Online sales help Next defy downturn

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Retail chain Next said it rode out the “perfect economic storm” after £1bn of online and catalogue sales boosted profits by five per cent.

The fashion and homewares chain, which has 536 stores, said profits of £570.3m for the year to January 31 was slightly ahead of its previous guidance.

Its Directory arm saw sales rise 16 per cent to £1.1bn and it now accounts for nearly a third of the overall business, offsetting a 1.4 per cent decline in its retail division.

Chief executive Simon Wolfson said he hoped softer inflation will mean consumers no longer feel they are becoming poorer, which should give a boost to the UK’s retail sector.

However, the group predicted more retail sales declines this year and warned that the outlook for the year ahead remained “very uncertain”.

It will open 15 more stores than it closes in the coming year, as well as 19 new concept sites in coming years, which have separate fashion and home stores next to one another and sell a range of DIY goods.