Littlewoods to double online sales

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The Independent Online

Littlewoods Shop Direct, the home-shopping business owned by the Barclay brothers, yesterday threw down the gauntlet to Next, its biggest online clothing rival, with ambitious plans to double its £380m internet business by 2009.

A £200m investment in its main Littlewoods brand has lifted the group's sales for the first time in a decade during the past 11 weeks, Mark Newton-Jones, the chief executive, said. He has embarked on a mission to stop people thinking of the group as "Northern, downmarket and [for the] over-50s".

The investment includes £30m on marketing - which has partly gone towards sponsoring Trinny and Susannah's new fashion makeover show on ITV - to try to add to its 5 million customers. The group has relaunched its website in the past four weeks and modernised its catalogues to better display its revamped products.

About one-third of the group's £2.1bn sales are online and it claims to be Brit-ain's fourth biggest online retailer, afterTesco, Amazon and Argos. It claimed to have more internet-based clothing sales than Next, making it the country's largest online garment retailer.

Mr Newton-Jones, who has run the group for just over a year, is attempting to turn round a loss-making business for Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who bought Littlewoods in 2002. Since then, the eponymous high-street stores business and the Index catalogue chain have both been sold and it has acquired GUS's home-shopping arm.

The group sees further opportunities from expanding its third-party delivery business, which has contracts with Tesco, Next and Marks & Spencer, and taking its brands overseas.

"There's a revolution going on in retailing and we're right in the middle of it," Mr Newton-Jones said.