Woolworths bosses hopeful of online revival

The boss charged with reviving the Woolworths brand as an online venture today said he was confident the reincarnation would go down well with consumers.

Matthew Hardcastle, a former eBay executive who has not worked in conventional retail, was appointed by Littlewoods Direct owner Shop Direct Group to head up Woolworths.co.uk as it moves towards a summer launch.

It is hoped the new home for the Woolworths name – bought by Shop Direct in February – will fare better than the predecessor which has disappeared from high streets after collapsing late last year.

It is thought that the new Woolworths will sell similar items to its high street predecessor, with blog posts on its website hinting that children’s clothes, toys, entertainment and perhaps even “pic’n mix” sweets will be among the products offered.

Shop Direct, the UK’s biggest internet and home shopping retailer, bought the Woolworths name and its childrenswear brand Ladybird for an undisclosed sum.

The move brought the famous brand under the control of David and Frederick Barclay, whose interests also include the Telegraph newspaper group.

At the time Shop Direct said it was confident that the store would “stay at the heart of British retailing” as an online presence.

Mr Hardcastle was previously managing director of eBay’s shopping comparison network, Shopping.com UK. He has also worked for Schweppes and Cadbury.

He said Woolworths was a “much cherished British brand”, adding that 700,000 people have registered at the Woolworths.co.uk site.

“I am confident customers are going to love the great products and offers on the new online site,” he said.

The first UK Woolworths store opened on Liverpool’s Church Street on November 5, 1909.

But plunging sales and mounting debts forced Woolworths into administration just after its 99th birthday. Efforts to rescue the business failed, with the loss of 27,000 jobs.

Administrators launched a closing-down sale in December and the last of the 807 stores closed in January.

Shop Direct’s other well-known catalogue brands include Kays and Marshall Ward. The firm employs around 10,500 people and has around five million customers.

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