WH Smith reports flat sales as high street cools

WH Smith. Pic: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
WH Smith. Pic: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
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Stationery retailer WH Smith said sales were flat in the 20 weeks to January 20 compared with a year earlier as gains from its travel shops were offset by a cooling high street business.

The retailer, which has more than 1,400 stores, mostly in the UK, said total sales in its travel business rose 7 per cent during the 20-week period, with comparable sales rising 3 per cent.

WH Smith, which has been expanding its travel business internationally, added six units at airports in Rome - adding another country to its presence in mainland Europe.

The travel business has benefited from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, which pushed down the value of the pound, making the UK a more attractive tourist destination.

However, the 225-year-old firm said comparable sales in its high street business fell 4 per cent while total sales dipped 5 per cent.

The high street business has felt the pinch of continuous squeeze in consumer spending, a widely-reported trend flagged by other retailers, as Britons tighten their belts amid rising inflation.

The company has been trying to cut costs in the struggling segment, where sales have declined steadily since Brexit, even as it looks to step up its focus on the travel business.

WH Smith said it expects to save about £12m in costs this year, slightly ahead of its target.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “High street sales were in line with expectations. Our stationery and seasonal ranges, including cards and wrap, performed well with good sales growth versus last year.

“Book sales were more challenging due to the decline in spoof humour titles and no new, big publishing trends.”

He added: “Looking ahead, while there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we remain confident that the group is well positioned for the year ahead.”

WH Smith, which has over 580 travel shops at airports, railway stations, motorway service areas, hospitals and workplaces in the UK, said it was on track to open 15 new units in the country this year.