Hints from the high street: WHSmith have upped their game

I recently took a trip down memory lane when I visited Northbrook Street in Newbury. I worked in the WHSmith branch in the town for 4 years in the mid 1970’s when Newbury was a relatively quiet market town. Northbrook Street is now pedestrianized and full of thriving businesses.

Smith’s has moved down the street in to a larger single-floored store since I moved on. The experience I have had of their shops on visits to their branches over the past decade did not prepare me for what I found in Newbury.

whsmiths copyI expected a bland, poorly merchandised, understaffed, and cluttered and unfocused store. So I was surprised to find a shop that is full of colour and well stocked with several employees working on the shop floor. The staff appeared motivated & busy and were dressed in the best looking company uniform that I have seen WHSmith staff wearing.

Key features

  1. Lots of colour
  2. Focus on high margin products in the front half of the store, I liked their big wall of gift wrap.
  3. Branded children’s department, Zoodle. They have brought all the child-focused products into a bright colourful area at the back of the store. WHS are opening standalone Zoodle stores in some of their travel division stores, including Manchester Airport.
  4. They also have a well-defined and branded ‘Kobo store’

Lessons for other retailers

What does your store say to your customers? Is it bland and uninspiring or is it bright and interesting with the promise of the unexpected?

The ‘Brand within a Brand’ concept that is illustrated with Zoodle suggests that lateral thinking about range and categories with a focus on customer needs can throw up interesting opportunities.

WHS used to have children’s products spread around the store, as part of an adult-orientated layout. Bringing this group of products together makes great sense.

Clearly, in the convenience channel we have seen ‘Food to Go’ getting this treatment in many stores, but it would seem that an investigation of your customers basket mix may reveal hidden associations that could be considered.


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