Labour MP Paula Sherriff will demand justification for WHSmith charging more in hospitals at a meeting with its boss.

  • Paula Sherriff due to meet WHSmith on September 17
  • M&S has not yet responded to a request for meeting with MP
  • WHSmith says it does not have “overly inflated pricing” in hospitals

Sherriff, who is a health select committee member, told Retail Week she will meet WHSmith boss Stephen Clarke on September 17 about the retailer’s pricing strategy after reports emerged WHSmith and Marks & Spencer were charging more at their hospital stores than they do on the high street.

Sherriff has also requested a meeting with Marks & Spencer executives but is yet to hear back from the business.

Sherriff is threatening to pursue the hospital pricing issue “through any route” if she is not satisfied with the evidence retailers provide in any meetings as to why they charge more in hospital stores.

Alongside continuing to exert media pressure she is also considering raising questions in Parliament about retailers’ pricing strategies if she believes retailers are unfairly forcing “huge price hikes” on patients and visitors.

“Ultimately I will be asking them to reconsider this pricing policy”

Paula Sherriff, MP

Sherriff said: “It gives them an opportunity to explain their operations cost, I would like them to provide comprehensive evidence and drill down to look at the raw figures.

“Ultimately I will be asking them to reconsider this pricing policy, Costa Coffee have the same charging policy in hospital shops that they do on the high street, if they can achieve a business model on that basis why can’t the others?”

It is understood Boots has had a policy of having the same price in hospitals stores as it does on the high street for some time despite rents at hospital stores being higher.

Not a result of deliberate policy

A WHSmith spokesman said: “Comparing individual selected prices at a point in time does not provide a fair reflection of our pricing and promotions in hospital stores and it is not correct to say WHSmith has overly inflated pricing and promotions in hospitals versus the high street business.”

WHSmith also argues significantly different prices in hospitals is not a result of a deliberate pricing policy but because of its promotional activity.

The spokesman said: “While many items are the same price in hospitals our offers in stationery and impulse categories will often be different, reflecting the different sales mix and seasonal promotions like the current back-to-school promotion.

“We constantly review all of our prices and after the current back-to-school promotions finish in the high street, we expect stationery prices in hospitals and the high street to be aligned.”

It is understood M&S’s hospital stores are run by franchise partner SSP.

Sherriff believes the growing consumer backlash against businesses’ pricing policies is a result of people “becoming savvier about how they spend their money and where it is going”.

There have also been recent consumer backlashes about retailers not passing on VAT savings in airports to customers and restaurants pocketing service charges customers intended to pay to waiting staff.