The best (and worst) shops on the high street

WH Smith

A new survey about the shops we love and those we loathe has revealed that our least favourite shop on the high street is WH Smith. Meanwhile, the top spot has been taken by the Apple Store.

So how did they earn their places, and who else made the lists?


The survey was the latest annual poll by Which? on the subject. It interviewed 11,000 people about 100 high street shops - and asked for their opinions on price, product, service, and after-sales care.

WH Smith took the lowest position, with a score of just 51%. Among the comments made about the store was that it was 'messy' and 'expensive'. It's far from the first time that WH Smith has appeared near the lower end of this list.

Part of this is clearly not the fault of the store. A general stationers is always going to look a bit messy, as there are so many different ranges. Plus it's difficult to make a newsagent look colour-co-ordinated and sparse when there are so many magazines and newspapers shouting for attention.

The store's results would tend to indicate another reason why we are losing faith. Sales are down by 5%, but profits rose 5%. It means we are visiting less, we are buying less, but it's all costing us more. Its the kind of experience that is unlikely to impress customers.

However, a spokesperson told the Telegraph that the survey was unrepresentative and based on a small number of shoppers. They told the Daily Mail that its own internal measures of customer satisfaction showed high levels of satisfaction. It highlighted that a number of new store openings indicated the success of the group.

Second from bottom was EE - formerly Orange and T-Mobile - with a rating of 55%. It shows the difficulty phone shops have in building a positive image when there is so much riding on salespeople's commission.

Third from bottom was TK Maxx, with a rating of 56%. Clearly it's sometimes hard to make a store look beautiful when the stock is all discounted.

The last two in the bottom were Millets and independent department stores, which each took 57%.


The top of the list, meanwhile, is populated by things that look good, those that smell good, and those who are known for their service levels.

The Apple Store took the top spot with 85%. The clean lines, the innovative staffing approach, and the beauty of the products helped make shopping in the stores a pleasant experience. Survey respondents liked the 'unique look and feel' and 'great customer service'. They also praised the knowledge of staff.

Second place went to Lush, with 82% (down from first place last year). The store which even fragrances the pavement outside, and is populated by helpful sales people, has plenty of admirers.

Third place went to the Disney Store with 80%. A rigorous staff hiring and training regime - along with a policy of smiling helpfulness is clearly going down well.

Richer Sounds was joint third with 80%. This is clearly a triumph of prices, service and after-sales care, as some of the stores struggle to rival the beauty of Apple.

And fifth place went to Bon Marche with 79%. The fashion retailer is new to the upper echelons of the list.

Not safe

It's a reminder to those near the bottom of the list that our custom is not guaranteed. Although the survey found that 88% of people don't like to see high street stalwarts fail and 81% worrying abut the decline of the high street, it doesn't mean we're going to shop in stores that don't meet our standards.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: "With many high street shops struggling to keep afloat during the recession, it's great to see so many people saying that they are still getting good service. 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 and hold back the decline of the high street."

Top Five

1. Apple Store
2. Lush
3. Disney Store
4. Richer Sounds
5. Bon Marche

Bottom Five

1. WH Smith
2. EE
3. TK Maxx
4. Millets
5. Independent department stores

High Street casualties
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The best (and worst) shops on the high street

Administrators sounded the death knell for Woolworths in December 2008, leading to store closures that left 27,000 people out of work. Since its collapse former Woolworths stores have become a blight in many town centres and more than 100 of the large stores still lay vacant in January 2012.

Loyal customers didn't have go without the family favourite store for long however as it reappeared online as in 2009, after Shop Direct Home Shopping bought out the Woolworths name.

The greetings cards specialist became the latest highstreet casualty in May with 8,000 jobs on the line when it was forced it into administration. Its biggest supplier, American Greetings, then bought Clintons out of administration and put the retailer through a rebrand including a new logo and complete in-store revamps.

Its contemporary format includes new fixtures and fittings and easier to navigate stores, and will be rolled out to all 400 UK stores at the cost of £16million. Bosses aim to bring the brand back to profit within two years.

Poor sales in the run up to Christmas was the final nail in the coffin for several struggling chains, including lingerie retailer La Senza, which went bust in January 2012 with 146 shops and 2,600 staff. Kuwaiti retailer Alshaya bought part of the business, which saved 60 shops and 1,000 staff.

La Senza has been struggling in a similar way to other specialist shops such as Game and Mothercare, which have been hit by cut-price competition at supermarkets and have no alternative products to help shoulder losses.

Stricken retailer Blacks Leisure, which employed 3,600 staff across 98 Blacks stores and 208 Millets stores, went into administration in Janurary 2012 after failing to find an outright buyer.

Soon after its stores were bought by sportswear firm JD Sports in pre-pack deal - an insolvency procedure which sees a company being sold immediately after it has entered administration – which saw most of Blacks' £36 million of debt wiped out.

Fashion chain Bonmarche, which was part of the Peacock Group, was sold in January when the group collapsed due to unsustainable debts, resulting in 1,400 job losses and 160 store closures. Private equity firm Sun European Partners bought 230 stores, which continue to trade with 2,400 staff.

Peacocks collapsed under a £740 million net debt mountain in January 2012 in the biggest retail failure since Woolworths. Despite being sold out of administration to Edinburgh Woollen Mill in a deal that saved 380 stores and 6,000 jobs, administrators from KPMG were forced to close 224 stores with immediate effect. This lead to 3,350 redundancies from stores and Peacocks head office in Cardiff.

The high street name continues trading as bosses work to stabilise the situation, yet a further blow was dealt this month with news that the firm's pension fund is in £15.8 million shortfall as a result of the collapse.

Game buckled under its £85m debt pile in March 2012 and was placed into administration after being unable to pay a £21m rent bill. Administrator PwC immediately closed 277 shops, with the loss of 2,000 jobs. Soon after, investment firm, OpCapita bought 333 Game stores, saving more than 3,000 jobs.

Game's demise followed a string of profit warnings and the failure of nervous suppliers, including leading names Electronic Arts and Nintendo, to go on providing the latest games, further damaging poor sales.


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