Archive for April, 2000

BlackStar named ‘cream of retailing cyber crop’

Tuesday, April 18th, 2000

BLACKSTAR, Northern Ireland’s leading ‘dotcom’ retailer, has been named as the United Kingdom’s No1 Web site for on-line customer service. BlackStar, a DVD and video retailer, came out top in a survey by Silicon Valley, an independent Internet research company.

The organisation reviewed 100 leading Web sites on more than 200 seperate analysis criteria in the United Kingdom and United States finding only 30 operators in the UK that meet basic standards of assessment.

BlackStar.co.uk, which employs 50 in Belfast, excelled in the survey well beyond its UK competitors and was named ‘Cream of the Cyber Crop’.

It beats conventional retailers like WH Smith and Marks & Spencer along with on-line competitors such as Entex.

Jeremy Glover, co-founder said “When we started BlackStar in 1997, some time before the baby boom of the dotcoms, we primarily set out to be an international retailer of videos and DVDs. “The internet provided the best vehicle for our business concept and that is how the comany was formed and viewed – as a retailer first and Internet business second”.

He added: “This has provided a different set of criteria for BlackStar from the outset and as with any retailer, has ensured that an obsession with customer service is central to our business.

“We shall continue to strive to improve it even further, always maintaining our philosophy that we are retailers first and foremost, and that our customers will always be the ultimate point of focus”.

BlackStar is due to float on the London Stock Exchange in the next six months with an expected valuation of between 200-300m pounds.

The company is at the leading edge of new businesses here which make use of the Internet to trade on an international basis.

The Government is spending more than 3m pounds to persuade new firms and existing businesses to make use of the technology but academics fear the province may be ‘left behind’ as the marketplace moves into cyberspace.

The number of Internet shoppers is expected to rise to four billion by 2004 and the Internet will be available over the mobile telephone after the Government completes a 20bn pound auction for licences to operate the new generation three wireless technology.

BlackStar beats UK and US to win award

Thursday, April 13th, 2000

Belfast dot com BlackStar has been named the top customer-friendly company in a cross-Atlantic survey.

The survey was carried out by a Silicon Valley-based and reviewed 100 websites in the UK and US.

BlackStar was described as “cream of the crop” beating retailers like WH Smith and Marks and Spencer and online competitors such as Entexpress. BlackStar was formed in 1997 and has become a market leader in online DVD and video retail.

The company is expected to float on the London stock market within the next six months with an expected valuation of between £250 and £300 million.

One of the co-founders, Jeremy Glover, said the company had set out to be international retailers long before the “baby boom” of dot coms.

Learn from one of the Stars of the Net

Tuesday, April 11th, 2000

Belfast-based BlackStar could teach other businesses a thing or two about succeeding in the world of e-commerce. Since its launch in January 1998 the company has led the way in the UK e-commerce market to become its largest internet video and DVD retailer.

BlackStar entered the world of Formula One racing in March when it signed a sponsorship deal with Jaguar’s race ace Eddie Irvine. Irvine will be sporting a crash helmet with side panel advertising and is reportedly delighted to have support from home. “It was a great opportunity to be associated with a famous sportsman and a growing exciting sport” explained company director Jeremy Glover.

Hot off the grid, BlackStar now plans to become a public limited company and float on the London Stock Exchange within 12 months.

A summer time investment of £3.8 million allowed the company to launch itself into the world e-commerce market. The international investment came courtesy of Atlas Venture Ltd and a group of Texas investors, including members of the Texas Pacific Group.

The first step was a policy to extend BlackStar’s distribution base which involved setting up a sales and marketing office in London and the creation of new jobs. The company currently employs 70 people but this figure is set to rise to 250 by March 2001.

Almost half of the £3.8 million investment went into advertising and the immediate result was a fourfold increase in their customer base.

Estimated sales figures for March topped the one million mark and Mr Glover proudly noted that sales for the first quarter of this year have already doubled Christmas sales.

There are now satisfied BlackStar customers in 134 countries across the world and three new countries, Guam, Liechtenstein and Vanuatu, joined the customer base last month.

