WHSmith is the UK’s leading specialist multiple newsagent, a category covering books, greetings cards and other stationery, plus gifts etc in addition to newspapers and magazines. It is currently on a mission to extend its ranges and add more product categories to drive up transaction value and conversion rates. This has been accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
Operations are divided into two divisions by location type – High Street (including online through whsmith.co.uk, funkypigeon.com, cultpens.com and two small stationery websites acquired in 2019) and Travel (airports, railway stations, hospitals, workplaces, etc).
The main technology focus for the retailer is continual cost-cutting and operational efficiency. It is also investing in its ecommerce sites and developing its mobile offer.
Driving international Travel growth is also a current priority, with the US a key focus. From late-2018 the retailer has doubled the size of its international Travel division through the acquisition of US travel stores specialists InMotion and Marshall Retail.
After two difficult years, group sales were restored to pre-pandemic levels in the year to end-August 2022 (FY2022), driven by the recovery of its Travel arm. Total sales rose 58% to £1,400m, up from £886m in FY2021. But while Travel sales surged 131% from a low of £401m in FY2021 to £927m as global travel restrictions were lifted, High Street revenues slipped 2.5% to £473m.
Bolstered by the strong sales performance, the retail group swung firmly back into the black in FY2022, after two years of losses, posting a group pre-tax profit of £63m as the Travel division returned to profit and the High Street operation continued to strengthen margins through its relentless focus on operating efficiencies.