A W H Smith mystery

<p>So now we know that W H Smith was the book trade's high street loser. Or do we?<br />
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W H Smith reported like-for-like sales down 3% in its high street chain today, and down by 2% across the group as a whole. On the surface these numbers are well behind rivals Waterstone's and Borders, both of which reported, considering the climate, healthy sales advances.<br />
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Yet WHS' figures are easily confused.<br />
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For the past few years&mdash;in fact since Kate Swann joined as c.e.o.&mdash;WHS' Christmas trading period has lengthened: in 2005 for example it reported sales for the six weeks to 15th January, this year we got figures for the 10 and 21 weeks periods to 26th January.<br />
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None of this helps, when comparing WHS with its peers, all of whom report a&nbsp; traditional Christmas period that begins sometime in November and ends roughly at the end of December.<br />
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It gets stranger. WHS told us that like-for-like sales at its high street shops were down 3%, across both financial periods. It did not reveal actual sales. By contrast, sales were up at its travel division, but it gave a figure only for the 21-week period. Unlike, its high street break-out, the group did reveal the actual sales growth of this division: 13% (for 21 weeks).<br />
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Not only does WHS make it near impossible to compare its performance with that of other high street retailers, it also makes it difficult to compare one division with another. Also, WHS revealed that its total sales were up 1%, with like-for-likes down 2%, but again this was a figure for the 21-week period. There was no figure for the ten-week period.</p>
<p>Twenty-one weeks before 26th January is actually the first week in September, so it is hard to see how this can be called a &quot;Christmas&quot; trading statement at all. Maybe I'm wrong, but even I can't remember seeing many baubles in September.<br />
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One would assume from all this that WHS did particularly badly at Christmas. But actually, according to analysts WHS told them that its book sales grew over the period, by a healthy 2%. Since books were earmarked by Kate Swann early into her reign as one of her core sectors, this would seem to be a figure worth highlighting. But when we tried to confirm it with WHS' press office they told us they don't break out category figures (in fact they do, a passage in today's statement reads: &quot;excluding tobacco, like for like sales were up 3%&quot;).<br />
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Of course WHS is entitled to tell the media what it wants about its Christmas performance. But since the commercial relationships it has with its suppliers will be based on its ability to shift stock, particularly over the key Christmas trading period, a &quot;Christmas&quot; trading statement that is not actually about Christmas, and does not actually reveal the positive performance of one of its key product-lines, seems like a missed opportunity.</p>