Shop Direct is back in black as it moves online

 
Kasmira Jefford
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SHOP Direct said plans to haul itself into the digital age and shift away from its roots as a traditional catalogue business were paying off as the group posted its first pre-tax profit in 10 years.

The online and catalogue retailer, which owns brands such as Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com and isme.com, said yesterday it had swung to a pre-tax profit of £6.6m in the year to 30 June from a £57.7m loss the previous year.

Group sales rose one per cent to £1.69bn, with an 18 per cent rise in sales from newer brands Very.co.uk and isme.co.uk helping to offset a seven per cent fall across its traditional brands such as Littlewoods.com.

Shop Direct has been in the hands of Sirs Frederick and David Barclay since 2002, when the brothers bought the business, then known as Littlewoods for £750m.

The business has since been trying to steer itself online, replacing orders taken by phone with online transactions, reducing call centre staff and scaling back costs of its catalogue arm.

The number of catalogues distributed has more than halved during the year to 4m and online transactions now account for 81 per cent of sales.

Chief executive Alex Baldock, a former banker who joined as chief executive last year, said the group had embarked in July on a three-year plan to invest £100m in further building its online business.

“We have collected a wealth of data on our customers over the past 80 years. We plan to use that information to target and become the most relevant online retailer for our customers,” Baldock said.