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WH Smith reports full-year online growth though Covid-19 effects mean lower overall sales

WH Smith's high street business reported a trading profit this year. Image: Shutterstock

WH Smith says its online businesses have grown strongly during a year in which the retailer has adapted to a changing trading environment. Group revenues have fallen by 13.2% as its travel business remains hit by the effects of Covid-19 restrictions, but pre-tax losses have more than halved. 

The retailer says it has been building its online business this year through investing in is websites and in expanding fulfilment capacity, while extending online ranges and building customer engagement through social media. It says that its Funky Pigeon stationery website has recorded a “record performance”, while Cult Pens has also performed well. 

Next-day delivery has launched, for orders placed before 9.30pm, seven days a week. Some 65,000 people now follow its WH Smith Facebook page – and a similar number on Twitter – while 66,000 follow Funky Pigeon on Facebook, where almost 18,000 follow Cult Pens. 

The stationery-to-technology retailer’s high street business is now profitable again, but its travel business has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, WH Smith, ranked Top250 in RXUK Top500 research, is planning for growth post-pandemic, and plans to open 100 travel stores over the next three years, while expanding its InMotion technology brand to 30 stores in UK airports. At the same time it has closed 24 high street shops, where leases were “uneconomic”. 

WH Smith today reported revenues of £886m for the year to August 31 2021. That’s down from £1bn a year earlier. Pre-tax losses of £116m, after one-off costs of £65m, more than halved (-53.6%) from £280m last time. WH Smith’s travel business turned in a trading loss of £44m, while its high street business made a profit of £36m in its latest year. 

WH Smith group chief executive Carl Cowling, says the performance is a good one in an “evolving trading environment” – and that having adapted to that change it is now in a good position to return to profit in the current financial year. 

“Despite the challenges of the UK high street, more generally, our High Street business has delivered a resilient and profitable performance,” he says. “Our online businesses have delivered strong growth in the year, including a record performance from”

WH Smith sells online via both WH Smith, FunkyPigeon and Cult Pens websites and, as of October 31 2021, through 1,711 shops, of which 1,540 were able to trade at that time under existing Covid-19 restrictions. 

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