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MFI is back, as an online-only retailer

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MFI is back – only this time it’s online only.

The furniture retailer’s new website went live today, almost exactly three years after the MFI high street chain failed in November 2008. Today the new-look MFI bills itself as offering affordable luxury in its range, accompanied by “first-class customer service”.

To mark its return, in a week that is expected to be one of the busiest online shopping periods of the year, the MFI site is offering deep discounts. Until December 12, the site is offering shoppers 60% off its range of bedroom, bathrooms, living and dining rooms collections as well as home office equipment.

The website is supported by a six-day-a-week customer service team. Customers can choose their own delivery date from those available on the website, though returns of non-faulty goods must be made within the seven days specified by the European Distance Selling Regulations in order to avoid a collection charge of “up to £65”.

The reincarnation of the brand comes more than a year after it was bought by the Walker Group for a reported £250,000 in August 2010.

The Yorkshire-based Walker Group‘s other holdings include Victoria Plum, which it bills as the “UK’s leading mail order and online bathroom retailer.”

Our view: The MFI relaunch is supported by a survey showing that 62% of the British public is happy to buy furniture online, and that 49% said they had not redecorated their homes for 10 years. Its success will be founded on whether the new-look MFI can tempt shoppers in a difficult financial climate to do that work.

While this, and other, research does tend to show that people are now happier to buy larger, more expensive items online, studies also tend to show that many of them like to see items for themselves before they do so, and that the confidence of buying online is supported by the knowledge that it’s easy to make returns. We covered, for example, GI Insight research earlier this month that suggested 73% of consumers prefer to see furniture for themselves in-store.

So whether the online-only MFI approach will be enough, as it stands, to clinch those sales remains to be seen. That’s especially true when its returns policy seems, according to the site’s small print, and in comparison to many of its competitors – here for example – to be somewhat inflexible. In a multichannel world, online-only has to be as flexible as possible if it is to succeed, and competition goes beyond price.

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