Archive for May, 1999

An e-commerce star

Wednesday, May 26th, 1999

Four years ago in Northern Ireland, Black Star video ( was set-up to be an effective video distribution service in a new market. From its small opening it now has markets in 89 countries, of which the UK is their single biggest market at 50%, followed by the US at 16%. Ireland pitches in with about two per cent of the market.

Black Star is the brainchild of Darryl Collins and Tony Bowden who, along with Jeremy Glover, got it off the ground in 1995. Tony Bowden had already set-up Northern Ireland’s first Web design company, and together they were looking for a project to make use of the new technology. Out of about 30 different and diverse projects, they settled on a video distribution company. According to Jeremy Glover, they had been watching the success of Amazon on the Internet and decided to apply the same tactics that Amazon use for selling books to Black Star’s video sales.

Of course, Amazon operates on a much larger scale than Black Star. That said, the principles are the same, and Black Star has tens of thousands of video titles in its database, as well as a smaller stock of DVDs.

It started off very small, though, and fortunately for the fledgling company, the Web design could all be done inhouse, though as Glover says, at the start Tony Bowden’s programs were a lot better than his designs. However, the inhouse design meant that setting-up costs were much lower, and site maintenance costs were practically nil.

As the company grew, though, things had to get more professional, and to this end the company of course got new programmers and also a professional Web designer to maintain and upgrade the site. According to Glover, only 30% of the business done by Black Star is front end, with their being many other facets to the operation.

There are different programmers assigned to the different departments in the company, such as a programmer in charge of customer care, and another looking after marketing. It is a far cry from the original set-up.

There is also a powerful internal email system with a full-time e-receptionist to help speed up the whole process. In fact the whole site is a very powerful one. Go to the details page and, with your video of choice, you not only find a blurb, with the year, the director, the distribution company, but you have the ability to browse for videos under all manner of different categories. So you can search for other videos under such headings as the star, the production company, the country of origin, even other videos costing a similar price. You can search for films by languages, and to facilitate the global market you can even select the currency of choice when paying. All transactions are done in Sterling, but by selecting, you can convert the price into your own currency at its most up-to-date price.

Most of Black Star’s advertising is done off-line in a large number of major UK magazines, mainly the entertainment ones such as Empire and Total Film, and also in various Internet magazines. Any ads that they take out are full-page, full-colour ads, demonstrating the company’s commitment to professionalism. They also advertise a small amount online, with banner ads in some of the shopping directories, but it is mainly in magazines. People tend to know about Black Star before visiting the site, and it has “millions of visitors”, says Glover, but people tend not to make purchases the first time they log in. There is still a small amount of reticence about shopping online, with people wary about inputting their details. With annual growth between 20 and 25% it would seem that there is an ever increasing confidence about buying online. And about Black Star.

Online video store and all-round success story

Saturday, May 1st, 1999

It might sound like the worst sort of ’70s sci-fi trash, but Black Star is the UK’s biggest online video store. It has grown rapidly since it started selling films online just over a year ago. The site aims to stock every video and DVD on release in the UK. But there’s no movie news or gossip here. Even a link marked ‘Oscars ‘ has no mention of Gwynneth Paltrow blubbering over her statuette – just a list of past winners of the Best Picture Oscars, including Braveheart, French Connection and Forrest Gump.

And talking of things being like a box of chocolates, this site lets you search for videos by their subject, name, star or director. The diversity of what’s on offer is huge – from children’s comedies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to serious titles dealing with death and the role of women, such as Like Water For Chocolate. The Belfast-based company has over 50,000 titles on offer, and an express checkout takes only seconds to process your order. Security is tight, and you can check when Black Star receives your order and when it dispatches it to your home. It will even send you an email telling you which stage your order has reached. Once you’ve placed an order, the site will recognise you the next time you visit. And you’ll probably want to return – Black Star offers 20 per cent discounts on a changing list of titles, and charges nothing for postage and packing. You can even compile a hit list of all the films you’d like to own.