Undoubtedly, a part of the internet retailer’s appeal lies in their guaranteed free mail postage and packaging to anywhere in the world as well as their no quibble returns policy.

“One of the lessons we have learnt is that an attractive web site isn’t everything. The most important thing is filling orders”,” Jeremy Glover said.

“95 percent of all videos are dispatched within 24 hours and we have timed shipping so that pre-ordered videos or DVD’s arrive on the day release. We have a customer obsession, it focuses our staff and is a daily mantra.”

It is not difficult to find evidence of this customer obsession – BlackStar’s top 25,000 customers received a gift-wrapped copy of It’s a Wonderful Life as a Christmas gift.

In a similar customer friendly vein, the BlackStar Web site contains staff photos, mini biographies and lists of their favourite films.

As well as this the customer care department recently increased its hours of service from 10 hours a day to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We put that human touch in because at the end of the day you buy from humans not a computer. A company’s aim should be to provide a service not just to make money,” explained Jeremy.

Video Dealer Online for flotation

Thursday, April 6th, 2000

UK online video retailer BlackStar.co.uk has unveiled plans to float on the London stock market, undeterred by a slide in internet shares.

BlackStar, which sells videos and DVD Discs by mail order on the internet, said it planned to raise between 50 million and 60 million pounds in new shares in the flotation and to list in the final quarter of the year.

Co-founder Jeremy Glover said the company expected to have a market value between 250m and 300m pounds on listing on the stock exchange.

Mr Glover said the company was not daunted by the recent sharp sell-off in hi-tech shares which culminated on Tuesday with a 13 per cent sell off of the tech-laden Nasdaq index.

The index staged a recovery, but was still down sharply from March highs.

A lot of re-adjustment has taken place in the market in the last month and it’s our view that that’s actually good for the market. We have always taken a long-term view of our market,” he added.

BBH scoops £10m video online retailer account

Thursday, April 6th, 2000

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) has won the £10m advertising account for BlackStar, the Internet video sales specialist.

BlackStar launched its website, BlackStar.co.uk, two years ago. Sales through the site hit £1m for March and the company aims to achieve £20m in sales this year with the help of a beefed-up ad spend. It spent £1m on advertising over the past year, handling its creative advertising in house.

BBH’s through-the-line arm, BBH Unlimited, landed the account after a pitch against Team Saatchi. J Walter Thompson pulled out at an earlier stage due to client conflicts. BBJ Media Services has been appointed to handle the media buying and planning after a head-on pitch against MediaVest. The media incumbent, Northern Ireland’s Navigator Blue, did not repitch.

BlackStar marketing director Jeremy Glover, formerly creative director of McCann-Erickson Belfast, says there are no plans to expand the site beyond videos but the new push will aim to take the existing site to a wider audience.

Glover says: “Until now, we have been working with targeted audiences through lifestyle magazines and the national press. The new work will be more mainstream.”

The new campaign will run on TV, outdoor and cinema, with online creative work by new media agency Profero.

Focus – Blackstar

Thursday, April 6th, 2000

It is what advisers might call “a brave decision,” which roughly translated means it appears a damn fool idea or at the very least, a risky one.

Undeterred by the tumble in internet shares, British online video retailer BlackStar.co.uk unveiled plans yesterday to float on the London stock market.

The company, which sells videos and DVD discs by mailorder on the internet said it planned to raise about £50m in new shares in the flotation and to go to the market in the final quarter of the year.

Co-founder Jeremy Glover said yesterday that he was undaunted by the sharp sell-off in hi-tech shares this week which saw the tech-heavy Masdaq dipping 13% at one point on Tuesday.

“A lot of re-adjustment has taken place in the market in the last month and it’s our view that that’s actually good for the market,” Mr Glover said. “We have always taken a long-term view of our market”.

The theory that the market is undergoing a giant winnowing process, which is sorting the internet wheat from the chaff is only comforting, of course, for firms who are convinced they will be one of the winners.

Yesterday Mr Glover was talking up BlackStar’s prospects of becoming a global leader in the $33bn global market for video and DVD sales.

