Sales fall flat at WH Smith as high street activity takes a dive

Lucy White
A store front for the book seller WH Smi
Growth continued to be driven by travel outlets (Source: Getty)

High street stationery stalwart WH Smith has reported disappointing sales in its latest trading update this morning.

Like-for-like sales remained flat as a ruler in the 15-week period between March and June, with a five per cent rise in the travel business making up for the four per cent plunge in high street branches.

Read more: WH Smith posts rise in pre-tax profits as travel business continues to thrive though high street sales fall

Total sales in the travel business were up eight per cent, of which two per cent related to forex benefits from the growing international business.

“This sales performance reflects our ongoing focus on customer service, execution, space and category management as well as the continued increase in passenger numbers,” the WH Smith said in a statement.

The stationery retailer is intending to capitalise on the trading advantages from the weaker pound, winning six units in Rome which will open in July.

There were other highlights, with total group sales up two per cent and gross margin improvements delivered “in line with plan”.

Despite the lacklustre performance of UK high street branches, whose total sales dropped four per cent along with like-for-likes, the business said sales were “in line with expectations”.

It will still push on with its UK expansion, opening 15 UK-based units this year. “Our new store opening programme is progressing well,” the business said.

WH Smith is also attempting to drive punters through the door by opening Post Offices within its stores.

In its latest trading update, it announced it had relocated 58 of the planned 61 Post Offices into its high street shops – bringing the total to 165.

Although WH Smith noted there was “some uncertainty with regard to the broader economic environment”, it said it would continue to focus on investing in the business and driving profitable growth and cash generation.

“We remain confident in the outcome for the full year,” it added.

At the time of writing, WH Smith's shares are up 0.34 per cent at 1,750p. Analyst Cantor Fitzgerald reaffirmed its “hold” rating, calling the update “solid”.

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