Belfast Telegraph

WH Smith turns page on winter sales dip

By Peter Cripps

The snow bit into sales figures from WH Smith but the stationery and books chain offset the weather misery by revealing a boost to margins.

Like-for-like sales at its high street stores slumped 7% in the eight weeks to January 22, compared to a 4% decline in the previous quarter.

At railway stations, airports and other travel hubs, the company reported a 3% decline in the 21 weeks to the same date but accompanied this with a better-than-expected update on margins as it focuses on costs and more profitable stock.

Chief executive Kate Swann described the performance of both divisions as resilient and said the company remained on track to meet expectations.

She added: "Our staff worked extremely hard during this period to maintain the best possible service for our customers."

Analysts had been expecting a 5% like-for-like sales decline at the high street stores and a 1% fall at travel stores in the period, but those predictions were made before the Arctic weather hit trading.

WH Smith's like-for-like sales have declined in recent months as the company moves away from lower-margin entertainment items such as CDs and DVDs and concentrates on selling its core range of confectionery and stationery.

WH Smith said sales of books recommended by the Richard and Judy Book Club were strong, with Sister by Rosamund Lupton and The Postmistress by Sarah Blake among the best sellers.

The group, which operates 516 outlets at airports, train stations and motorway service areas and 573 sites on high streets, reported group like-for-like sales were down 5% in the 21-week period.

Peter Smedley, an analyst at Charles Stanley Securities Research, said the sales declines were worse than expected but improvements to margins and tight cost control helped deliver an update in line with his expectations.