WHSmith has come bottom of the Which? High Street Shops survey of 7,700 shoppers for the second year running.
The poll covered 109 retailers and rated WHSmith as ‘very poor’ regarding value for money and in-store experience. Other industry casualties included Clinton Cards, which came in at 101 out of the 109 shops, but which represents an improvement on their ranking in last year’s report. Retailers ticking the right boxes for shoppers in the industry included Waterstones, at number 12, and John Lewis right near the top at number three.
WHSmith were quick to report that only 586 customers had commented on its stores in the survey, adding: “This survey... is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base.”
A WHSmith spokeswoman continued: “Every week we serve three million customers in our 600 UK High Street stores and have maintained our presence on the high street where many other retailers are closing stores."
The news was picked up across the national press. As part of this nationwide interest, on her BBC Radio London show on May 29 Vanessa Feltz interviewed our regular Stationery Matters columnist Henri Davis. Not only was Henri equipped to comment in her role as deputy chair of the Giftware Association and as an independent retail advisor, she has worked in the past for WHSmith for 13 years.
Henri Davis told Vanessa Feltz: “We sort of love to hate them… They still offer a lot of product that we want to buy, a lot of it is newspapers and magazines. We probably are going there still but we don’t necessarily enjoy it when we go.
“One of the things that Smiths benefits from is that so many of its competitors have closed over the years but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good value for money or a good shopping experience so, while they’re managing to stay profitable, they not choosing to invest money in the retail experience,” said Henri.
Despite this ranking, stationery is helping to shore up the retailer’s financial performance. WHSmith reported solid results for the six months ending 28 February 2019, with like-for-like revenue in its Stationery category up 2%, with gross margin also higher than last year.
The retailer put this down to several factors: opening up more and better quality space for stationery within its high-street stores; strong promotional offers, and an increased focus on design, fashion and quality products.
Its latest financial report showed that the retailer is also growing its stationery business through a number of digital initiatives:
funkypigeon.com, its online personalised greetings card business, which performed well over the key seasons delivering good revenue and profit growth.
whsmith.co.uk, which saw strong sales growth in its stationery ranges. During the second half, the retailer announced it will launch a new website providing customers with more ranges and an improved shopping experience.
cultpens.com, its specialist pen website, which performed well in the period. It will continue to develop this business and grow sales.