Movie Star With Flourishing Fan Club

May 21st, 2001 by tony is a Belfast-based, online-only retailer of videos and DVDS. It celebrates its third birthday this month, confident that profits are just around the corner – which means by the end of this year.

Still in private hands, Blackstar competes against the likes of Amazon, DVD Street, and the online operations of WH Smith and HMV.

When Blackstar launched in 1998, there were no Internet retailers dealing specifically in the home movie market, so the company was quickly able to fill a substantial gap. Those Internet retailers who did sell videos and DVDs were mostly US-based and so didn’t account for the incompatibility between US and UK video formats.

Blackstar found its niche, creating what it likens to a UK-based club for people who are passionate about film. In fact, it has also shifted a small but growing number of DVD-based games and a surprising amount of “classic” and “cult” TV material, such as the Dr Who series, Monty Python and Star Trek, to non-UK fans who are unable to source the products closer to home.

This means that although most of Blackstar’s 300,000 registered users are in the UK, it has still managed to notch up sales in a staggering 163 countries.

The term “registered users” should usually be taken with a pinch of salt, but Blackstar would appear to have the magic touch when converting them into paying customers. Of that 300,000, some 250,000 have made purchases. And Christmas 2000 saw a 250 per cent sales increase over Christmas 1999, with more than 2 million unique visitors.

“We believe our fulfilment and customer care is unmatched,” says managing director Ian Loughran, “but we are constantly looking to improve it.”

Blackstar claims to ship 95 per cent of all UK deliveries within 24 hours by first class Royal Mail. Customers receive handwritten notes with their orders, which they’ve been able to track online, from picking to packing and dispatch.

“You must always deliver what you’ve promised to deliver, and never take your eye off this side of the business,” says Loughran, “no matter how many financing issues are distracting you.”

As well as claiming a product range ten times larger than the average high street video retailers, Blackstar offers a “video hunt” service that has proved highly popular. Over 50,000 customers have used it to buy rare and deleted titles.

Blackstar has used a mix of traditional and new media to build its brand. Offline, it has focused on entertainment and style magazines, as well as posters, although it has avoided TV. Online, it’s a big fan of affiliate marketing, building strong links with what Loughran calls “passion pockets” around the Web – such as independently run fan sites.

In all, Blackstar has links to 2,500 sites, including high-profile names likes MSN, AOL, LineOne, Shopsmart, BT and BBC. Loughran believes part of the reason for Blackstar’s high conversion rate is that “people know about us before they arrive on the site.”

The company shuns outside agencies wherever possible, preferring to develop its knowledge in-house. Thus, its affiliate marketing, e-mail marketing, website design and stock system are all handled by Blackstar’s 100 employees.

“We have an excellent team of people here, I don’t think there are many people with more knowledge than ourselves,” Loughran declares.

Coiniciding with its third anniversary is what could be a significant shift in sales from video to DVD. While the former have traditionally constituted most of Blackstar’s sales, the balance was evenly split in April and May. Since storing and sending DVDs is easier and cheaper than videos, this should be another boost for Blackstar.

Loughran is now looking further afield – both geographically and in terms of new technology channels – although he’s not impressed with interactive TV so far. “It still has some way to go and needs common standards to be widely accepted.”

Likewise, downloading films directly from the website “won’t be practical until all the bandwidth problems have been ironed out.”

He hints at new products but then becomes tight-lipped. If you suggest that Blackstar might do an Amazon and boldly go into completely unrelated product areas, he implies this would be too drastic. “We will never go down the Amazon route of gardening tools for example. We won’t just ship anything that goes in a box.”

Video Retailer’s Meteoric Rise

January 23rd, 2001 by tony

BlackStar, the online DVD and video retailer, says pre-Christmas sales were up more than 250 percent on the previous year and the company is set for profitability in the third quarter.

In the pre-Christmas period, BlackStar shipped more than 100 tonnes of product from its distribution centre on Belfast’s Ravenhill Road. It claims to be one of Royal Mails biggest customers in Northern Ireland.

Company chief executive and co-founder Darryl Collins said the rapid sales growth demonstrated the robustness of BlackStar’s business model in a hostile dotcom market. He said everyone at the firm was “focused on profitability.”

He said: “There are a lot of products that can sell well online but not everyone can do it well online. These figures show how well BlackStar is delivering. We’ve learnt countless lessons over the last three years.”

The boost follows a difficult few months for online retailers. In October, Swedish based online CD, video and DVD retailer, Boxman, ceased trading. Like BlackStar, it was consistently ranked among Europe’s leading pre-flotation dotcoms.

BlackStar itself was forced to lay off 20 staff in the autumn in a bid to cut costs. However, Mr Collins said the bearish market was now working in BlackStar’s favour. He said the company had enough money in the bank to see it through to profitability.

“The rest of the market is taking a bit of a bath at the minute. There is less competition because people don’t feel like backing potential competitors,” Mr Collins said.

“Equally, more and more people are going online and more and more people are becoming more comfortable with ecommerce. We have a double benefit. We are losing competition and we are on the crest of a growing wave. This is the case of ‘survivor takes all’ and BlackStar is well positioned.”

BlackStar employs 120 people. All but a few are located in Belfast. The company also has a small office in London.

