Learn from one of the Stars of the Net

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.

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