Call to boycott ‘rip-off’ train station shops

CONSUMER watchdogs have urged passengers to boycott Scotland’s main railway ­stations’ retailer for charging significantly higher prices than at its high street stores.

A spot check by Scotland on Sunday has revealed travellers are paying more than 50 per cent extra for some drinks and snacks at WHSmith’s station shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh than at its other ­branches.

Examples found include a 500ml bottle of Buxton water costing £1.49 at the retailer’s Queen Street station store in Glasgow against a price of 95p at its branch in nearby Sauchiehall Street.

A box of Tic Tac mints was 89p (60p), a 355ml can of Red Bull was £2.79 (£2.45) and a 55g bag of Skittles was 89p (69p).

A 500ml bottle of Lucozade Energy Orange Crush was £1.85 (£1.77) while a 500ml bottle of Irn-Bru was £1.75 (£1.68).

Larger sizes of Buxton water were also more expensive, with a 750ml bottle costing £1.69 (£1.49).

A 500ml bottle of Diet Coke was one of the few items found to be cheaper at the station, at £1.75, 10p less than in Sauchiehall Street.

Many other sweets were also priced at 89p in station stores, such as a packet of Starburst, which was 75p at other branches, and standard size Mars and Twix bars (80p), and Wispa bars (82p).

The store chain has shops at all of Scotland’s main stations, as well as at the country’s ­major airports and bus stations. Half of its 1,200 UK branches are at such locations.

The company’s website stated that its “travel” outlets were “focused on delivering value to shareholders” including through “increasing average transaction value”.

These stores’ trading profit increased by 11 per cent in 2011-12 to £63 million.

Passengers often use them to buy drinks and snacks for their journeys because of the lack of nearby alternatives.

Citizens Advice Scotland said the findings showed consumers should shop elsewhere.

Its spokesman said: “This study shows you can make very significant savings even when buying the most basic items, and from the same sellers.

“It’s vital that this sort of information gets into the public domain, so that consumers can vote with their feet – and with their wallets.

“It’s important that people are encouraged to shop around, and use the clout they have as consumers.”

Advertising consultant Paul Simons condemned WHSmith’s pricing policy as “scandalous”. Simons, a former chairman of advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, said: “It has really ­annoyed me when travelling and I avoid using the shops ­because I get so cross.

“I will not cross the threshold of WHSmith anywhere as a result of these regular experiences.

“The premium they are charging is outrageous and there is no justification on the basis of store rents. I’ve challenged staff several times but they just look blank.

“Public trust in brands is becoming a big issue and moving up the agenda because of the horsemeat scandal.”

Retail analysts said stores could get away with charging more at stations because consumers had fewer alternatives.

Neil Saunders, managing director of research agency Conlumino, said: “At destinations like stations there is a high priority on convenience and that, allied with the fact there isn’t as much competition as on a high street, means that retailers can push higher prices without much adverse impact.”

Passenger Focus, the rail travellers’ watchdog, agreed that people paid a “price ­premium” for convenience at stations.

WHSmith has branches in at least 16 rail stations in Scotland, which also include Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. It also serves Scotland’s five main airports and at least three bus stations, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

WHSmith said its travel branches were not comparable with those on high streets because they were in “premium locations” with higher rents and operating costs, longer opening hours and “challenging deliveries”.

A spokeswoman said: “WHSmith is fully committed to offering customers the choice and convenience they want whilst on the move in travel ­locations. Prices are regularly monitored to ensure we continue to offer our customers great promotions and value for money across all stores.”

The firm said its travel stores “sell a more tailored range of products than high street stores to cater for people on the move or in need of a convenience offer.

“Travel’s typical customer has less time to browse than the high street customer and is more interested in reading materials for a journey as well as purchasing food, drink and confectionery.”

Twitter: @AlastairDalton