Apple's awesome; WH Smith is 'worst shop on the high street'

WH Smith's, that purveyor of books, magazines and confectionery, has been voted the worst shop in Britain by Which?

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 21 Jan 2015

The Who’s Who of retail brands is finally out. Which? asked 11,000 shoppers to give their verdicts on the 100 most well-known high street brands in the UK; its report lists them in order from hero to villain.

Sitting pretty as the most-beloved shop in Blighty is Apple, with its bright, colourful stores and all-American ‘Have a nice day’ service. The brand's 37 stores UK were described as having ‘great atmosphere and products’ and ‘excellent, knowledgeable’ staff.

At the other end of the scale, however, is WH Smith. Once a great bastion of the UK high street, the retailer is seen as ‘messy and expensive’ by consumers. Out of the 100 brands surveyed, it is the most loathed. This is the fourth consecutive year that shoppers have slated the store.

This poor showing couldn’t really come at a worse time for outgoing boss Kate Swann, who steps down in July after a decade in charge. Her rampant cost-cutting has ensured that Smiths weathered the recessionary storm that destroyed so many of its peers. Sales in its shops fell 5% in the six months to February, but profits are up 5% to £69m. It helps of course that Smiths holds the monopoly on book and magazine vending in many of the UK’s stations.

Instead of leaving on a high, the Which? verdict on Swann’s reign is that that boosting margins has come at a cost: WH Smith’s reputation. The company has hit back at the results, claiming that its own surveys show high levels of satisfaction from customers.

At least WH Smith is not alone in its misery. The stationer is joined at the bottom of the list by EE, the mobile phone shop created by the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, discount fashion chain TK Maxx and camping shop Millets, which was bought out of administration last year.

Back in the heroes category, the odoriferous Lush, whose wares can be smelled from 100 yards away, has slipped from first place last year to second. Also rated among consumers’ favourite stores are The Disney Store, Richer Sounds and Bon Marché. For the first time since the survey began, John Lewis has slipped out of the top five. Nonetheless, it is still ranked as the nation’s ‘best department store’.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd says of the results: ‘Consumers want to support their local stores, but not at any price, so whether they are chains or independent we hope shops do the right thing to keep their customers.’

The Which? research has also revealed changes to our shopping habits. More than half of shoppers choose to buy products online these days, but they still prefer high street shops to shopping centres, retail parks or shopping websites. And high street retailers will be pleased to hear than according to those surveyed, over a third still spend more money in real-world shops than online. 

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