High street retailer Next Plc has reported a 14.3% rise in first half profit, buoyed by a strong performance by the Next Directory, but at the same time issued caution for the approaching autumn/winter period.

For the first six months of the fiscal year, profit rose to GBP141.7m (US$287.9m). Total revenues were up 11% to GBP1.54bn during the interim period, despite a flat result at Next Retail.

However, Next also warned that combined sales of Next Retail and Next Directory for the six week period from 29 July to 8 September 2007 had been down 2.9% compared to the same period last year.

Directory sales increased by 3.5% in the first half, but due to a worsening consumer debt market and competition in the UK, the retailer has been forced to posted a cautious outlook for Directory over the rest of this year though.

At the beginning of the year Next set itself the objective of improving its retail like-for-like sales performance through revitalising the Next brand. As part of this drive it has increased the proportion of its ranges at mid price points and introduced new prices at the top end of its ranges to its increase average selling price.

"We have worked to make our ranges more forward looking, focusing on the introduction of more new lines more often, and buying into new trends with greater conviction," the company said in a statement.

"We have also increased the proportion of our stock sourced on shorter lead times through buying from sources closer to home or through using faster transport routes."

Next will this year ramp up its marketing, spending GBP18m more on advertising than last year, it said, rolling out two television ads in the next three months in the UK.

"We remain cautious about the outlook for the UK consumer and are acutely aware that the full effect of recent interest rate rises has not yet filtered through to our customers.

"However, we are also satisfied that we have made significant improvements to our ranges, marketing and stores."

The company said it expects Retail like-for-like sales performance to improve in the second half and fall within a range of -3.5% to -1%. 

Directory second half sales are likely to be between -2% and +2% on last year.