Travel stores drive growth in sales at WH Smith

Like-for-like sales at WH Smith's high street stores have fallen by 3%, a performance described by t

Like-for-like sales at WH Smith's high street stores have fallen by 3%, a performance described by the retailer as in line with expectations. Photo:Philip Toscano/PA - Credit: PA

High street and transport hub retailer WH Smith has upgraded its full year profit forecast after hailing another strong performance at its travel arm over the festive period.

WH Smith said sales at its travel arm, which includes stores at airports, railway stations and motorway service areas, rose by 5% in the 21 weeks to January 21 on a like-for-like basis and by 10% in total.

This offset a 3% like-for-like fall across its high street stores, where total sales were 4% lower, and left overall group sales 1% ahead on a comparable basis and 2% up in total.

Describing the overall performance as “strong”, group chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “In travel, we have delivered good sales growth across all our key channels in the period.

“This was driven by ongoing investment in the business and continued growth in passenger numbers, particularly in our airport stores over the Christmas holiday period.

“In High Street, we saw another good performance with sales in line with expectations driven by our new seasonal stationery ranges and spoof humour books.

“As a result of the performance in travel we expect group profit growth for the year to be slightly ahead of plan.”

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WH Smith has been helped by surging demand for food-on-the go across its travel stores, with growth in total sales within the division also receiving a foreign exchange boost from international business as a result of the fall in the value of sterling.

“Our store opening programme both in the UK and internationally is on track,” the group added.

The dip in high street sales was attributed to strong promotional activity and tough comparatives from last year when the shops saw strong sales of “colour therapy” titles.

Mr Clarke added: “Looking ahead, 2017 is a significant year for us as we celebrate the 225th anniversary of our first store opening in 1792.

“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.”