• Next brand sales 14 weeks to 4 May up 2.2%
  • Next Retail sales down 1.9%
  • Next Directory sales up 8.9%

Fashion retail business Next Plc has delivered a slightly better than expected set of first quarter sales figures, boosted by the company’s direct-to-consumer Directory division.

Sales excluding VAT were up 2.2% in the 14 weeks to 4 May, of which 1.5% came from the opening of new space. But Next Retail sales fell 1.9%, more than offset by an 8.9% increase in Directory revenues.

Brand sales were therefore slightly below the midpoint of the company’s March guidance figure of up 1-4%, but nonetheless outstripped the expectations of BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.

The analyst said it expected the company’s retail performance to improve in the second quarter, assuming decent weather, adding that it found the figures “reassuring”, with “no negative surprises, but also unlikely to see much in the way of upgrades”.

Next said trading had been volatile and particularly poor throughout March and into early April, thanks to unseasonably cold weather.

“It is apparent that the poor March figures were down to an abnormally cold spring; equally the good weeks since mid-April have been boosted by pent-up demand from the previous month,” the company said.

“We believe that neither period is indicative of any significant change in the underlying economy.”

Next said it remained “cautious” about the consumer environment, but was confident that it could meet its full-year sales guidance of up 1-4%, with profit of GBP615-665m (US$954-1,032m).