Warm weather eases pain of new fall in sales for Next
The recent heatwave boosted fashion giant Next as an 11.4% surge in online sales helped offset another steep fall across its high street stores.
The retailer, which has around 25 stores in Northern Ireland, said the warmer weather, together with an overhaul of its product ranges and online offering, saw total full-price sales rise by a better-than-expected 0.7% in its second quarter to July 29.
The 0.7% growth marked an improvement on the 3% drop seen in the previous three months and came despite a 7.4% decline in sales across its high-street shops.
Next Directory enjoyed strong sales overseas and in the UK.
The group said: "We believe there has been some improvement in our product ranges and our online functionality during this period.
"However, we believe most of the increase in full-price sales is due to the much warmer weather and, to a lesser degree, lower markdown sales in the end-of-season sale."
The group stuck by its guidance for full-year profits to fall by between 6.4% and 13.9% to £680m and £740m, although it slightly improved its sales outlook.
The bounce-back meant Next enjoyed its first full-price sales rise for a year, with a monthly breakdown showing sales lifting as much as 3% in June and 3.9% in July.
But while full-price sales returned to positive territory, total sales including markdowns fell 2.1% in the quarter as the firm was left with less stock to shift in its clearance.
Markdowns tumbled 14% as a result, Next said.
Lord Wolfson, chief executive of the company, said: "It's been a better half, but we're not getting too excited."
He added that the consumer outlook for the high street remained "very tough" and was forecasting Next's second-half full-price sales to remain lower - down 1.2% in line with the first half.
He said: "Consumers are very cautious - real earnings are moderately down because wages aren't rising as quickly as inflation.
"People aren't in the mood to splurge, particularly on clothing."
Shares in Next soared 10% higher on the better-than-expected second-quarter performance. George Mensah, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said the retailer had delivered a "notably improved period of trading".
He added that while high-street sales were still in the "doldrums", trading across the directory arm was "materially stronger than our forecast".
Next's most recent opening in Northern Ireland was at Bloomfield Shopping Centre in Bangor last year.