Coda on bookselling: what is WH Smith for?
Monographer writes: In a coda to his guest post on the survival of independent booksellers (20 Oct), Bob Cox-Wrightson registers his impressions of WH Smith.
Bob Cox-Wrightson writes: I recently spotted this poster in the window of my local WH Smith. It sums up my view about WHS, which is that it doesn’t seem to know who it’s for anymore. The reason – the dictionary. It’s been plonked among a sprinkling of popular fiction and stands out like a suit at the beach.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a market for dictionaries and I’m sure they sell quite well. But to promote them alongside new fiction smacks of a desperate, scatter-gun approach. It’s like Boots (the high street chemist) displaying a poster featuring three new, celebrity-endorsed perfumes, alongside a box of plasters. Everyone needs plasters, but it would just look odd.
Boots, although it sells a wide range of items, never loses sight of the fact that it’s a chemist. Go into WH Smith, and what type of shop are you in? The layout pulls you in five different directions at once, towards greetings cards, books, magazines, sweets, and stationary. Add in a large number of price-promotions all crying for attention, and the effect can be disorientating.
W H Smith’s predicament reminds me of the trap that Woolworth fell into before its collapse, trying to be all things to all people. Why compete with the supermarkets? Why not be bold, decide on what they do best, and use their market position and high-street presence to be the best.
Perhaps the introduction of their new Kobo eBook reader will be a first step along this path – so long as they don’t advertise it next to a pencil sharpener.
© Bob Cox-Wrightson