Better than expected Christmas trading for WH Smith

WH Smith

Swindon-headquartered newsagent WH Smith delivered a good performance over the Christmas trading period, ahead of expectations and despite reduced footfall on the High Street.

The company said that high street revenue in December was at 92 per cent of 2019 levels.

For the 20 weeks to 16 January 2021, total Group revenue was 59 per cent of 2019 revenue for the period.

 WH Smith Group Chief Executive, Carl Cowling, said: Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact on the WH Smith Group, however we are pleased with our performance over the Christmas period which was better than anticipated.

“In our High Street business, we worked hard to navigate our way through the evolving Covid restrictions as we approached the Christmas trading period. This positioned us well, resulting in a better than expected Christmas with sales in December at 92 per cent of 2019 levels.  Our online businesses continued to deliver significant year on year growth in the period.

“In our Travel business, we saw little change in the environment prior to the current lockdown, as expected, with sales in December at 36 per cent of 2019 levels.  We remain focused on average transaction values which continue to grow, cost control, and operational efficiencies and I am pleased with the progress we are making, particularly given the backdrop of significantly reduced passenger numbers. In North America, we have seen a quicker recovery versus the rest of the world, given the higher volume of domestic travel.  

“We generated cash during November and December and ended December with a stronger cash position than anticipated with liquidity of £90 million, which is materially ahead of our original plan. 

“I am extremely grateful to all our colleagues around the world and, in particular, our store teams who have worked exceptionally hard throughout what has been a very challenging period.

“We remain well placed to navigate our way through this ongoing period of uncertainty and benefit from the recovery of our key markets in due course.” 

Following the announcement of a third lockdown and in line with government guidance, WH Smith is currently trading from the majority of its High Street Stores, including more than 200 stores with Post Offices and more than 200 UK Travel stores, including around 130 hospital stores serving frontline NHS workers.

The retailer said it was able to apply the learnings from previous lockdowns and acted quickly to preserve liquidity including taking immediate action to return stock, furlough staff and manage its supply chain. It also took measures to ensure its stores that are temporarily closed are able to open quickly as lockdown eases. It is not anticipating any material change to the current situation in the UK prior to the end of March 2021.