The UK’s Royal Mail has been as hard hit as any other national mail service by the Internet and email, and in April 2012 split off its post office network to form Post Office Ltd.
One of the ploys to support the business of the struggling post offices, first introduced in 2007, was to relocate post offices as franchises within branches of WHSmith, the UK’s leading stationer and book retailer. Now it appears that WHSmith is levering its captive audience of post office customers to promote Kobo devices, which it has heavily promoted across its 621 high street stores ever since it first signed a distribution deal with Kobo in 2011.
Kobo enjoys strong market penetration in the UK largely thanks to WHSmith’s tireless efforts.
The WHSmith post offices have been rated as among the worst in service delivery and wait times. And judging from this display, along the back wall of the post office in WHSmith in Winchester, Hampshire, the new landlord is losing no opportunity to push Kobos to the queues of waiting postal customers.
As you can see, WHSmith now offers the color Kobo Arc for only $99.00 ($154.00), an exceptionally favorable discount for a highly rated device, and well below the average UK retail price of the cheapest Kindle Fires.
Some might argue, though, that in pushing its tieup with the post office, WHSmith is only being true to its roots. Despite its often garish blue street frontage, the firm’s origins date back to 1792, and it achieved nationwide presence in the mid-19th century off the back of another national network–Britain’s railways. As the WHSmith website explains, in 1848, “WHSmith opens its first bookstall at Euston on 1 November. Other station bookstalls followed, taking advantage of ‘railway mania’ in England. These bookstalls become outlets for cheap editions of other publications which were produced for railway travellers, the popular ‘yellowbacks’.” And while the railway boom has long gone, WHSmith looks to be leaning on another failing network to leapfrog into the e-book era.
A strong historic pedigree, then, as you can see below. And Kobo may be the next beneficiary of it.