WH Smith halts sales fall with overseas shops

Kasmira Jefford
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WH SMITH, the books to stationery retailer, brought years of sales decline to a halt in the last quarter, thanks to its strategy of opening more shops in airports and travel locations around the world.

Shares in WH Smith edged up 1.5 per cent yesterday as it revealed that total group sales were flat in the third quarter of the year to 2 June compared with the same time last year.

Sales at stores open more than a year declined two per cent. However, this was a marked improvement on the four per cent fall reported in the first half.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke has been continuing with a cost-cutting strategy laid out by his predecessor Kate Swann and stepping up expansion overseas to offset declining footfall at home.

Travel sales, which includes outlets at airports, hospitals and train stations, were up four per cent while like-for-like sales were flat.

The retailer has been snapping up new contracts to airport stores in new markets including Australia, the Middle East, India and Russia and is aiming to open about 30 new outlets a year, mainly through franchising.

Its high street stores at home recorded a four per cent decline in total and like-for-like sales, although this was slightly improved on the six per cent underlying sales decline reported in the first half.

“This is the first time for a very long time that the high street has beaten expectations,” Investec analysts said.

The group insisted that its gross margins “continue to increase and cost savings have been delivered in line with plan”.

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