Friction-Files: WHSmith Can’t Even Put Pen to Paper

Uncrowd
Uncrowd
Jul 10, 2020 · 3 min read

This article was originally published December 13th, 2018

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Today our ‘Retail Friction/Reward reporter on the ground’ Emily Cleaver, files from Oxford High Street.

“Here’s WHSmiths making one of life’s great pleasures, buying stationery, as joyless and irritating as humanly possible by having a massive range of pens and no paper to test them on. Even our tiny local stationery shop (Pen to Paper; Summertown, North Oxford) has a couple of test pads next to the pens, but the largest national stationer doesn’t.

The friction is visible, scribbled awkwardly on every label and even the shelving, obscuring the descriptions and prices, the key bits of info needed when choosing a pen.”

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When the pen(ny) drops

Emily’s observation is bang on; and really, how out of touch with both customers and the product does a team need to be to deliver a category this poorly? It’s horrible and just look at how customers have expressed themselves here.

What are the direct competing options for buying pens in Oxford? There are physical ones in the shape of Scribbler, Rymans and Paperchase and much loved independent Honest Stationery on The Cowley Road. Then online; buying a pen is trivially easy but what’s clearly on show in Emily’s example is a group of customers desperate for reward-side good things; this is customers wanting not to just buy a pen but to find their pen.

WHSmith are squandering their one advantage versus online; the chance for customers to put a pen in their hand and try it. We might be looking at a low-cost item here but it is an incredibly intimate one. WHSmith High Street are finding trading tough once again, and you have to wonder if it’s a coincidence that they are so out of touch with customers’ real needs, missions and journeys?

The number is mightier than the pen

We ran a set of simplified external Friction/Reward numbers on WHSmith High Street and they confirmed what is frankly very obvious; that the stores are horrible to shop and likely to deliver no reward for doing so. That’s completely unsustainable.

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Hey there WHSmith High Street, Uncrowd ain’t ones to leave you hanging: here’s our recommendation below. Work with us and we’ll get you scribbling in black again in no time (because red is the bad one, yeah? It’s a metaphor).

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