A RISE in sales at Next is evidence that the death of the high street has been greatly exaggerated, a retail expert has said.

The fashion chain said full-price sales in the 54 days to Christmas Eve rose 1.5 per cent, beating expectations.

Online sales were up 13.6 per cent and high street sales 6.1 per cent down, but half of online orders were delivered to a store for collection.

Jeff Bray, senior lecturer in marketing and retail management at Bournemouth University, said bricks and mortar stores were still important to retailers.

“Retail is doing a lot of work to try and understand the value of physical stores in supporting online sales,” he said.

He added: “It’s a popular pastime to think that all high streets are dying, but the data and real hard numbers don’t bear that out.

“High street vacancy rates aren’t as high as they have been. Some of that’s because units that were previously high street shops are now tanning salons, nail bars, coffee shops and what have you, so the number of shops is in decline.

“But shopping is still a key leisure activity for a lot of people and that will always remain the case. A lot of stores will stay on the high street to provide for those shoppers who simply want to spend their Saturday afternoon’s wandering around the shops.”

Next chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson said declining in-store sales were not a death knell for the high street.

He said: “Retail will remain challenging and the shift from retail to online will continue, but half of our online orders are delivered to a store, so this is not the end of the high street as some people have said.”

However, he said Next would look to reduce costs by renegotiating rents with landlords and controlling wages and man hours.

But Lord Wolfson added: “Subdued consumer demand driven by a decline in real income, the increase in experiential spending at the expense of clothing, and inflation in our cost prices remain challenges for 2018.”

Next has stores at Castlepoint, Poole’s Dolphin Shopping Centre, Wessex Gate Retail Park at Fleetsbridge and a home-only branch in Branksome. It is the first major retailer to report on its pre-Christmas trading.

Dr Bray said: “Over the coming weeks, a clearer picture will emerge of how our high streets have fared over the Christmas period.

“A retailer like M&S, which is far more dominated by high street stores, will continue to be the bellwether of high street sales.”