But with BlackStar’s market share last year just .0075% of that, there is a long way to go. Mr Glover is forecasting sales this year of £15 to £20m.

In the cut-throat world of e-tail that may be easier to predict than to achieve.

BlackStar is likely to choose an adviser and broker in the next few weeks. Mr Glover’s two other co-founders, Tony Bowden and Darryl Collins, also own 16.5% each of the two year old firm.

Venture capitalists Atlas and Tarrant own about a third of BlackStar.

Staff options account for 15% of the diluted equity and minority shareholders own the rest.

Retailers’ websites are hopeless

Sunday, April 2nd, 2000

Britains’s retailers should scrap their existing internet sites and start again, according to a damning report on the standard of customer service that online shoppers receive.

Order confirmations, return policies, receipts and telephone helplines are all missing from sites operated by established high street retailers, according to a survey by Shelley Taylor & Associates, Web consultant, clients of which include Charles Schwab, McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble.

Return to Sender, to be published this Friday , will document how simple or otherwise it is to shop online, using 30 UK and 70 US websites. “We were astonished to find that some of the UK’s hottest online retailers have yet to adopt the rudimentary customer-service practices of their bricks-and-mortar counterparts,”says Taylor. This is not about a lack of technical expertise, but a real lack of retail thinking. Retailers should stop worrying about visual imagery and start making sure the content is there”.

A survey published last week by Verdict, the retail consultancy, examining comsumers’ views on the home-delivery services offered by a range of organisations from catalogue companies to online retailers, also concluded that the standard of internet retailing in the UK was poor.

Only one-third of the UK sites tested by Shelley Taylor & Associates confirm that an online order has been logged and just 13% allow customers to monitor the progress of an order online. Nearly a fifth of British shops dispatch items without any enclosures or receipts and 20% do not include return address details for goods to be sent back. On a more positive note, 27% offer free return shipping or pickup, against just 14% of the US stores studied.

By putting technical experts rather than retail specialists in charge of designing and operating consumer websites, stores are failing to adhere to the most basic principles of customer service.

“Consumers are not interested in technology,” argues Taylor. “When we tried to return items we consistently came up against red tape, rude people and nebulous return policies.

“Instead of trying to evolve these sites, British retailers should simply start again.”

JJB Sports is named as the worst of the websites tested over four weeks during March. The site has dedicated customer-service link and it does not send any e-mail confirmation of purchase or shipping. Navigation around the site is difficult and the item ordered took eight days to arrive.

“We have been through a few teething problems,” admits a JJB spokesman.

The site, which aims for a 24-hour delivery period but only contacts shoppers if a product is out of stock, is due to be relaunched at the end of this year.

Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer’s and Freemans’ sites each rejected at least three separate attempts to purchase goods online. In some cases the company’s Web server was not working, but in the majority of instances a stream of error messages frustrated efforts to place an order.

Boots is among five retailers singled out for particular criticism. Nearly two weeks after placing and receiving online confirmation of an order, the shopper called the helpline to check the progress of the purchase, only to be told that no such order existed.

Another product was duly ordered, which, to date – nine days later – has still not arrived.

“It’s not good enough,” admits a representative for Boots. “It could be that there was just a glitch on the site.”

Enjoyment.com, the Victoria Wine site, also comes under fire. The bottle of wine ordered was hand-delivered in a bag with no receipt and contact information.

After finding the customer helpline number from the website, it took five calls to establish that the company accepts no returns unless the item is damaged.

ChateauOnline, another internet wine retailer, delivered its bottle in a cardboard box with no receipt and no name on the box – an unfortunate oversight given that the address belonged to a busy office.

The report is also critical of Argos, the catalogue shopping company. The item ordered arrived with no receipt or return instructions and calls to establish a returns policy at first went unanswered. Finally, in what the tester describes as a rude exhange, the company admitted there is a £3.90 pick-up charge.

“We’re very sorry,” says an Argos spokesman. “Our online help section should give assistance with orders and deliver.”

Video and DVD retailer BlackStar, which has a clear returns policy and a facility for tracking the progress of an order online, is nominated as the best UK site.