UK. WHSmith has described its new 4,500sq ft store at London Gatwick Airport South Terminal, opened in December, as a “step change” in store environment and service.

To test that claim, The Moodie Davitt Report Chairman Martin Moodie made a site visit with WHSmith Travel UK Managing Director Toby Keir and Business Development Director Spencer Sheen last month. Here we present in words and images, WHSmith as you’ve never seen it before.

“This is the new WHSmith,” says WHSmith Travel UK Managing Director Toby Keir (centre), pictured with Business Development Director Spencer Sheen (left) and Martin Moodie

“This is our newest store format,” says Keir as we enter the open-fronted, bright and welcoming shop. “We’re very happy with it so far and so are our customers. Traditionally we would have our gondolas at the front of the store to attract people in. We still have some of that but we have segmented the store to create an easier walkway.”

Make that walk-through. Whereas in most WHSmith airport stores in the past, customers would funnel towards the cash points at the back of the store, here the latter are positioned at the end of a gently meandering walk-through journey. The store is bright, light and colourful, with excellent sight lines and bold use of digital media both at the entrance and within the interior.

Trump card: Note the wide, easily accessible frontage and the digital media promoting the biography of a certain well-known US President

The gently curved walk-through offers a natural flow through the store

“You loop through the store and you pay at the end,” says Keir. “This relieves the pressure of people having to come forward and pay at the back of the store. That’s been a big change, which customers find much easier.

“It’s important that customers can easily see all our departments, and then easily flow out of the store as well. That can only work in bigger stores, of course, because you need to have the space available. But this is proof of what we can do when we get more space – and with multi-categories as well.”

“We have tried to make it a calmer shopping experience”

Sheen says a similar approach will be adopted at the company’s Heathrow Airport T3 and T4 stores which are also being revamped. The new-look T3 shop will open in May and its T4 counterpart a month later. The main Gatwick North store is also part of the ambitious investment programme. “By the summer peak we will have four of these shops,” he says.

Sheen adds: “With the sheer volume of passengers we have here, we were trying to avoid the situation of people coming into the store counter the flow and almost bumping into one another. We have tried to make it a calmer shopping experience and make it easier for people so everything just flows around one way. It was quite a brave decision as it takes frontage away from the stores but it’s working really well.”

“We have put food right at the front. It’s key to have value so our food deal is particularly important,” says Keir. “Airports are good for premium customers but if you have a meal deal at £3.99 as we have, it’s particularly effective. And we have a breakfast meal deal at £2.49.”

The whole food offer, in fact, comes as a surprise, not just in terms of its depth and diversity but also its focus on healthy products. “Food and drink is somewhere where we have gone against the market in a really positive way,” Keir comments. “The UK market on snacking is quite tough at the moment but we have done lots of work on healthy eating and that has really driven a lot of positive change. We’ve actually launched quite a few new brands in the UK.”

The real deal: The value proposition food offer is positioned near the front of the store

(Above and below) The extensive food and drinks offer majors on healthy options and value for money


“We’ve brought in digital screens and I think it looks a lot more inviting,” says Keir. “And we have introduced music to the store, which our customers and our team members like. We have a big drinks run which is rear-filled so you can just fill up stock from behind, which is key. We’re often the most-used store in an airport. We have a lower transaction value but we sell the most units.

“A lot of people come in to buy a water, a Mars bar or a magazine. The more things they see in our store the better it is to increase the average transaction value.”

As can be seen from the photos on this page, the new-look store features very clear zoning across a range of categories from meal deals to gifting, impulse purchases, magazines and newspapers. “Virtually every single fixture in this store is new to our business,” says Keir.

The store also marks a return to the traditional WHSmith branding, bringing an end to the London News Company identity introduced in 2012 at Gatwick Airport only. “It served a purpose at the time as Gatwick Airport wanted to be very much branded as a London airport,” says Keir. “But our business has moved on from there and we are very proud of our WHSmith name.”

WHSmith is virtually synonymous with magazines, not the easiest category to merchandise (or to make money from). Here the retailer has opted for a much more elegant presentation than in the past to declutter the offer.

Who said hard copy books have no place in the digital era? Certainly not WHSmith, for whom the category is thriving

Despite being right next to a WHSmith bookstore, the shop also features an extensive books offer. Again it’s well-segmented by genre and target audience with an impressive array of airport exclusives. “We don’t do hardbacks but our buying team works with our publishers so that if they bring out a hardback we’ll get the equivalent in a softback to make it lighter for travel. It’s also £5 cheaper and we get it at the same time as the hardback launch.”

“Virtually every single fixture in this store is new to our business”

In a nice touch, the hand-written shelf talker recommendations are not from outside experts but from store staff. “I’m personally very keen on getting our staff more engaged,” says Keir.

The point-of-sale zone features a mix of staff-serviced and self-service. “It’s up to the customer,” says Keir. “If the customer wants to go to their own till – and there’s enough tilling here to do that – then they get a choice where they have different languages [including Mandarin].

“Overall, this is a big departure for us and we’re very happy with it,” he concludes. “There are things that will evolve and we will learn from. That’s retail.”

A question of choice: The spacious POS zone offers a choice of self-service or staff-serviced options

Note the Mandarin instructions

Bear market: The big soft fellow in the middle sells for £150 a time. “You might need to buy an extra seat onboard though,” says Toby Keir.

(Above and below) Confectionery, fruit, shortbread and healthy snacking all form part of a diverse line-up of foodstuffs

(Above and below) These book recommendations and reviews are written by the store staff themselves. “I’m personally very keen on getting our staff more engaged,” says Toby Keir.

Note the strong sight lines, bright lighting and attractive ceilings

Water is a key benchmark of any airport’s value proposition and WHSmith hits the right note here with a £1.29 offer

The free bottle of water with every edition of The Daily Telegraph or The Sunday Telegraph purchased is one of the retailer’s most popular offers

The point-of-sale is now positioned at the end of a walk-through rather than at the tip of a crowded funnel

(Above and below) Great use of digital signage in-store draws customers to the magazines and books section. Impressively, WHSmith generates 50% of The Economist magazine’s sales in the UK.

“A lot of retailers just put magazines on the shelf and we have been guilty of that in the past too,” says Keir. Now by improving the merchandising and deploying digital media, the company is lending much more visual impact to the category.

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