The administrators of ailing retailer Woolworths today said they would be looking for a "suitable buyer for all parts of the business".
Deloitte, whose appointment was confirmed today, said it had received interest from "a number of parties" for both the retail arm and the firm's E.UK wholesaling operation in the past 24 hours.
The collapse of Woolworths has thrown uncertainty over the future of the retailer's 30,000 staff. But Deloitte's reorganisation services partner Dan Butters said: "We are working hard to ensure that any sale of the business, in whole or part, will preserve jobs."
Woolworths' 813 stores account for the lion's share of the group's staff, with around 25,000 employees. But Deloitte said the 99-year-old retailer will be kept open for business.
"Stores will remain open past Christmas and employees in stores will be paid," reorganisation services partner Neville Kahn said. "Woolworths has suffered a number of cash flow problems. Strenuous efforts over recent weeks to keep these companies going have unfortunately failed," he added.
Hilco, the restructuring specialist which failed in its bid to buy Woolworths' stores for £1 and assume a major share of its £385 million borrowing facility, has been appointed by Deloitte as an agent to help manage the retail arm.
But the collapse also sparked fears of a price war on an already-beleaguered high street - with administrators potentially slashing prices to generate cash for creditors and offload unsold stock.
Woolworths' publishing business 2Entertain, a joint venture with the BBC's commercial arm BBC Worldwide, is not in administration.
The firm suspended its shares yesterday and said it was in talks with BBC Worldwide over potentially selling its 40% stake in the operation.
The retailer, which opened its first store in Liverpool in 1909, has seen sales plummet as customers turned to supermarkets or the internet to gain better value.
The group made pre-tax losses of almost £100 million during the six months to the beginning of August.
John Gorle, national officer of the shopworkers' union Usdaw, said the administration was "devastating" for employees. He said: "We will be seeking urgent talks with the administrators to ensure that our members' future is at the top of their agenda and to understand the proposals for the businesses in the short to medium term."
Ardeshir Naghshineh, who owns 10% of Woolworths' shares, said he was "deeply disappointed" and would be seeking to meet the administrators as soon as possible.
"I am also deeply disappointed that the Woolworths board was not prepared to enter meaningful discussions with us despite intensive attempts by us to obtain information from them," he said.
Woolworths staff said today they were waiting and hoping for the best. One shop worker said: "We've been told there are negotiations going on and we're just waiting to see what happens. Everybody's in the same boat."
Another added: "Really we know as much as is in the papers. We're just hoping for the best and getting on with things."
In Ipswich, Suffolk, large queues of shoppers formed as the store offered a wide range of discounts.
Customers reminisced with staff about their memories of the store and their sadness at the news.