Decline in spoof books hits W H Smith High Street

Decline in spoof books hits W H Smith High Street

High street sales at W H Smith plunged 4% like-for-like over the Christmas period, partly because of the decline in spoof humour books, but the retailer’s Travel arm performed strongly and overall total sales were flat for the period.

W H Smith revealed its trading performance for the 20 weeks to 20th January this morning (24th January), showing that like-for-like sales were down 1% but total sales were flat “against a very successful period last year”.

The Travel arm saw positive growth of 7% overall and 3% like-for-like and the company revealed this side of the business now accounts for almost two thirds of the group’s annual profit. Ongoing investment and continued growth in passenger numbers in its airport stores over the Christmas period helped the growth.

But High Street sales suffered in the period, falling 4% like-for-like and 5% overall. Although W H Smith said this was “in line with expectations”, it attributed the decline to “the lower sales of high margin spoof humour books compared to the same period last year when humour books had a particularly strong performance” with “no new publishing trend” to replace the decline.

“However, we continue with our cost efficiency programme and now expect full year cost savings to be in the region of £12m, slightly ahead of target,” the company added.

W H Smith recently opened new concept store in Gatwick South which the company said had “performed particularly well and is ahead of plan”. Meanwhile, its international business continues to grow, with 249 units open, including two of the 10 units it won in Changi Airport, Singapore. “We expect all 10 units there to be open this spring,” the firm said.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank our 14,000 colleagues across the group for their hard work over this busy period. Without their ongoing support we would not be able to achieve these results.

"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 as we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in new opportunities."