Waterstones boss indicates “UK retail boom” following sell-out success of puzzles during pandemic

The boss of the high street book, games, and puzzles retailer, Waterstones has described the UK as ‘going through a retail boom’ as customers choose to spend their money in shops and online, in the wake of foreign travel and with much of the hospitality sector at the mercy of Covid-19 restrictions.

Managing director, James Daunt stated that it is currently ‘a good time for booksellers and publishers’ following the surge in demand for books as alternative forms of entertainment for the UK’s public who have spent the last 18 months in various states of lockdown.

Alongside specialising in the books market, Waterstones boasts growing collections of board games, puzzles, and plush, among other toys. Over the course of the pandemic the retailer has witnessed increased demand across all sectors, with sell out success of its puzzles stock last year.

“Waterstones literally sold every single puzzle that we could get hold of,” said Daunt.

The outlook arrives amid the book seller’s latest set of results, in which Waterstones recorded an 8.4 per cent drop in profits after tax to £20.8 million in the 12 months to April 25th, despite maintaining that it had had “another strong performance.”

It stated that despite the “significant adverse impact” of the pandemic, it was entering the 2021/2022 financial year “in a strong position and well placed for a return to growth in both sales and profits.” Daunt added that stores have been performing “above base forecast” since April reopening.

“It was a good year and then it began to go a little bit wrong towards the end of January 2020,” said Daunt. “Initially it took a while to sort of get to grips with it, you’ve got all the PPE costs, and putting yourself effectively into sort of hibernation.

“I think we sort of did that, we certainly acted very quickly and that stood us in pretty good stead to take us through the year that then followed which has obviously been pretty frustrating.

“Lockdown favoured all the ways in which people mentally occupy themselves, in which books are obviously the primary one. Waterstones literally sold every single puzzle that we could get hold of.”

The managing director concluded his statement with optimism for the UK’s retail sector, highlighting that it was experiencing ‘a boom’ as people turn to shopping in store and online rather than on hospitality and on foreign travel.

However, the ONS has reported that sales in May dipped 0.8 per cent in value compared with April, as a drop in food sales offset the gains seen by non-essential shops after they reopened. The fall has been compared with the 9.2 per cent jump seen between April and March following easing of restrictions on non-essential shops across England and Wales on April 12th, followed by Scotland and Northern Ireland later that month.