WHSmith’s high street sales continued to decline but the retailer’s travel business reported improved growth in the first quarter.

  • WHSmith travel business continues to grow but high street in decline
  • Total like-for-likes were flat
  • Results in line with its profit-focused strategy

High street sales fell 4% while like-for-likes were also down 4% for its 13 weeks to May 30, 2015.

But the retailer’s travel business reported an 8% increase in sales, with like-for-like sales up 4%.

The retailer also reported its first sales rise in six years, with an increase of 1%, while like-for-like sales were flat.

The books and stationery retailer said: “We will continue to focus on profitable growth and cash generation while investing in new opportunities in both Travel and High Street that position us well for the future.  We remain confident in the outcome for the full year.”

Last summer, WHSmith released a food-to-go range which the retailer said is being “well received” by customers as it saw gross margin improvement. Its new store opening programme in the UK and internationally is also “progressing well”, according to WHSmith.

The retailer said its results are in line with expectations and its profit-focused strategy to prioritise long-term profitability over short-term sales growth.

At its full-year results in April, chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “We would rather sell £10 of stationery rather than £20 of newspapers because the margins are so much higher.”

Paul Thomas from retail consultancy Retail Remedy said: “In a rail station or airport, the WHSmith proposition makes perfect sense. Lean, convenient and with the snacks and mags that will appeal to a time-pressed traveller, it’s a winning formula despite its sometimes jaw-dropping prices.

“For many rail passengers, the brand’s travel stores are an essential stop-off between ticket office and train. By contrast WHSmith’s high street branches are unappealing backwaters.”