Trade defends W H Smith as retailer named 'worst shop' in Which? survey

Trade defends W H Smith as retailer named 'worst shop' in Which? survey

W H Smith has been named the worst shop on the UK High Street for the second year running, according to the latest Which? survey, as the retailer warns the poll is "neither statistically relevant nor meaningful" and trade figures defend the chain. 

Which? surveyed more than 7,784 shoppers for the poll with just 586 respondents giving an opinion on W H Smith. The retailer finished last with a customer score of 50%, based on overall satisfaction with the shop and how likely people are to recommend it to a friend. 

The poll, which ranked 100 retailers, said: "W H Smith ranked lowest in our table. The stationery specialist was described by shoppers as ‘cramped and messy’, and one said ‘stores are crowded and the staff members are very unhelpful’."

A W H Smith spokesperson said: “This survey accounts for the views of only 586 Which? subscribers and is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base. Every week we serve 3 million customers in our 600 UK High Street stores and have maintained our presence on the high street where many other retailers are closing stores. We work hard to improve customer experiences and continue to invest in new and existing stores.”

W H Smith, which has seen group profits increase for ten consecutive years, has invested around £300m into its shops since 2013 with the number of shops increasing from 1,288 in 2013 to 1,603 in February 2019.

Last month W H Smith, which welcomes three million customers into its high street shops each week, revealed plans to refit its post office stores with a bigger emphasis on books. High Street Business m.d. Carl Cowling, who will take over as c.e.o. in November, said the retailer is planning the first of its 40 new look post office stores in Bath in July and in smaller stores will roll out a more children’s and lighter reading offer.

Commenting on the poll, retail analyst Nick Bubb said: "8,000 middle-class members of Which? are not representative of the whole country...But they're right: the High Street stores are a mess. All you can say in W H Smith's defence is that kids love it and that the business is still decently profitable, thanks to the margin and cost control...and that the Travel units are better." 

Defending the retailer, author Amanda Jennings tweeted: "I don't get the WH Smith thing. I mean, what's not to love?! Stationery, books, sweets, pens and pencils and paper and felt tips and sketch pads and notebooks and diaries and wrapping paper and birthday cards! I LOVE @WHSmith and would be gutted to lose it from the high street."

Illustrator Sophy Henn tweeted: "W H Smith is one those absolute classics like M&S which we would all miss if they were gone. A refreshed identity & a return to doing a fewer things really well would be wonderful. Magazines, books and stationery (grown up stationery could do with some love)."

Literary agent Molly Ker Hawn said she was "saddened" by the survey results. She tweeted: "Saddened by this. The new shop design in my local WH Smith looks v good—upscale, well-organised, good merchandising. The stationery prices are consistently higher than Ryman down the street, though, and while the books section looks great, the staff aren't booksellers..."

Richer Sounds, Rohan and John Lewis topped the Which? poll. Waterstones came 10th with a customer score of 82%.