WH Smith's profits boosted by travel shops

WH Smith store front Image copyright PA

WH Smith has upgraded its full-year profit forecast after its travel stores performed well over the holiday period.

Like-for-like sales in its shops at railway stations and airports rose by 5% in the 21 weeks to 21 January.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke said: "This was driven by ongoing investment in the business and continued growth in passenger numbers."

The figures offset a fall of 3% in comparable sales in High Street shops to leave overall group sales up by 2%.

Takeaway food in the company's travel shops has been a big seller, while the fall in High Street sales has been explained by good promotional activity and comparisons with last year, when its colour therapy titles sold well.

However, Mr Clarke said the high street figures were "a good performance" and said strong sales of spoof humour books, such as Five on Brexit Island, The Grandparents and The Cat, had made a difference.

Image copyright WH SMITH
Image caption Spoof humour books have been big sellers in WH Smith

"While there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we remain confident that the group is well positioned for the year ahead as we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in new opportunities," he added.

Total sales at travel shops, which also include those at motorway service stations, hospitals and workplaces, went up by 10% over the period, with High Street sales falling by 4%.

Analyst Sarah Johns, from Verdict Retail, said: "WH Smith's travel stores are highly accessible to shoppers as well as being seen as a trusted destination for books and souvenirs.

"The retailer should continue to offer promotions on snacks, as well as offering newspaper and drink combinations to convert browsing visitors to paying shoppers.

"Its High Street business fared much worse. WH Smith must listen to customer feedback, carefully manage its store estate and ensure it maintains a good standard of customer service, store layout and store decor."

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