Next says prices to rise by 8% in autumn amid ‘chronic’ staff shortages | Next

The boss of Next has called on the government to make it easier for workers to come to the UK, as the retailer said staff shortages, as well as disruption from the war in Ukraine, would fuel an 8% rise in its prices this autumn.

Next said its homeware prices were now expected to rise by up to 13% and fashion by 6.5% in the second half of this year, a significant step up from an overall 3.7% increase in prices in the first part of the year.

Simon Wolfson, its chief executive and a prominent pro-Brexit business voice, called on the government to “reverse the self-defeating barriers it has placed on overseas workers supporting our economy and accelerate, simplify and reform the planning process to increase the supply of desperately needed housing”.

He argued that inflation was being fuelled by “chronic labour shortages” alongside disruption in global supply chains.

The call came as Next downgraded profit hopes for the year as it revealed it would take an £18m hit from the closure of websites in Ukraine and Russia.

However, the company said better than expected sales in the UK meant it was downgrading profit expectations for the year ahead by just £10m to £850m, which would be 3% ahead of those for the year to January 2022.

Wolfson said a return to more formal dressing was fuelling better than expected sales in the UK in the first few months of 2022, while there had been a “notable reduction” in spending on homewares and very casual clothing in a reversal of lockdown trends.

He said the outlook was hard to predict amid further disruption in supply chains and competition for shoppers’ cash from inflation on essentials, likely mortgage rate increases and a return to spending on leisure and travel.

The adjustment to its profit outlook came as Next said it had increased sales by 11.5% on pre-pandemic levels to £4.9bn in the year to January as a 45% rise in online sales offset a 23% fall of full price sales on the high street. Pretax profits rose 10% to £823m.

Next predicted it could close more than 140 stores over the next 15 years as it adjusted to changing shopping habits. The retailer currently has 477 main stores after closing 14 over the past year and expects to close 15 in the year ahead.

Wolfson said last year had “exceeded all our expectations”. Online sales of homeware and children’s clothing made up for much of the lost retail sales in the first quarter of the year when high streets were in lockdown.

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Then, in the autumn and winter, the websites were able to meet “pent-up demand” for adult clothing, which Wolfson said was “fuelled by the release of consumer savings accumulated in lockdown”.

Next said for the year ahead it would be broadening the products it sold further by moving into new categories such as men’s and women’s performance sportswear and licensing out its brand name for specialist products such as paint and wallpaper.

It has taken on the licence to sell the US brand Bath & Body Works in the UK, with plans to open concessions in Next stores and has also developed new in-house brands including WOAH vegan skincare and Own Denim affordable denim. The company will also use its sourcing and design expertise to create products such as children’s clothing for other brands.

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