Shop Direct Group
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|Founded||1 November 2005
(1923 as Littlewoods Pools)
|Key people||David and Frederick Barclay (Owners)|
Shop Direct is a multi-brand online retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is based in the Speke area of the city of Liverpool, in Merseyside, England. Established in November 2005 as a result of the merger of the former Littlewoods and Shop Direct companies, the retailer was known as Littlewoods Shop Direct Group until a corporate rebranding in May 2008.
A business group trading via several digital department stores, Shop Direct traces its roots to a variety of mail order companies in northern England, the football pools and mail order business founded by John Moores, as well as the Manchester-based home shopping business of Great Universal Stores. These companies were purchased by Sir David and Frederick Barclay in 2003, and a major business restructuring took place leading to a merger of two companies that had "been arch rivals for the best part of 100 years".
Since the merger of what had been struggling businesses in 2005, ongoing restructuring and modernisation of the company has resulted in Shop Direct emerging as one of the largest online retailers in the UK. Its traditional paper-based and phone-in orders system has been superseded by electronic commerce technology.
The group is now amongst the largest online retailers in the UK, with annual sales of £1.7bn, of which 81% are online, with almost two-fifths of those from mobile devices.
The group's main brands are Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, isme.com and KandCo.com. In 2009, Shop Direct also acquired the brand name of the failed Woolworths and re-established it as an online-only operation named Woolworths.co.uk.
Shop Direct Group traces its roots to a variety of independent mail order and retail companies in northern England, particularly Littlewoods, the pools and mail order business founded by John Moores, as well as the Manchester-based home shopping business of Great Universal Stores. Other businesses from this time now part of Shop Direct include K&Co (formerly Kays Catalogues).
Founded by John Moores and his brother Cecil in 1923, Littlewoods was initially a football pools company, which used its network of pools agents and printing company (founded in 1928) to establish itself as a catalogue retailer from 1932 onwards.
The home shopping/catalogues business of Argos and Homebase owner, GUS plc, ARG Equation (which included Great Universal, Kays, Choice and Marshall Ward) was de-merged and bought by the Barclay brothers in 2003, where it became Shop Direct.
Merger: Littlewoods Shop Direct Group
In March 2005, following a 20-year history in which it had never made a profit, it was announced that part of the Index chain of catalogue shops was to be sold to Argos, and the remainder was to be closed.
In July 2005, Associated British Foods purchased the 120-branch Littlewoods retail chain on behalf of its retail subsidiary Primark for £409 million. Some of the stores were converted into branches of Primark, and the remainder were sold on to other retailers. The Littlewoods name disappeared from the British high street in March 2006.
Following these disposals, and clearance from the Competition Commission, the Littlewoods home shopping business was formally merged with that of Shop Direct (the former GUS plc home shopping business) in October 2005, to form the United Kingdom's largest home shopping business. The merger was in reality effected in early 2004 when work started on a business optimisation programme, consolidating various business functions.
The then newly appointed Chief Executive Mark Newton-Jones said the merger had "been the biggest challenge of all – taking two companies that [had] been arch rivals for the best part of 100 years and bringing them together. Not just from an operational point of view, but also two different business cultures".
In May 2008, Littlewoods Shop Direct Group announced it would change its corporate brand name to Shop Direct Group, to reflect the multi-branded nature of the business. In July 2008, Shop Direct completed its purchase of the Empire Stores brand name and customer base from mail order competitor Redcats.
Home Delivery Network, previously Shop Direct Group's logistics division, became an independent
With the demise of the Woolworths Group in January 2009, Shop Direct purchased rights to children's clothing brand Ladybird along with the Woolworths trade name from the administrators. The takeover of the Woolworths brand by Shop Direct was announced on 2 February 2009, and the new online retailer began trading on 25 June that year.
At the start of 2009, Shop Direct predicted growth in online sales, with a spokesperson saying: "We anticipate that 70 per cent of our sales will be online by 2010/11 and, therefore, the future of our business is online-led." It was confirmed in late 2009 that it was on track to achieve 70% of its sales via the internet by 2011. By the end of the 2012/13 financial year, this figure had reached 78%.
