WH Smith vows to win 30% of online book market in UK

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The Independent Online

WH SMITH has pledged to control 30 per cent of Britain's online book market within three years as the high street retailer steps up its e-commerce investment.

WH SMITH has pledged to control 30 per cent of Britain's online book market within three years as the high street retailer steps up its e-commerce investment.

Smith's currently lies second in the market with a share estimated at 15 to 20 per cent. It lies behind Amazon.com and ahead of Bertelsmann's heavily-promoted Bol.com. Smith's aims to boost sales by increasing the number of books on its Internet site and testing a new shop format that will include computer terminals for online book orders.

Called WH Smith books.co the first store will open at Leeds railway station in December with others planned for America early next year. The stores will enable busy travellers to order books, check travel details and read their e-mail messages.

Customers will be able to have books delivered to their home, the store they are ordering from or their local high street outlet. "Consumers will get a completely seamless offer and WH Smith books.co is the first step in putting a lot of this together," said Richard Handover, Smith's chief executive.

Smith's confirmed plans to open two trial "WH Smith Metro" stores in central London as part of a plan to develop a derivative format aimed at busy city centre shoppers. It also said its WH Smith Online free Internet service provider has attracted 205,000 users since its launch in May. WH Smith's online sales totalled £5m last year although losses reached £3m.

The comments came as Smith's reported better than expected full-year profits of £134m. The core high street business saw sales increase by 1 per cent on an underlying basis with strong contributions from its core sectors of books, magazines and stationery. Book sales increased by 5 per cent on an underlying basis, taking its market share up from 16.5 to 17 per cent. The Hodder Headline book publishing business, acquired for £182m in May, grew sales and profits by 7 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

The shares rose 17p to 447p.

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