Redundancies hit record high as hundreds of thousands lose jobs

WH Smith to close 25 stores and cut 200 jobs after pandemic causes hefty losses

Retailer’s sales hit by sharp drop in passengers at train stations and airports

Ben Chapman@b_c_chapman
Thursday 12 November 2020 18:00

WH Smith is to close 25 stores after recording a £280m annual loss and sales were hammered at its sites in train stations and airports.

The closures will result in around 200 job losses in addition to 1,500 that could go as part of plans announced earlier this year.

Annual sales fell 19 per cent at the retailer's high street stores and 43 per cent at travel stores, which have suffered from a drastic reduction in passenger numbers. Online sales were by 240 per cent.

Passenger numbers remain "significantly impacted" in the UK but are beginning to pick up in the US, where a high proportion of air travel is domestic, the company said.

The £280m loss in the year to 31 August is in contrast to a £135m profit last year.

During the nationwide UK lockdown, WH Smith's sales fell to just 17 per cent of those made a year earlier, a figure that had risen to 59 per cent by October. Of more than 1,000 WH Smith stores globally, 558 are currently open.  

"WH Smith's high street business was already facing an uphill struggle with the company heavily reliant on growth through its convenience shops dotted across the transport network," said Susannah Streeter, an analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown.

"But this captive market where shoppers made impulse purchases as they waited for trains and planes, or scanned a grab-and-go sandwich on their daily commute, all but evaporated during the pandemic."

Chief executive Carl Cowling said the business was "resilient and agile".

"The actions we have taken have put us in a strong position to navigate this time of uncertainty and we are well positioned to benefit as our markets return to growth.

"In high street, we had seen a steady recovery and we were well set up both in stores and online as we went into the second lockdown. We currently have 558 stores open."

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