Can MFI make it online?

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The well known furniture retailing brand MFI is being revived online three years after it crashed into administration but can it follow in the footsteps of other former high street chains that have been reborn successfully online?

It was one of the first retail victims of the recession and left a sizeable hole in the UK high street when it closed its stores and it led a number of high profile retail administrations in 2008, which included Woolworths and Zavvi.

Within months the Woolworths brand had been snapped up by Shop Direct Group, which owns Littlewoods.co.uk – another former high street chain – and Very.co.uk.

The group subsequently relaunched it online less than six months after the high street chain collapsed.

Likewise Zavvi was acquired by fast expanding online retail group The Hut Group not long after its high street life came to an end, and kick started as an online only entertainment retailer.

Both Zavvi and Woolworths are now in good shape operating as online only operations.

Shop Direct group says that Woolworths is definitely in profit and is “ticking along nicely”, contributing to the group’s £1.7bn annual turnover, although it is one if the smaller online brands in its portfolio.

As part of The Hut Group, Zavvi.co.uk is also performing well and helped grow the group’s entertainment division by around 45% in 2010.

The MFI brand was bought by private equity firm Walker Capital in 2010, now, more than three years after it fell into administration it will offer “high quality luxurious and affordable” home furnishings, but not kitchens, via an online platform.

What The Hut Group and Shop Direct both did was revive the well known brands while they were still in the public’s mind and remained a consideration when shopping.

MFI claims to have “learned form the mistakes of others” but it remains to be proven whether it can tread the same successful path as Zavvi and Woolworths and whether it retains enough consumer affection to make it work online, or if it has been too long and its reputation too damaged in the three years that have passed.

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