WH Smith sales fall slows

British newspapers, books and stationery retailer WH Smith said its strategy of improving profit margins and cutting costs rather than driving top-line sales was working in a tough market unlikely to get better any time soon.

The 220-year-old group, which trades from over 600 town centre stores and over 560 outlets at airports, train stations, hospitals, motorway service stations and work places, said on Wednesday profit growth was in line with expectations even though sales at stores open over a year fell five per cent in the 21 weeks to 21 January.

That represented a slight improvement from a like-for-like sales fall of six per cent in the 10 weeks to 5 November.

The firm said like-for-like sales fell six per cent at its high street stores and were down 3 percent in the travel division.

However, WH Smith said gross margin improved in line with the plan in both divisions.

UK retailers are generally struggling as rising prices, muted wages growth and government austerity measures force shoppers to rein in spending on more discretionary items.

WH Smith, with its relatively low average transaction value, has fared better than most.

It said it expected the trading environment to remain challenging but had planned accordingly.