Has WHSmith lost its way?

Posted by John Aves, Tuesday 21st April 2015.

So after WHSmith published it’s interim results, we look at what is going right and what is going wrong one of the UK’s most traditional brands.

Thursday’s results highlighted that the magazine and book retailer, is focusing on cutting costs and optimising the use of every inch of space in its high street stores in order to improve financial performance. Its travel arm saw like for like growth of 3% – driven by an increase in the number of passengers travelling through our airports and railway stations – but the major part of the business, the High Street shops saw a 4% LFL decline.

WHSmith is a well-known, long established brand but it feels like it has lost its way. It is tired, lacking in personality, it is unclear who they are targeting and it is missing the vibrancy and innovation that of some its competitors such as Amazon or Paperchase have in abundance. The brand offers little to appeal to the youth market and it feels deficient in purpose and vision. Far from being ‘Britain’s most popular bookseller, stationery and newsagent’ I am struggling to find a reason why I would go into a WHSmith store. There are better places to buy books and stationery and I am just and likely to pick up my free paper at the station rather than queue and pay for one on my journey to and from work. There is nothing happening in their stores – which look tired and uninspiring – and the service leaves a lot to be desired.

What was interesting in reading through the results release is that there was NO MENTION AT ALL of customers. Let’s look at how the company fares in its customer’s eyes….In UK Customer Satisfaction Index report published in January 2015 by the Institute of Customer Services, WHSmith was second to bottom of the table in the non food sector, with a score of only 73%, down by 0.5% over the year before. It’s rival Amazon was sailing high at the top of the table with high scores in loyalty, retention, recommendation and repeat purchasing.

It seems WHSmith does have one thing going for it – convenience.  91% of the UK population lives within a 20 minute drive of one of WHSmith’s 600+ stores. However with costly High Street overheads, no growth, pressure on margins and competitors who are more in touch with the changing needs of their customers, WHSmith needs to answer some fundamental questions about its purpose as a brand, its target customers and the relevance of its customer proposition if it wants to survive.

WHSmith customer experience

WHSmith’s online customer experience and it’s competitors.