WH Smith has been rated the worst high street retailer in the UK for 2018, according to the Which? annual shopping survey.
The retailer has been in the bottom two for its eighth consecutive year, with shoppers panning it for customer service and value as well as for the standard of its stores.
One customer told Which?: “I find WH Smith very expensive and its stores need updating,” while another said: “I always use the self-service tills because the staff are rude.”
Another shopper summed up the retailer’s troubles, branding it “hugely inferior to what it was in the past”.
WH Smith’s poor performance comes after it faced a backlash for overcharging customers for toothpaste and other toiletries in its hospital shops.
Which? asked more than 10,000 shoppers about their shopping experience at 100 major retailers. The customer scores given are based on customers’ experiences of purchasing non-grocery items, their satisfaction levels and the likelihood of recommending each shop.
Lush, Savers and Smyths Toys have been named the highest ranking shops; a huge leap for three retailers that didn’t even manage last year’s top 10. Customers praised the smells of Lush stores, the prices at discount cosmetics store Savers, and the “friendly and cheerful” staff at Smyths Toys.
Last year’s top two, Toolstation and Richer Sounds – a winner at last week’s Which? Awards – are now in fourth and sixth place, respectively. Despite only dropping by two percentage points, John Lewis, which finished joint third in 2017, falls to 10th place – its worst ranking since our annual survey launched in 2010.
But the department store’s strength as an all-rounder was still evident, as it snatched the top spot in four categories – appliances and electronics, furniture and home, outdoor and sports and wellbeing and beauty.
Price proved to be a deciding factor for many consumers – particularly when it came to everyday essentials – pushing stores like Savers up the rankings.
Which? saw a similar trend in its recent supermarket survey, which this year saw Aldi overtake Waitrose for the first time in three years, proving that customers are sometimes willing to sacrifice their overall shopping experience if it means getting better value for money.
Customers also favoured retailers that offered a sensory experience or specific expertise that is simply not available to them online. Getting top marks in this year’s entertainment category was Waterstones, despite the rise of e-books and the popularity of online retailers like Amazon. People who gave it a high score commented on the stores’ pleasant surroundings as well as the recommendations from friendly staff.
The Which? survey also asked shoppers what they liked about shopping in-store and found that customers value being able to touch, feel and try on items before purchasing (82%), being able to take purchased items away (74%) and being able to ask questions of staff (39%).
Meanwhile, describing their bugbears of shopping in store, shoppers said they are put off by crowds (49%), queueing (49%) as well as the behaviour of other shoppers (38%).
While some high street retailers are thinking up new ways to entice customers into their stores, others are struggling. In the past few months alone, two of the stores in our survey, Toys R Us and Maplin, have gone into administration.
Others such as Mothercare and Laura Ashley have issued profit warnings, New Look has requested rent cuts, Debenhams is slashing staff numbers and announced an 85% drop in profits, while Carpetright has announced the closure of around a quarter of its stores.
Some Laura Ashley, Mothercare and Debenhams customers told Which? that although these stores offered a good range and good quality items, they thought value for money was poor unless it was during the sales.
In contrast, shoppers praised the cheap and cheerful nature of New Look stores but one shopper told Which?; “stores could be a bit tidier”.
Ben Clissitt, 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.”
Notes to editors:
Top rated shops:
- (1) Lush – 81% (183)
- = Savers – 81% (185)
- = Smyths Toys – 81% (186)
- (4) Screwfix – 80% (184)
- = Toolstation – 80% (178)
- (6) Bodycare – 79% (185)
- = Richer Sounds – 79% (124)
- (8) The Perfume Shop – 78% (180)
- = Waterstones – 78% (185)
- (10) – The Body Shop – 77% (184)
- = Dunhelm 77% (185)
- = Ikea 77% (185)
- = John Lewis 77% (185)
Bottom rated shops:
- (90) Dorothy Perkins/Burton – 66% (370)
- = Halfords (inc Cycle Republic) – 66% (182)
- = Miss Selfridge – 66% (185)
- = Ryman- 66% (183)
- (94) JD Sports – 65% (185)
- = Toys R Us/Babies R Us – 65% (185)
- (97) Homebase/Bunnings – 64% (553)
- (98) Evans – 63% (179)
- = Sport Direct – 63% (370)
- (99) Clintons- 60% (182)
- (100) WH Smith – 58% (184)
The number in brackets represents the number of responses for that retailer
For the full results, visit: http://which.co.uk/highstreetshops2018
- In January 2018, Which? surveyed 10,356 members of the UK general public about the in-store purchases they had made during the past six months.
- At least 30 responses are needed for a retailer to make the tables (sample sizes in brackets)
- Which? asked about overall experience and experience of shopping for different products.
- Overall customer score is based on satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending each shop.
- To calculate category customer scores, shoppers were asked whether they were satisfied with their experience of shopping at the retailer for products within that category. Winners in each category are as follows:
- Appliances and electronics – John Lewis – 80% customer score
- Furniture and home – John Lewis – 80% customer score
- Clothes and shoes – Fat Face – 76% customer score
- DIY and decorating – ScrewFix and Toolstation- 80%
- Entertainment – Waterstones – 78%
- Outdoor and sports – John Lewis – 75%
- Wellbeing and beauty – John Lewis, Savers and Lush – 81%
- Best and worst supermarket data from February 2018: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/supermarkets/article/best-and-worst-supermarkets/supermarkets-compared