Shop Direct's £3bn sale is cancelled

It may not come as a huge surprise but reclusive billionaires David and Frederick Barclay have put their plans to sell the giant Shop Direct e-tail business on hold.


Littlewoods


The company, which includes the VeryExclusive, Very and Littlewoods e-stores, was put up for sale earlier this year with a suggested price of £3 billion.

But it seems that in the current environment that was quite a few million too much. With the political environment very uncertain, with  sales growth hard to come by in UK fashion retail and with increasing calls for the government to cast its regulatory eye over businesses that rely heavily on expensive credit for much of their profits, the Barclays seemed unlikely to achieve their desired price.

The brothers, who also own  Telegraph newspapers and London’s Ritz Hotel, had seen interest in the Shop Direct business from investment funds Hellman & Friedman, BC Partners and Apax but we have to assume this trio balked at the price.

The company said in a statement on Thursday that “at no point did the shareholders commit to a transaction, and retaining the business was always an explicit option, given its significant growth potential.

“The appetite of potential bidders has begun to change due to uncertainty created in the post-election UK environment so the shareholders have decided not to pursue discussions further at this stage.”

What does this mean for Shop Direct? Well it’s unlikely to be bad news. The company continues to grow and has yearly sales of nearly £2 billion. It’s a strong retail business and is one of the most tech-focused with the company introducing artificial intelligence into its customer service operations. OnThursday it said that it “continues to outperform the market delivering double-digit profit growth for the year ended 30 June 2017 and this strong trajectory is expected to continue.”

But that credit issue could be a problem. Like another business that offers credit terms, N Brown, the company is in the firing line of any future regulatory changes due to the very high cost of that credit. And even without regulation, consumers worried about carrying too much debt could rein-in their spending via such websites if the economy remains shaky.

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