Sales in W H Smith's travel business rose by 8% in the last quarter, although High Street revenue dipped marginally.
Total group sales were up 4% on last year with like-for-like sales up 1%, with travel leading the way for the chain as its high street sales continue to struggle.
As well as the travel arm’s total sales being up a significant 8% for the period between 1st March and 2nd June, its like-for-like sales increased by 3% on last year. W H Smith Travel’s recently-opened bookshop in London Bridge was singled out for praise, the first of two new dedicated bookshops the company is opening in the first half of this financial year.
“We are on target to open between 15 and 20 units in the UK this year and are pleased with the recent opening of our latest standalone bookshop at London Bridge Station,” the trading statement posted on Wednesday (6th June) read.
The new store takes the company's total number of standalone bookshops to 11, while in its international business, it plans to open eight units recently acquired in Madrid Airport, bringing the overall international number of units to 282, with a further 10 due to open this year.
The high street arm saw sales dip 1% with like-for-like sales also down 1%, with the store acknowledging the 13-week period as “our quietest trading period” and outlining the trialling of new formats to boost sales.
“We continue to invest in our new store format trials and evaluate their performance. We have extended the trial to a further 10 stores, as well as developing a trial for smaller stores,” the company said.
The retailer is attempting to overhaul its high street book offering through various strategies revealed in the last few months. It recently recently launched the Price Promise scheme which offers customers money back if they find a cheaper copy at a local rival bookshop. Earlier this year, it unveiled a new books strategy to help secure sales at the 610-strong chain for the next decade, including a revamp of the larger shops in its high street portfolio, a review of its range and improving book recommendations to customers.
The company also relaunched its £10,000 Thumping Good Reads promotion last month for the first time in 15 years with authors Jojo Moyes and Peter James on board as judges, championing seven titles over eight weeks in 1,300 high street and travel stores.
In April it emerged that W H Smith’s book sales fell 7% in the first six months of its financial year, but the retailer said it has seen some “encouraging results” for its new high street book strategy and its travel arm was up 5% to £41m.
The mixed picture for the retailer’s finances comes amidst it being named as the worst shop on the UK high street by a Which? survey of more than 10,000 customers. The complaints included stores appearing out-of-date, expensive products and rudeness from staff. However, industry figures such as Joanne Harris, as well as former CILIP president Dawn Finch, clamoured to defend the chain on Twitter, describing the criticism levelled at W H Smith as “snobbery”.
Of the trading results for the third quarter, Stephen Clarke, group chief executive, offered cautious optimism.
"We have delivered a good sales performance in the third quarter in both our travel and high street businesses,” he said. “Whilst there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, W H Smith serves millions of customers each week and continues to grow both internationally and in the UK. We continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in the business to position us well for the future."
He added: "We remain confident in the outcome for the full year."
The annual results for the store for the year ending 31st August showed that high street sales were down 4% like-for-like, and profit was flat year on year, at £62m. The travel arm, meanwhile, saw sales rise 4% like-for-like, and trading profit increase by 10%, to £96m.
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