WHSmith Christmas sales recover but continues to burn through £20m a month

WHSmith has said it has been encouraged by improving trends in its performance despite the impact of Covid-19
"The trajectory of the recovery in travel remains uncertain." : WHSmith.
// WHSmith group revenue recovered to 67% of pre-Covid levels during December 2020
// Sales across high street stores came in at 92%
// Sales reached just 36% of 2019 levels across WHSmith’s travel division

WHSmith has witnessed a “better than anticipated” performance during Christmas despite the impact of store closures and reduced footfall.

The retailer said it has been burning through £15 million to £20 million in cash a month since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March.

Despite this, WHSmith said group revenue recovered to 67 per cent of pre-Covid levels during December 2020.

READ MORE: WHSmith reports £226m loss & announces store closures

The group saw a “good” performance in its high street business, with total revenue at 87 per cent of 2019 revenue for the 20 week period up to January 16.

Sales across high street stores – the majority of which remain open under the latest lockdown measures – came in at 92 per cent of pre-Covid levels last month.

That was the same percentage it achieved in October but represented an improvement on the 82 per cent registered in November.

Meanwhile, sales reached just 36 per cent of 2019 levels across WHSmith’s travel division in December, which marked a slowdown from the 37 per cent it achieved in November.

Although total sales slowed due to “significantly reduced passenger numbers”, WHSmith said it continued to drive average transaction values during the festive season.

In its financial year to date, WHSmith said group sales were less than half of last year’s total but chief executive Carl Cowling insisted he was “pleased” with the group’s performance over the Christmas period.

“Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact on the WHSmith Group, however we are pleased with our performance over the Christmas period which was better than anticipated,” Cowling said.

“We generated cash during November and December and ended December with a stronger cash position than anticipated with liquidity of £90 million, which is materially ahead of our original plan.

“I am extremely grateful to all our colleagues around the world and, in particular, our store teams who have worked exceptionally hard throughout what has been a very challenging period.

“We remain well placed to navigate our way through this ongoing period of uncertainty and benefit from the recovery of our key markets in due course.”

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