Yell to become online business hub

Yellow Pages owner Yell today announced a four-year plan to reinvent itself as an online hub for local businesses as it looks to expand beyond the declining market for printed directories.

The group is best known for Yellow Pages in the UK but its traditional print business is in terminal decline as more consumers use the internet to search for services.

Following a six-month review, Yell has a new strategy to create an online hub that allows consumers to find businesses in their area as it looks to return the business to growth by 2015.

It will also sell services to local businesses registered on its site, including loyalty schemes, marketing initiatives and computer software to help them do their accounting and payment schemes to save them money on financial transactions.

The "eMarketplace" concept is expected to launch within the next three months, although it does not yet have a name.

Reading-based Yell, which employs 2,900 staff in the UK, hopes that 75% of its business will be online within four years, compared with 25% at the moment. The move would increase the size of its market by 10 times to £280 billion, it has estimated.

Chief executive Mike Pocock said: "It will be a single site where consumers can get access to all their local merchants and understand what services they offer. No one else is doing this at the moment."

The company, which also has offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, and Manchester and a call centre in Newport, plans to extend the life of its print business by starting its own local newsletters, which will contain advertising. It expects to launch trials in the next month.

Mr Pocock said that although Yellow Pages was in "steady decline" and would ultimately be wiped out by the internet, it was still currently generating cash and was still popular, particularly in rural areas where people have less access to the internet.

Shares were down 20% after today's announcement as investors were unimpressed by its plans.

The company has now lost most of its recent gains after it announced a series of deals with partners such as Microsoft and social media firm Bazaarvoice and bought website provider Znode.