Covid-19: WHSmith reports online sales boost amid overall drop in revenue

WHSmith has reported a 400% growth in online book sales during the past month as the business attempts to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 crisis. In an interim results announcement for the six months ending 29 February, the retailer said its total group revenue declined by 85% year-on-year during April. This included a 91% drop in its travel business, with a huge decline in passenger numbers as a result of current restrictions on travel and the majority of its stores at airports and railway stations temporarily closed.

The majority of WHSmith stores are currently closed around the world, and this contributed to a 74% drop in high-street revenue for April.

The retailer performed well in the six-month period, prior to the crisis developing. This included in its eCommerce channels, recording profit growth in its online personalised greetings card business, strong sales growth in its online stationery range, and good performance in its recently acquired websites,  and WHSmith added that these latter businesses “align with our digital strategy of broadening our stationery ranges and enhancing our customer offer”.

Its travel business performed particularly strongly over this period, with revenue up by 19%. Its overall trading profit increased by 11%, to £49 million.

Carl Cowling, group chief executive, WHSmith, commented: “There was very little impact of Covid-19 on our first half results, however inevitably the performance in the second half will be very different. During the first half, we continued to see strong sales growth in our travel business with total revenue up 19%, driven by our ongoing investment and initiatives in our UK business and our growing international businesses.”

WHSmith stated it believes it is in a strong position to navigate Covid-19 after taking steps to shore up financing and reducing costs.