Chief executive Simon Wolfson, who unlike most high street retail chiefs kept stock full price until after Christmas, told Retail Week: “We did not need to promote stock as we are buying for like-for-likes of -7 [per cent]. There is no right answer in this market but we will run our business that way.”
He added: “The first three weeks of December were softer than we thought they would be but our Sale went better than expected. We expect most Sale stock to be off the shelf by the end of the week.”
Wolfson's cautious approach and refusal to be drawn into heavy discounting mean Next remains on target to hit City profit expectations of between£415 million and£435 million for the year to January 24.
Sales from July 29 to December 24 were down 7 per cent like for like in stores unaffected by new openings. Next Directory continued to be the strongest performing part of the business with sales up 1.1 per cent.
Wolfson said that pushing the boundaries of his design team was a priority as people continue to spend money on well designed fashion product.
He said: “We will continue to invest in refits and marketing - this is not the time to cut back on things that are customer facing.” He added that although Next did not run a Christmas TV ad campaign, it will launch one to promote the spring/summer season.
He said that fashion brand Lipsy, which Next bought in October, was “looking healthy”. Although not actively seeking more acquisitions, Wolfson said he would not rule one out if the opportunity arose.
He added that his focus in the downturn will be protecting the Next brand. “It is important to come out with our brand intact and in the downturn not to do anything to undermine it.”