Is this finally the end for the Woolworths brand?

The news that Shop Direct is planning to shut down the last vestige of the Woolworths’ brand – its online store – suggests this could finally be the end for the popular UK retail brand.

Shop Direct Group bought the Woolworths name in February 2009, three months after the retailer went into administration having failed to buy a buyer for the whole business. It has since run it as an online retailer selling products including toys, kidswear, entertainment and party accessories.

However, Shop Direct is now informing customers with a Woolworths.co.uk account that their details will be transferred to Very.co.uk. Subsequently the Woolworths website will be shut down.

Shop Direct says while sales at Woolworths.co.uk have “grown steadily” in the past few years it remains its smallest digital department store. The group will instead direct investment into improving the customer experience at Very.co.uk, using analytics to make shopping more personal.

Shop Direct Group CEO Alex Baldock says: “It’s a shame to say goodbye to a brand that still holds a place in the heart of every pick ‘n’ mix fan, but our customers are telling us that Very.co.uk is where they want to shop.

“We’ve got to focus on the areas that matter most to them and making our biggest website the best in the world is our priority.”

The closure raises questions over the future of Woolworths, a stalwart of the British high street for almost 100 years. Its first store opened in 1909 and it became famous for its pick ‘n’ mix offering and racks of cheap CDs.

However the retailer struggled amid the rise of online retail. Although it is worth noting that Woolworths remains a big draw for Australians. Woolworths, although coincidentally named and a different business entirely, is the biggest supermarket brand down under.

Nevertheless, UK consumers remain nostalgic about the brand. According to a survey of 1,000 UK shoppers by ad agency Live and Breathe, 65% of people would like to see the return of Woolworths to the high street.

That suggests there could be value in the Woolworths brand if Shop Direct wanted to sell it to an interested buyer. Shop Direct told Marketing Week it “hasn’t ruled anything out”.

Woolworths Timeline

1909 – Frank Woolworth opened the first Woolworths store in Liverpool on 5 November.

1914 – Woolworths had expanded to 40 stores in most UK cities.

1930 – Woolworths opens its 400th store in Southport, Lancashire. A year later it was floated on the London Stock Exchange.

1958 – Woolworths opens its 1,000th store. By the end of the 1960s it would reach its peak of 1,141 branches.

1982 – Woolworths was acquired by Paternoster Stores – the forerunner of Kingfishers (which now owns B&Q and Homebase).

1997 – Woolworths extended into other retail formats including the Big W brand. It was abandoned in 2004.

2001 – Woolworths Group is formed by the demerger of Kingfisher’s general merchandise business. It began trading on the London Stock Exchange on 28 August.

2006 – The business launches an in-store collection service and catalogue called the “Big Red Book”. The following year it launched value brand WorthIt! accompanied by an ad campaign featuring Wooly the sheep and Worth the sheepdog.

2008 – A bid from Iceland founder Malcolm Walker to buy its by then 819 stores for £50m was rejected. Sir Alan Sugar increased his stake and Ryman stationery owner Theo Paphitis stated he would be interested in the company. However Woolworths entered went into administration in November having failed to find a buyer.

2009 – Woolworths closed its 800 shops following a January sale. Shop Direct Group, owned by the Barclay brothers, bought the brand and relaunched it online with the original logo, updated with the letters “oo”, which changed depending on the product category.

2015 – Shop Direct says it will shut down the Woolworths website and transfer all customers to Very.co.uk

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Woolworths goes into administration

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Woolworths, one of UK’s oldest high street retailers, has collapsed after its attempts to sell its retail outlets failed. It went into administration just hours after another retailer MFI also collapsed. Shares in Woolworths were suspended yesterday (November 26) and it confirmed that it has been in talks over the sale of its 40% stake […]

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