Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Woolworths closure sale kicks off

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Some shoppers leave Woolworths empty-handed

Bargain hunters have been flocking to branches of Woolworths on the first day of a store closure sale at all its 815 outlets across the country.

Woolworths administrator Deloitte say the company experienced the single biggest trading day in its history.

In what looks like the beginning of the end for the retailer, the administrator has said that some shops could close for good by the end of the year.

It is also due to consult with 30,000 Woolworths staff over redundancies.

Talks over the sale of the leaseholds of individual stores are continuing.

It is thought that Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, the Co-op and discount chain Poundland are still interested in picking up some of the retailer's prime sites.

But efforts to sell the brand so far have not been successful.

The Woolworths brand has lots of awareness and an increased level of affection
Giles Ruly, brand consultant, The Value Engineers

Explaining the store closure sale, Deloitte said: "Christmas is clearly the busiest time of the year for retailers and it is prudent to do all we can to sell existing stock."

Several shoppers have contacted the BBC to say that the discounts on offer were no different to those introduced last week, and said they were angry after queuing to get into stores to snap up bargains.

However a spokesperson for the administrators said that larger price reductions had been applied to some items, while more products were now included in the sale.

'Failing brand'

Nick Hood from the business rescue experts Begbies Traynor said it was the beginning of the end for Woolworths.

"This has been a failing brand for a long time," he said.

"It just never kept pace with the change in the High Street, its core DVD and CD business has been taken away by the online trade."

"It's been very, very difficult - it just hasn't been as fleet footed as many of its rivals."

Deloitte had held talks to sell the business as a going concern to potential buyers including former Woolworths chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy and Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis, but no deals could be reached.

To have worked there for 10 to 15 years is not uncommon
John Gorle, Usdaw

Shopworkers' union Usdaw said the latest developments at Woolworths were "absolutely devastating" for its members.

"We have now gone from the business going into administration and staff believing they had got jobs safe up to Christmas to now being in a closing-down sale, which effectively means they are under threat of redundancy," national officer John Gorle told the BBC.

He said that Woolworth's still had a future, but conceded it was a "desperate situation".

Shoppers look for bargains at Woolworths sales

"Many of the staff are long-serving employees. To have worked there for 10 to 15 years is not uncommon and for those workers, Woolworths is not just a job, but a way of life."

The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) has been formally notified that Woolworths is insolvent and is in contact with the firm's pension fund trustees.

The PPF was set up in 2005 to ensure that members of final salary schemes get compensation if their employer goes under.

Debt mountain

Woolworths went into administration on 26 November with 385m of debt.

The firm's music, DVD and games distribution subsidiary, Entertainment UK, is also in administration.

Last week, rival retailer Zavvi, which is a customer of Entertainment UK, said the situation was causing shortages of certain products in its stores.

Media publishing business 2Entertain, in which Woolworths owns a 40% stake is not in administration. The other 60% of this business is owned by BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial division.

Woolworths had been due to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Its first UK store opened in Liverpool in 1909.

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