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My experience of WH Smith
Member Name: katew
Advantages: Wide range of stock; helpful staff
Disadvantages: Can be a little more expensive than other shops
I've seen some mixed reviews about W H Smith, so here's my experience.
The store I use is the Bath branch, which is spread over two floors and is in one of the main shopping streets. Downstairs are magazines, basic stationery, confectionary, greetings cards, wrapping paper and tobacco products. Upstairs are DVDs, CDs, software, art and craft supplies and books. There is also a branch of Costa Coffee upstairs.
As I have a mild disability (I walk with a stick and occasionally use a wheelchair), this is important to me. The store has two entrances, both at the front. One has 3 steps which are quite steep, but the other is level. The level one has two doors, and can accommodate a wheelchair or mobility scooter. There is a lift and an escalator, although the escalator only goes up - there isn't one to come down again, so you have to make sure the lift is working (but see 'staff'). The aisles vary; in most of the store they are plenty wide enough to get a wheelchair through, but a couple of the ground floor ones have pillars at the ends with space on each side, so you have to plan your route if you use a wheelchair or have a pushchair. The magazine aisle is just about wide enough if the store's not busy, but since people seem to read the magazines from cover to cover while standing there, they can get a bit choc-a-bloc! The counters are fairly high - you'd be peering over them from a wheelchair, but in my experience, this is true of most shops I've been in.
***The range of stock***
WH Smiths sell a huge range of magazines, and often have special issues exclusive to them: for example, recently they had a 'bookazine' (somewhere between a softback book and a magazine) about digital art. They do not appear to sell 'top shelf' magazines in our branch (not that I'm usually looking to buy that sort of thing). They have a good range of stationery from the basic ballpoint pens and folders to funky patterned stuff and themed 'character' goods. I'm not an expert on DVDs, but they appear to have a huge range. Their book range is relatively small, but then I'm a regular Waterstones customer, so I'm just spoilt! Their range of greetings cards is good, and quite classy.
Bath is a very expensive place to shop, so their prices don't seem that bad to me, but I do feel their greetings cards are expensive (but still pretty much the cheapest in town!). We used to have a discount card shop, and WH Smith's cards are about 3 times the price that these were. Generally speaking, their prices are reasonable, and they often have special offers, including a half price book of the week and good discounts on confectionery products.
In our branch at Bath, the staff are largely wonderful! They are extremely helpful, and always seem very cheerful. I use this store twice a week, so they know me quite well, but they seem to be pleasant and helpful to all the customers. On occasion, they can really put themselves out to help. One day, I went upstairs using the escalator, not realising that the lift was out of order (I think it may have happened while I was in Costa having my coffee, as they usually put a notice at the bottom of the escalator to warn you if the lift is not working). I was standing at the top of the stairs with my stick, and an assistant approached me and asked if I had trouble with stairs. I replied that I could manage them, but found them exhausting and painful. So, she rounded up another member of staff and sent her to the bottom of the escalator to stop anyone using it, then switched it off and reversed it so it was going downwards. I don't know many shop staff who'll go to that kind of trouble for you!
If your town has a variety of discount stationers, bookshops and card outlets, then WH Smith is not the cheapest place to shop, but I prefer it any day just for the helpfulness of the staff and the wide range of products.
Summary: Gets my vote!