Next says pandemic ‘expensive and miserable’
Staff working from home for fashion retailer Next have suffered “death by deck” during online presentations and missed out on office camaraderie, the company said.
Next said overall the impact of the pandemic on business had been “expensive and miserable”.
But it had also seen some advantages from the upheaval, it said.
Next said it expected some home working to continue, and that the balance would “evolve over time”
Announcing its financial results for the first six months of the year, including a 34% drop in sales over the worst of the lockdown, the fashion chain said some good had come from the experience.
“It is remarkable what can be learnt from shutting down your entire operation and slowly, department by department, store by store, warehouse by warehouse, bringing it back to life,” Next said in a statement.
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Warehouses and call centres had become more efficient, and staff in other areas had been forced to make more of new technology, it said.
But having staff “sitting in their spare bedrooms, kitchens and conservatories” had had a mixed results.
Next said video calls for large groups had proved “unwieldy, frustrating and inefficient”.
“Worst of all perhaps, large video calls have encouraged the proliferation of one of the business world’s most damaging practices – death by deck: slideshow presentations that transform meetings from productive exchanges of ideas into boring, one-way lectures; with the ‘presenters’ rattling through bullet points already visible to their stultified audience,” it said.
Next said the biggest problem with home working was the lack of spontaneous conversations, and the chance to learn from colleagues.
On the other hand it had allowed people to focus more effectively on some solitary tasks, including systems coding and product design. Restrictions on overseas travel meant buyers had used video calls rather than visiting suppliers and decisions were no longer “saved up” for trips.
Next said that had empowered individuals and been liberating.
“With hindsight, it appears that the corporate machine was supporting the inexperienced and the less able, but holding back the strong,” Next said.
The 34% fall in sales saw wedding outfits and work clothes particularly badly hit. However, business had proven “more resilient than we expected”, the firm said.
Pre-tax profit was £9m for first half of the year.
Next said it was fortunate that half of its revenues were already coming from online sales before the onset of the pandemic.
It also said sales held up better at Next’s out-of-town outlets, which customers can drive to more easily.
Home, children’s wear, loungewear and sportswear sales did well.
Next has revised its profit forecast for the full year from £195m to £300m.
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