Next profits slashed in half but online boosts 2021 forecast

Next saw pre-tax profits cut by 54 per cent to £342 million in 2020, compared to £729 million in the previous year.

Total group sales for the year dropped by 17 per cent to £3.6 billion, a significant decline from £4.4 billion in 2019.

But the High Street chain reported a strong forecast for this year, attributed to the company’s online success.

The retailer now predicts a pre-tax profit of £700 million, up from a previous target of £670 million.

It said that in the first eight weeks of the year, online sales were stronger than expected, increasing by over 60 per cent compared the same time two years ago.

Online sales accounted for over half of the company’s turnover going into the pandemic.

“If we had been told twelve months ago that our shops were going to be shut for 20 weeks, we could not have imagined the Group delivering the sales or profit we achieved last year,” said the chief executive of Next, Lord Simon Wolfson. “We have been very fortunate. For a number of different reasons, our business was well placed to cope with the pandemic.”

Wolfson identified four main reasons why Next had remained resilient throughout the pandemic, with the company’s online scale highlighted as the most important.

“Going into the pandemic, online sales (including finance) accounted for more than half of the group’s turnover,” he explained. “The scale of our online business and the breadth of its customer base, both in the UK and overseas, meant we were able to pick up a significant amount of the business lost in our stores by servicing customers online.”

The Next boss said that the company’s product diversity, financial resilience of its balance sheet due to the extend of its cash resources and quality of customer receivables, and its retail park store portfolio also helped bolster the business.

The company’s retail park stores accounted for 62 per cent of its retail sales going into the pandemic.

“In general, retail park stores are local and easier to access, with social distancing simpler to maintain both within and outside the store,” added Wolfson. “So it is not surprising that these locations fared much better than city centres and shopping malls.”

When stores were open, although sales were negative in retail parks, they were between 15 and 20 per cent better than in its other stores.

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