Mr Collins said profitability was the next big milestone for the company. No British dotcom has yet managed to make a profit.

“We are also working on what happens next,” he said. “That will provide huge opportunities for BlackStar.”

He said future plans included rolling the business out across Europe as well as acquisitions.

BlackStar postponed a planned flotation last year, but still managed to raise £6.2 million during a second round of funding in the summer. A flotation now looks unlikely in the short term.

Safety Net For Surfers

January 19th, 2001 by tony

Laurette Zeimer talked to five well-established dot.coms to find out how they see the future for themselves, e-commerce in general, and the whole issue of net security …


“At the moment we’re witnessing a necessary shake-out where people with half-baked ideas are falling by the wayside leaving companies which know what they are doing,” says Darryl Collins, co-founder of BlackStar, the Belfast-based company which sells every video and DVD on release in the UK.

“People know who they like shopping with, who they trust and who gets the goods out to them.”

The secret of BlackStar’s success – sales were up 250 per cent at Christmas with two million people using the site – is a concentrated focus on customer service.

“Almost 90 percent of orders ship within 24 hours. We deliver on our promises and people keep coming back.”

As for security, BlackStar knows customers need to trust the system. “We have every latest technology and piece of software available (SSls, firewalls, etc) to protect our customers,” says Darryl. “And a team of people dedicated to this subject alone.”

Websites of the Year

December 30th, 2000 by tony

This is the best site from which to buy videos and DVDs. You can even pre-order exactly what you want ahead of its release date.


November 11th, 2000 by tony

If your movie loving friends have turned into squared-eyed zombies, it can only mean one thing- they’ve discovered Blackstar. This new service has every video and DVD on UK release to buy online, and the low prices (usually a 10-20 per cent saving) combined with free world wide delivery means this years Christmas shopping needn’t be the normal nightmare. With chart and new release info, it’s also a great way keeping up to date.


November 6th, 2000 by tony

More best service: video and DVDs from – this site really looks after you. When you e-mail them it, you receive a reply within hours and sometimes it sends you Christmas presents just for being a customer.

BlackStar Goes To Press With Ads

November 6th, 2000 by tony

Online video and DVD retailer BlackStar has launched a new advertising campaign. Based around the motif ‘Own It. Love It. Live It.’, the print campaign features five individual designs, each based around one of the main genres: comedy, horror, romance, sci-fi and action.

The campaign, in which BlackStar has invested half a million pounds, is run by London agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty and will feature in The Independent, The Sunday Times, NME, Heat and The Big Issue. And outdoor campaign will also be launched in November in Belfast and on the London Underground.

Director and founding partner Jeremy Glover said: “This new advertising clearly establishes BlackStar as the film-and-television enthusiast’s brand in the UK. It also marks the next big push for what we expect to be a very busy Christmas period.”

Meanwhile, BlackStar ceo Daryl Collins has been commenting about the internet retailer’s recent success at the BVA Awards with its Retail Online Success of the Year gong.

Collins said: “This award is a fantastic recognition of our continuing commitment to customer care and delivering on our promises. To be the first winner of this new category not only places us in the real world alongside traditional high street retailers but now sets the standard for e-tailers within the video industry.”

Answered E-mails

August 3rd, 2000 by tony

Dear Internet Monthly

I couldn’t agree more with the letters included in the June issue of your magazine complaining about the failure to reply by many companies.

However, might I be permitted to sing the praises of one company – with whom I have no connection other than as a very happy customer -that’s Blackstar.

I find their whole system of working excellent -prices great, no postage charge to add on, very quick delivery, but what really pleases me is that they always tell me what’s happening with my order – I don’t have to keep asking them. If a video is going to arrive later then predicted, they tell me -I don’t have to ask.

I had a parcel go missing before Christmas there was no problem. As soon as they knew about it – replacement organised and everything sorted – quickly and without hassle.

Probably, though, the greatest secret of their success is that e-mails are answered by human beings with a sense of humour and more often than not a lovely turn of phrase – they’re always personally signed and always answered very, very quickly.

Many of the companies trading on the web could learn a great deal from Blackstar’s customer care approach.

Many Thanks.

Eunice Roberts

Thanks for the e-mail – it’s good to know of a company providing good customer service – and the more we can highlight then the more companies will be inclined to follow Blackstar’s lead.

BlackStar Awarded the ‘Net Award’

August 2nd, 2000 by tony

BlackStar has long been regarded as the undisputed king of online video sales – and it’s not difficult to see why. Almost everything about the site is impeccably thought out: navigation is a breeze, prices are impressively comprehensive and the ordering process is simplicity personified. The range of videos is vast (but it’s all alphabetically ordered and cross-referenced by cast and director, making browsing easy), and the sub-section on arthouse films is a joy for the eclectically-minded. All in all, an admirably professional site – and an internet must-see.

BlackStar Festival Sponsorship

July 21st, 2000 by tony

BlackStar, the Uk’s premier on-line video store, has announced its sponsorship of the 54th Edinburgh Film Festival. The e-tailor is jointly sponsoring a Late Night Romps selection with movie magazine Empire, which includes the likes of the much touted horror triple, the Ring Trilogy, and Cut (from Australia), which stars Kylie Minogue. Sponsorship of the festival is just the latest in a string of promotional activities to raise the profile of BlackStar with consumers.