Article from the New Zealand Herald
09 April 2022
Words, Aimee Shaw
Images, Tam West
AUCKLAND — An online-only retailer backed by Jucy co-founder Tim Alpe has launched an unmanned shop in Auckland, which it says is ideal for the current coronavirus pandemic world — and offers a glimpse at the future of retailing.
Comfi, which sells beds and mattresses, is taking bookings to trial its beds at its Auckland CBD location. Described as a mix between a keyless-entry hotel room and a bricks-and-mortar showroom, its site was set up for consumers wanting to trial products away from other shoppers and over-attentive salespeople, and outside business hours.
Vicki Eriksen, co-founder of Comfi, said the launch of the shop, which she refers to as the “Comfi hub”, a week ago had already increased the business’s sales conversion rate, with almost every physical trial in the location leading to a sale online. The location was previously used to host events and store its beds. “We know that for many of us, one of the main barriers to online purchasing is the need to see and feel a product,” Eriksen said. “People have enjoyed visiting the site without having anyone there. They’ve got this private booking where we email them a pin code, booked online on our website. You can book to test drive the bed on your own or book to meet up face to face in an appointment, so you go down to the hub and lie on each of the beds,” Eriksen said.
Bookings are for up to one hour, and Comfi encourages shoppers to make full use of the trial time. It has CCTV cameras and an alarm system to ensure the showroom is not used as a hotel room. Eriksen said the concept was developed using consumer behaviour insights and the retail model could be adapted for a range of industries that have displays of bulky or high-ticket items — including automotive and furniture suppliers.
“The reality for many consumers now is that they want to be able to shop online any time of the day or night and the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail model has not effectively caught up with this shift in effectively caught up with this shift in expectations. The ability to do this during a Covid environment is also increasingly important for a large segment of consumers who are now risk-averse to traditional retail store environments.” Eriksen also said the “Comfi hub” removed the awkwardness out of trying out beds at traditional big box furniture and bed retailers with other shoppers around.
Comfi launched at the beginning of 2021 and was founded by Susie Harris and Vicki Eriksen. The idea for the company was thought up at a time, during lockdown in 2020, when it was not possible to go into a retail store to try out a bed. The business focuses on good-quality beds made in New Zealand from local wool and materials, and says its beds are cheaper than others on the market as it has few overheads, being e-commerce-focused. The company has recently launched a charitable arm providing a free bed and bedding for a child in poverty for every five beds sold.
Harris and Eriksen have backgrounds in corporate HR and marketing within the construction industry. Tim Alpe, co-founder of campervan and vehicle rental company Jucy, holds a 20 percent stake in Comfi and is helping with marketing and growing the brand in a chief executive role on a part-time basis.
Comfi would look to open more unmanned stores — ideally two on each island — if the concept proved to be a success long term, Eriksen said.
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