Next has raised its full-year profit guidance as sales beat its expectations during the crucial Christmas season.
The fashion-to-homewares retailer said full-price sales in the fourth quarter to 28 December were 5.2% ahead on the same period last year.
That represented a rise of just over 1% on its forecasts and left full-price sales 3.9% higher in the year to date.
It expected that profits for the year to the end of January would be £2m better off than previously guided, Next said, despite a sluggish start to its end of season sale with clearance rates “slightly lower than our expectations”.
The company said it now forecast profit before tax of £727m – a rise of 0.6% on the previous year.
It is the first of the major retailers to report on its Christmas progress following another tough year – particularly for the high street with footfall figures over the Christmas season consistently showing that visitor numbers were down.
A string of chains including Tesco, M&S and Debenhams are due to update the market next week.
The worrying aspect for those exposed to town centres is the sales mix reported by Next.
Its well established online operations led the growth in the run-up to Christmas, rising more than 15%, while in-store sales were almost 4% lower between 27 October and 28 December.
Next said it believes its sales were boosted by a “much colder November than last year and improved stock availability” in both retail stores and online.
Shares rose by a tentative 0.7% when the FTSE 100 opened for business though there was no sign of a bounce for listed retail competitors in the top tier.
Richard Lim, chief executive of industry analyst Retail Economics, said: “This was an impressive end to the year as their outstanding online business continues to set them apart from the competition.
“The retailer is benefiting from years of investment in their digital proposition, continually evolving their business model to meet shoppers’ heightened expectations.”