WHSmith aims to boost sales with shift to gifts

WHSmith plans an assault on the UK gift market with more exclusive products and promotional activity around special occasions.

The approach is part of what UK retail managing director Beverley Hodson described as a 'dual-pronged' strike. The second element will be more big promotions such as the recent three-for-two offer on books.

Hodson said: 'There will be a deeper gift offer using cards and exclusive products around seasonal occasions.'

Gifts account for approximately 25 per cent of WHSmith's sales. Hodson explained: 'Potentially we see gift sales growing ahead of some other sectors.'

She estimated the gift market to be worth approximately£30 billion, but said it was difficult to quantify because gift buying represents 'an intention' rather than a specific product.

The retailer already sells exclusive products for occasions such as birthdays, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. In the past, these have included Valentine's Day CDs and a yoga video and mat package.

Future product categories will include more exclusive PC-related stationery.

Hodson explained that WHSmith has already developed successful exclusive products in many areas. The fashion stationery range Metro is now considered by WHSmith to be its normal core range.

Last Thursday, WHSmith posted interim pre-tax profits up£2 million to£91 million on sales down 2 per cent to£1.6 billion.

Like-for-like UK retail sales for the six weeks to April 12 increased by 3 per cent - an improvement on the 2 per cent like-for-like fall in the six months to February 28.