WHSmith to start closing stores as high street struggle continues

The neglected high street staple has not said which stores will close and how many jobs could be affected.

WHSmith has 610 high street stores in the UK, meaning that 0.9 per cent will close.

The retailer said the six stores closing were "loss-making" because of "onerous" high street leases, and that they will close when their leases expire.

It made the decision after reporting a fall in profits for its high street stores from £62million to £60million in the year to August.

The retailer said it is now focusing on its travel stores, which are its shops located at airports, train stations, service stations, universities and workplaces.

Why is the high street struggling?

Recent analysis by the Labour party showed there are 100,000 fewer Brits working in the retail industry than there were in 2015.

Last year alone, the high street lost a total of 1,800 shops.

Companies blame the rise of Amazon and other online shopping sites for driving footfall away from town centres.

Labour also points to price-gouging by town centre car parking firms, and to look into shops being left empty by landlords.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats want to abolish business rates and replace them with a tax on the value of land.

Influential Tories are calling on Chancellor Philip Hammond to fast-track a 3 per cent tax on the likes of Amazon, eBay and Google to “level the playing field” with UK business and help the high street.

It opened 20 more in the last year, bringing the total to 581 stores.

It's also about to unveil a new extended version of its current shop at Heathrow Terminal 4 in the coming weeks.

It is thought that staff at the six closing stores will be moved to other WHSmith shops to prevent job losses.

A WH Smith spokesman said: “Over the year, WH Smith will be opening more stores than we’re closing.

"Across the business we will be creating jobs, employing more people next year than this year.”

The retailer has not said which stores are closing as it has not yet told staff at the affected stores, it is believed.

As well as the six store closures, WHSmith said it would end a trial of smaller WHSmith Local stores, and close CardMarket, an online trading card gaming marketplace.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive of WHSmith said in a statement: "We had a good year in high street despite the well documented challenges of the UK high street."

He added: "Despite this good performance, we are not ignoring the broader challenges on the UK high street and, during the second half, we conducted a business review to ensure our high street business is fit for purpose now and for the future."

George Charles, retail expert from money-saving website VoucherCodesPro.co.uk, said: "It’s incredibly sad to hear that such a pivotal part of our high streets is also failing.

"Everyone in the UK would have purchased something in WHSmith’s at some point or another, whether that was a book, stamps or some stationary, but as with many of the other struggling retailers, the cost of these goods is just too high to compete with online retailers or other stores on the high streets."

It hasn't been the best year for WHSmith as in July it was named the UK's worst high street shop, with customers complaining it's expensive, out-of-date with rude staff.

It's the latest retailer to be affected by the struggles plaguing the high street, with French Connection announcing this week that it could be up for sale.

Meanwhile Debenhams is trying to beat the pressures on high street stores by opening a new flagship shop containing a gin bar – after announcing plans to close 10.

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