Belfast Telegraph

WH Smith travel store sales boost offset by high street dip

Retailer WH Smith has posted flat sales as buoyant trade across its shops in railway stations and airports was offset by tougher trading on the high street.

The stationer and newsagent said like-for-like sales rose 3% in its travel stores in the 14 weeks to June 4 thanks to rising passenger numbers at transport hubs.

But like-for-like sales fell 3% at high street stores, where the group is cutting costs and focusing on profit margins rather than growing sales.

The group said it remains "confident in the outcome for the full year".

It has been expanding its travel business in the UK and overseas and is looking to add further stores.

The third quarter performance comes after a better first half for its high street chain, which saw its first rise in sales for 14 years over Christmas, boosted by the craze for colouring-in and activity books for grown-ups.

This left comparable store sales flat overall in the half-year to February 29, which was still described at the time by the firm as its ''best performance for many years''.

WH Smith assured in its latest update that despite the third quarter setback for high street sales, profit margin growth and cost cutting remains on track.

Shares in the group fell 3% after the update.

Retail experts at Liberum said the update confirms a slowdown in trading since the first half, but added this was expected.

Freddie George, retail analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, said: "The company has an impressive record over the last seven years and encouragingly, earnings momentum, if anything, is picking up, particularly in respect of travel."

In April, WH Smith posted an 11% hike in first half profits to £80 million.

It is growing its travel division, securing more than 200 stores overseas, including its first airport shops in Spain and Germany in the group's first half.

WH Smith is also housing more post office branches in the UK, with a deal announced in April that will see up to another 61 move into its stores over the next year.