WH Smith has been rated the UK’s worst high street retailer as shoppers panned its customer service and store standards.
The books to paperclips store came bottom of a survey of Which? readers, reclaiming its unwanted crown as the UK’s most unloved retailer from the supermarket Morrisons, which came bottom last year.
WH Smith has come bottom of the survey, which asked 10,000 shoppers to rate their experience in buying non-grocery items at 100 major retailers, for five of the past eight years – and second worst for the other three.
One customer told Which?: “I find WH Smith very expensive and its stores need updating.” Another shopper summed up the retailer’s troubles, branding it “hugely inferior to what it was in the past”.
The anonymous WH Smith watcher who – as @WHS_Carpet – regularly tweets pictures of messy aisles, dodgy price promotions and worn flooring says: “The problem with WH Smith is that in order to flourish financially, it has entered a downward spiral of cutting costs on the high street to counteract falling sales, which becomes a vicious circle. It has slashed staff numbers, which leads to poor standards and service”.
Nice impulse display. For any kids that are nine foot tall pic.twitter.com/R96zPrXMKf
May 20, 2018
The company has recently been criticised for accidentally pricing toothpaste at £7.99 in one of its hospital outlets and been accused of feeding Britain’s obesity problems by offering bargain chocolate at the till. It also had to change its policy to provide VAT refunds for shoppers travelling outside the EU from British airports after criticism for failing to pass on savings.
Bryan Roberts, the insights director for TCC Global, said WH Smith’s tactic of incentivising staff to sell shoppers extra chocolate bars, take coupons for McDonald’s or encourage them to use automated tills is not shopper-friendly.
“If you are an investor then WH Smith is one of the best retailers in the country; its share price performance and profitability are a huge success,” he said. “But a lot of its practices don’t sit well with customer service.”
A WH Smith spokesperson said: “Only 184 people commented on WH Smith as part of this survey. We serve 12 million customers each week and despite a challenging retail environment we continue to open new shops, and to maintain our presence on the UK high street.”
In recent years the company has spent millions of pounds on refurbishing its stores, including about half the high street estate. Even WHS_Carpet has acknowledged that it is getting harder to find examples of grimy or damaged flooring, although they say more staff are needed to help care for stores and customers.
“There’s still a lot of affection for the brand – it just needs to live up to it,” they added.
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This year, the organic beauty specialist Lush, the cut-price health and beauty chain Savers and the toy chain Smyths shared equal billing as the nation’s best retailer. They knocked last year’s top two, Toolstation and Richer Sounds, down to fourth and sixth place respectively.
John Lewis, which finished joint third in 2017, falls to 10th place – its worst ranking since the annual survey launched in 2010.
Ben Clissitt, the Which? magazine editor, said: “It is clear that our traditional high street is changing and while this is bad news for some retailers who have struggled to adapt, others have seized the opportunity to make their mark.
“Our findings show that if retailers can strike the right balance between good value, quality products and first-class customer service, shoppers will keep coming back to their stores.”