WH Smith said revenues plunged by 85% last month as the coronavirus lockdown resulted in a “significant hit” to trading.
The retailer has closed the majority of its stores due to the pandemic resulting in sales slumping by 91% across its travel arm – with outlets in railway stations, airports and motorway services – and by 74% in its high street division.
But WH Smith said it had performed strongly online – particularly in books, where sales rocketed by 400% in April.
Chief executive Carl Cowling said: “Since March, we have seen a significant impact on our business as a result of COVID-19, with the majority of our stores closed around the world.”
WH Smith’s 1,194-strong travel division includes its stores based in hospitals – where it has kept 130 open to serve NHS staff, and extended grocery ranges available during the crisis.
Of its 575 high street stores, 203 with Post Offices have been kept open during the lockdown.
WH Smith said it was working on plans for a phased reopening of stores, while in its airports network it expects to see a gradual improvement in passenger numbers from this autumn.
It has furloughed a “significant” number of staff and is axing a half-year dividend as part of cost-cutting efforts.
The figures from the retailer came as it reported a 3% fall in pre-tax profits to £63m for the six months to 29 February.
Mr Cowling said: “There was very little impact of COVID-19 on our first-half results, however inevitably the performance in the second half will be very different.”
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: “To get back on its feet WH Smith needs airports and train stations to be busy and global travel to be whirring back into action.
“It suggests that could start to happen in the autumn but this could prove to be over-optimistic.
“For now, it must simply rely on people buying books through its website, steady sales through its hospital stores and Post Office concessions luring people into its stores in the hope they also pick up a few more products.”