reasoned.

I spent an hour carefully picking out three of each of the plants I wanted, adding up the price of buying the first two, and weighing up the impact of the free flower power against the cost.

Which one’s the free one?

Imagine my surprise then when I got to the checkout and the discount on my £100 of plants turned out to be £22, not the £33 I was expecting. I looked at my bill again, adding up the plants I thought should have been free – ‘yep £33’.

I approached the floor manager who got his calculator out and confirmed that, according to my logic, the discount was wrong. Then a member of the gardening department pointed out the teeny, tiny small print on the offer – ‘buy two get the cheapest one free’.

So, rather than getting three of each plant for the price of two, they’d given me the cheapest eight of my 24 plants for free. So I’d paid £8 for all three Russian sages, and got a handful of £2.48 chrysanthemums for free.

Complain for change

Some might say that this should be obvious – after all, other shops like pharmacies usually state that it’s the cheapest items which will be the free ones. But then with other ‘3 for 2’ deals, such as the ones in supermarkets, it’s one of the three identical items that’s free.

I challenged their logic, as I didn’t think it was clear that they’d take off the cheapest items, and was glad that I did. I insisted that the small print was so small compared to the ‘see it the from the ring road’ size of the ‘3 for 2’ that they give me a refund.

Once I’d received my refund I then went back to the queue and incurred the dirty looks of the people behind me as I paid for each set of three plants separately. But I don’t care. It’s obviously cheaper to buy them in sets of three, allowing me to group them so that some of the most expensive plants fall into the ‘free’ category.

By paying for each plant type individually I saved £11, which I’ll spend on a couple of nice lavenders. And I’ll remember to read the small print first next time.


This is a common and well established way of offering a discount, but the conditions of the offer should not be in small text. Old people might not be able to read small text and – as you have demonstrated – younger people might overlook it.

B&Q gives jobs to older people and offers a discount to those over 60, so perhaps it should set an example here.

Romfordb says:
24 March 2015

I had the same thing happen to me. I did not purchase any and walked away the staff put all the plants back.

also as this is an offer you cannot also get a 10% O.A.P. discount on a Wednesday if you purchase anything in the store that is on offer the 10% does not count and will not be given

This is common. Yes you have to buy the groups separately.

You need to make several purchases to get the discount you’re expecting. Annoys the hell out of me, but it has to be done to play them at their own game.

Jacqueline says:
26 August 2012

This is indeed bad – to have such small print that those with less than 20-20 vision will be unable to see the requirements of the offer.

I too put things through separately to avoid the issue. If enough people do this, then perhaps the stores will eventually realise, that it would be better to adjust this poor practise so as to ‘win friends and influence people’, eg unnecessary queues will not build up nor will other shoppers end up getting frustrated and just walking out without purchasing.

Can’t honestly say that I have fallen victim to this problem yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Out of interest this shows that different shops must be setting up their tills in different ways.

In Waitrose I regularly see offers which state that if you buy 2 or something you get the 3rd free, cheapest item free, and it’s usually in reasonable sized print.

Now, I don’t know whether it;’s good fortune or deliberate Waitrose policy, but when I put through, for example, a dozen yoghurts and half a dozen fruit fools, all of which are on buy 2 get a 3rd free, the waitrose receipt comes out showing the discount being deducted as soon as the 3rd items goes over the scanner, NOT in one job lot at the end, so the discount comes off in the way Victoria calculated, not the way that B&Q did.

Question is, have Waitrose not noticed that their tills are calculating a favourable discount for customers and will they notice this and change to be like B&Q when they do, or is B&Q being deliberately and calculatingly mean by making their tills operate in a way which Joe Bloggs customer is unlikely to think of until they have been fleeced?

Caveat Emptor yet again!

Steve says:
27 August 2012

It’s the same at the cinema on 2 for 1 days. If you pay for two adults and two children together, it’s the two children who go free. My wife and I have taken to paying for two adults first and then for two children in a second transaction.

Though I have been aware of offers that include the ‘cheapest item free’ for years, I cannot remember if I have ever bought more than one set of the product. If I have, I expect that I have lost out on the deal.

I could believe that Waitrose manages to get their calculations wrong. A friend sometimes buys reduced price food on offer and because the offer still applies, she is paid for ‘buying’ the goods. Apparently it is less common than it used to be.

Alison says:
26 July 2014

This is not bad marketing it is bad reasoning! it does not matter where the 342 or 241 etc is advertised whether B&Q or Waitrose or ASDA or M&S it is always the cheapest of the 3 you get free. it is common sense that if you are buying more than 3 of something that YOU need to be SAVVY and make several small purchases. its not rocket science nor is it inconvenient or long winded you are already at the till you just need to instruct the operator that you have several purchases to make! et voila. BTW the method Dave D is talking about is a different way of calculating the discounts, it is not on ALL YOGURTS it is on particular product brands and can be assigned as such in the EPOS system, yours was on ALL PLANTS not selected. anyway, I hope it all now makes sense to you and you won’t feel ‘as ripped off’

This has happened to me, I did buy 3 for 2 at £2.93 each and one at £2.00 but when I looked at my bill they had only given me £2.00 which is the cheapest, when I queried this she said its the way the tills are set up. Still don’t quite understand why as I did buy the 3 for 2 offer. I shall contact head office as I think this is a RIPOFF and customers should not have to read all the small print.