WH Smith is one of the UK’s leading retail groups with 543 high street stores and 129 travel stores at airports, train stations and motorway services across the UK, plus an online retail outlet with WH Smith Direct. Every year 70 per cent of the UK’s population visit a WH Smith store and on average just over 1.2 million people visit a WH Smith high street store every day of the year. If put end-to-end, the sales of its three best selling rulers would stretch from London to Spain.
Although the retailer saw sales fall in the Christmas season, its gross margin over the period rose by three percentage points, which it attributed to better management of markdowns and low-cost sourcing.
The brightest spot for the company was its travel division – covering stores in airports and rail stations – where sales for the 20 weeks to January 20 rose four per cent.
WH Smith has made a number of changes to its IT infrastructure this year, with a view to improving efficiency and moving towards operating common IT services across all parts of the business where practicable.
During the year it implemented a new finance system, reduced the number of datacentres it operates from four to three and dispensed with its legacy mainframe applications.
WH Smith was the first British retailers to forge an online channel and open its website for business 12 years ago. According to e-retail specialists Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), the first online shopping transaction in the UK was a book bought from WH Smith via CompuServe, a forerunner of the internet.
The details of the book were never recorded, but the retailer’s archive shows that its overall bestseller online in the first three months was the Joy of Sex.