High street giant WHSmith reported its highest sales figures in 14 years this week.

Seeing an 8% rise in annual profits – it’s been a positive year for the famous stationery store.

So, what’s been behind the strong performance?

Here’s more on the story. 

Separation of travel stores

While it might have previously been better known for selling reading material, WHSmith has seen a growing demand for food and drink on-the-go.

So much so that it has now changed its strategy to reflect this need, choosing to separate its travel and high street stores with different stocking priorities.

Its travel stores, found in airports and rail stations, now stock over 50% food, drinks and confectionery. 

On the other hand, its high street stores are largely comprised of books, magazines and stationery. 

This mirrors the predicted growth of the travel retail sector as a whole, with airport stores capitalising on the shopper’s need to spend before and after travelling. 

Likewise, it could also be reflection of the consumer’s desire for more affordable food options.

A big part of Smith’s rise in profits has been the popularity of its meal deal - the retailer sold over 10m in the year leading up to August 2016.

With the likes of Pret and M&S costing upwards of £6 for lunch, the cheaper price range of Boots and WHSmith is something that undoubtedly appeals to both busy and regular commuters.

Collaboration with a social influencer

The Richard and Judy book club has been part of WHSmith for years (starting way back when they were actually on the telly). 

While it is still popular – or arguably just inconsequential to the average consumer buying a book in-store - it is naturally geared towards an older demographic.

Earlier this year, WHSmith teamed up with Zoella, one of the most popular and high profile YouTubers, to launch a brand new book club.

Designed to attract younger readers into the store, the campaign saw Zoella choose a selection of eight books which she then recommended to her audience online. 

The book club drew a massive response. On the back of it, one title even shot from 1,101th to an impressive number 14th on the bestseller list.

This is a great example of how a brand can harness the power of a social influencer.

By choosing a personality who is a natural and relevant fit for its campaign (and whose audience perfectly matches the target demographic), the retailer was able to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

Capitalising on non-digital trends

For a traditionally print-focused retailer, the rise of eBooks and other digital media proves to be a continued challenge.

However, WHSmith has managed to capitalise on the recent trend for the digital detox – a reaction against the often all-consuming nature of modern technology.

Despite sales of colouring books waning slightly in the last quarter, the retailer has still seen strong stationery sales

This could be due to the Zoella tie-in – she often posts ‘stationery hauls’ on her channel and has recently included a notebook in her latest Superdrug collection.

Meanwhile, the popularity of bullet journals and other non-digital productivity methods could also be behind the surge.

Combined with WHSmith’s decision to move stationery out of hidden aisles towards the front of stores, it has resulted in steady sales of traditional writing tools.

In conclusion...

By tapping into the need for convenience and partnering with social influencers, WHSmith has managed to satisfy the changing needs of consumers.

With BHS and Woolworths just two big names now absent from the high street - it is a great example of how to stay relevant.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 1 November, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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