Page last updated at 07:17 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 08:17 UK

Woolworths returns as online shop

Woolworths online boss Matthew Hardcastle: "Online is the growth area for retail"

The Woolworths brand has begun trading as an online business, more than six months after the ex-High Street giant went into administration.

Shop Direct Home Shopping reportedly paid administrators between £5m ($8.24m) and £10m for the brand name.

Goods on include toys, Ladybird clothing and the firm's iconic pick n' mix confectionery.

In December, Woolworths' 807 stores and distribution arm, EUK, went into administration, with £385m of debt.

'Family experience'

Shop Direct is part of the Littlewoods group, which is owned by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, and which already runs Littlewoods Online, one of the largest UK web retailers.

Within hours of the announcement that the brand was to return online, 20,000 customers were said to have registered.

They were then encouraged to suggest what they would like the store to sell.

It will never be the same. What's the point in going online when you've got Argos and other shops?
Fatima, 16

The firm denied it was "playing on the nostalgia" of the old chain, which opened its first UK shop one hundred years ago in 1909.

"Families wanted us to bring back Woolies as soon as possible, so that's what we've done," said Shop Direct chief executive, Mark Newton-Jones.

"From acquiring the brand to launching it has only been 20 weeks; something you could never achieve with a High Street business but can do online.

"We're aiming to create a fun, family web experience which keeps on getting better and better."

The site's boss, Matthew Hardcastle said that the online market was competitive - especially for books, CDs and DVDs.

And he admitted that many of Woolworths' traditional customers may not be regular online shoppers, but said he was confident the business would be a success.

Store buy-up

Rising rents and a recession-induced cash crisis brought to a head Woolworths' long-running problems, which were largely attributed to its outdated business model.

Administrator Deloitte has said that about 180 stores have been sold or are under offer, with buyers including discount stores such as Poundland.

Supermarkets including Iceland, Tesco, and Sainsbury have bought properties from Woolworths, while others have been snapped up by local authorities.

Other retailers are understood to be waiting until the leases are returned to their respective landlords to negotiate a better deal.

In January this year, the former Woolworths branch in Dorchester was reopened by a former Woollies manager as Wellworths and celebrated its 100,000th customer within three months.

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