Structure and brands
Shop Direct operates a variety of retail brands, consisting of the former Littlewoods brands and the former Shop Direct brands ('Additions Direct', 'Abound', 'Great Universal', 'Marshall Ward', 'Choice', and 'Kays'). Some of those brands subsequently changed name, and as of 2013 brands included 'Very.co.uk' (formerly Additions), 'Littlewoods.com', 'isme.com' (formally Marshall Ward), 'Woolworths.co.uk', 'KandCo.com' (merged from former brands 'Empire Stores', 'Kays' and 'Great Universal') and 'Littlewoodsireland.ie'. All of the group's brands are full department stores, offering clothing and footwear, electricals, home and furniture, gifts and beauty, outdoor and seasonal and toys.
Celebrity design partnerships are a key USP of the Group. Fearne Cotton is currently the face of Very.co.uk and has worked with the brand since it launched in 2009. She designs a fashion range for Very.co.uk and added furniture and homeware to her range in July 2013. It should be noted that there are many online reports from consumers, both former and current customers of Very.co.uk, who have listed numerous examples of poor customer service that they have received whilst dealing with the brand. including posts on the highly trusted Money Savings Experts Forum http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=2336863 and even an entire Facebook group of dissatisfied customers has been created by disgruntled consumers at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Verycouk-Bad-Customer-Service/157212824301628. Also the Money webpage features many more unhappy customers of Very.co.uk. http://reviews.money.co.uk/Very.htm
Musician and presenter Myleene Klass is currently the face of Littlewoods.com. She has designed a range for the brand since July 2012 and has gone on to become the fastest selling celebrity designer that the brand has ever worked with. Former star of The Only Way Is Essex, Mark Wright is the face of menswear at Littlewoods, starting work with the brand in July 2013 to style and model a capsule collection for its own-brand men's fashion label, Goodsouls.
Carol Vorderman was unveiled as the new face of isme in February 2013.
As well as its celebrity-designed and modelled collections, Shop Direct also has a growing stable of own-brand fashion labels. Definitions aims to offer trend-led essentials to take stylish women from desk to dusk; Love Label takes the latest catwalk trends and makes them high street ready; Savoir is cut to fit the changing shape of a 50-plus woman's body; Savoir offers a wide range of wardrobe essentials for women; and Ladybird is the iconic and much-loved childrenswear label providing fun and funky clothes for kids of all ages.
As well as its core retail business, Shop Direct owns and operates a financial services business, formerly known as Everyday Financial Solutions, and now known as Shop Direct Financial Services.
Mail order processing for Shop Direct broadly takes place in the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, particularly at the Shaw National Distribution Centre, a warehousing and returns centre in Shaw and Crompton, Greater Manchester. It comprises three former cotton mills and a number of state-of-the-art stock handling facilities, and is supported by strong geographic positioning and well served local transport links. It is one of Europe's largest retail distribution centres. Shop Direct processes returns at Raven Mill in Chadderton, which it uses for processing returned goods.
On 9 May 2006, the company announced the closure of three warehouses in Eccles, Wigan and Worcester. These closures have taken place, with all operations being transferred to their Shaw and Crompton site. Around 1,200 jobs were lost from the closures, but further jobs were created at the Shaw National Distribution Centre.
Shop Direct used to operate call centres in Aintree, Bolton, Crosby, Preston, Newtown and Worcester. In 2012, Shop Direct transferred its contact centres to Serco in a 10-year deal, with the loss of the Preston and Worcester contact centres gained from Shop Direct and the closure of the Manchester contact centre for Serco. Serco plans to outsource certain departments to South Africa and India.
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- Bowers, Simon (2009-02-02). "Woolworths lives again as online brand". London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- Goodman, Matthew; Kate Walsh (1 February 2009). "Littlewoods owner Shop Direct snaps up Ladybird". The Sunday Times (London).
- Judge, Elizabeth; Leroux, Marcus (2009-02-02). "Woolworths to return online in surprise deal". The Times (London).
- Wallop, Harry (2009-06-25). "Woolworths returns as online business". The Daily Telegraph (London).
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- "Littlewoods back Mersey Gateway Campaign". The Crossing (5): 4. March 2005. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
- "Littlewoods axe 1,200 in shake-up". BBC News. 9 May 2006.
- "Shop Direct Group plan to outsource contact centres to Serco puts nearly 1,000 jobs at risk". USDAW. Retrieved 2012-10-08.