Waterstones’ core Christmas sales were up over 5% year-on-year but overall revenue was hit by lower sales of Kindle devices.
The chain bookseller’s m.d, James Daunt, said the company had a “solid” Christmas and was pleased with sales of books, stationery and toys, with new stores in the estate performing particularly well. But the bookseller’s bottom line was hit by the lack of sales of Kindle e-readers and tablet devices this year in comparison to 2013.
Daunt said: “The biggest swing for us was in Kindle sales which just weren’t there. We did not sell many Kindles at all this year in comparison to last year. I gather it has been the same in the US. The new device Amazon has – the Voyager – had limited supply, there simply was not that many of them around.” When asked what he thought the lower sales could be attributed to, Daunt said: “I think everyone who wants a Kindle now has one. We sold a very large number around this time last year, so that obviously has had an impact on us this year, but if we take that out then core sales – everything other than Kindle- were up by over 5% which was pretty good.”
Daunt said there was “no one stand-out title” Christmas shoppers were gunning for but a range of solid books from publishers meant “everything ticked along very nicely.”
“The Miniaturist (by Jessie Burton, Picador) and Chris Hadfield (You Are Here, Pan Macmillan) stood out modestly above the rest in the last few weeks,” Daunt said. “Russell Brand’s Revolution (Century) did ok but there wasn’t many titles in that sort of field this year.”
Despite the widely-reported Yodel delivery problems in mid-December “there were no supply issues and the hub worked very nicely.”
He put the chain’s robust Christmas trade down to the best stores in the estate performing strongly and a positive impact from the company’s new stores – which opened in Lewes, Southwold, Ringwood, Gateshead and a Hatchards at St Pancras Station in London.
The company’s click and collect online service, meanwhile, saw a double-digit increase year-on-year, although Waterstones attributes those sales to the shop the customer collects their order from.
“The shops were looking good,” Daunt said. “Our best shops performed the best, which is as it should be – customers respond to good shops. The books overall were good but there wasn’t any great excitement there. I would like to think it was down to the booksellers in the shops, creating an energetic environment. The good weather gods were on our side as well.”
He added: “Online is an opportunity which we hope to improve. The new shops did really well which was encouraging, particularly the Gateshead Metro.”
Other bookshops are yet to report their Christmas trading performance but early indications are that the independent sector also saw strong sales.
John Lewis reported its Christmas trading results yesterday (5th January), showing that in the five weeks to 27th December, total like-for-like sales rose 4.8% to £777m, with shop sales flat, but online purchases up 19%, boosted by Black Friday on 28th November. The department store’s managing director Andy Street yesterday warned on the phenomeom of Black Friday, which hit a high in the UK this year. “We've got to ask if it's right to concentrate trade so much in that one period," he told the BBC.
"My personal hope is that this is the high water mark for Black Friday. I don't think we can put the genie back in the bottle but do we need to stoke that fire anymore? I personally hope not," he said.
Daunt, however, said Waterstones benefited from the nationwide retail day, which saw customers flock to high street stores to get massive discounts on items, particularly electrical goods.
“That weekend gave us a nice bump,” he said. “I can see why, if it has a big impact on your margin, it wouldn’t be appealing. But we ran a half price offer on more titles and that had a small impact on our margin. I think we benefitted more from people being out on the high street to get good deals, so we benefitted from the generosity of others on the high street.”