Archive for the ‘Birmingham Post’ Category

Catch the Web and Surf Away from Shopping Agonies

Saturday, November 6th, 1999

Whoever dubbed shopping ‘retail therapy’ was clearly not thinking of Christmas when they coined the phrase.

The seasonal spending spree is probably one of the great stress creators after moving house, divorce and filling out self-assessment tax forms.

Whereas self-indulgent, mood-placating shopping trips are all about the buyer, Christmas shopping is all about the bought for.

It is hours spent agonising over purchasing the prefect home/personal accessory for relatives you seldom see and whose interests you know nothing about.

You battle from store to store, confronted in each by identical glittery gift packs filled with the type of items you wouldn’t normally grant shelf space.

Indecision gnaws away at you as you hesitate, certain that the lucky recipient will know exactly which chain store you bought it from and how much (or how little) it cost.

There is an end, however, to this agony and it is right at your fingertips. On-line shopping is the new vogue and this year, according to Mori, more than a third of Internet users will be flexing their digits rather than their feet and doing their buying from the comfort of their own homes.

According to the poll, commissioned by on-line video and DVD retailers Blackstar.co.uk, around three million cyber savvy consumers will spend £130 each, a third of their Christmas budget t hrough their computers.

The benefits, apart from free parking, guaranteed good weather and an escape from battling through crowds of other weary present hunters, are savings in both time and money.

Twenty per cent of the people questioned believed that it was cheaper to shop on-line and 35 per cent considered it was quicker.

The favourite purchases are set to be items that can be bought without needing to be looked at for quality or fit, such as CDs, videos and books. These are followed by concert, cinema or theatre tickets, holidays and computer equipment.

The survey also discovered that it was more likely to be Midlanders who would embrace the new technology. Twenty two per cent of them anticipate spending nearly half their festive budget over the Web, compared with 19 per cent of southerners and 12 per cent of northerners.

Jeremy Glover of Blackstar said: ‘Santa has swapped his sleigh for a surfboard this year. 1999 will truly by Britain’s first cyber Christmas.

‘We are accelerating our hiring plans for customer service personnel to cope with the anticipated pre-Christmas demand.’

Two former City dealers are hoping to catch the surf-to-shop wave by establishing a virtual high street where customers can browse in familiar stores.

Joe Green and Darren Liebman have already attracted 16 big name retailers to set up shop in the world’s first 3D internet shopping mall.

WH Smith, BT, C&A, Somerfield, 24-7, Interflora, Thorntons, FH Hinds Jewellers and Thomas Cook can all be found on www.theonlinehighstreet.co.uk

The duo came up with the concept to cut down on the time consuming task of trawling though individual websites.

As well as general goods and services, Odeon cinema tickets and financial services from Barclays Bank and Nationwide Building Society are also available through the site.

BlackStar On Line For Listing After £3.57m Deal

Thursday, August 19th, 1999

Internet newcomer BlackStar, the online video store, said today that it wants a listing in London or New York after securing a £3.57 million shot-in-the-arm from Atlas Ventures and a group of Texans.

International venture capitalists Atlas and the Texans – including David Bonderman of leveraged buyout specialists Texas Pacific, which has earned a reputation for spotting undervalued situations – will be taking a 15 per cent stake each.

Altas specialises in investing in technology focused companies. Financial wunderkind David ‘Bondo’ Bonderman, from Texas Pacific, is best known for piloting Houston-based Continental Airlines out of bankruptcy in 1992.

Belfast-based BlackStar, which is seeking a listing either in London or on Nasdaq in 12 to 18 months time, is one of a small number of Internet groups to be generating profits from a vast, online store of more than 50,000 videos at www.blackstar.co.uk.

Set up 18 months ago, the group says it now needs the financial muscle for a ‘loud’ marketing campaign to fight heavyweight high street rivals such as Virgin Megastores, part of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group empire.

‘We need to prepare ourselves and gather a war chest to drive the marketing,’ Mr Darryl Collins, one of BlackStar’s three founders, said. ‘We’ve learnt a lot of lessons over the last 18 months about the sort of things that can trip us up. But using the marketing muscle that we’re about to get, we should be able to see growth going spectacularly for at least the next year.’ BlackStar hopes the funding will help propel it further into the world of electronic commerce, which is becoming increasingly crowded with the likes of Reel.com to giant Amazon.com slugging it out with a growing number of upstarts. But the UK group says it has been protected to an extent from U.S. online rivals because video formats are incompatible – although any advantage could be limited by the advance of multi format decoders.

For the moment, however, BlackStar’s main competition lies in the high street. Without its own high street presence, the group has significant fewer costs. But it said it may consider a ‘click and mortar’ virtual and physical presence in the future.

BlackStar sells videos at retail price, with free postage and aims to ship goods within 24 hours. It says turnover growth has surged to more than 30 per cent month-on-month from a ‘fiercly loyal’ customer base spanning 95 countries. About 70 per cent of sales are repeat purchases.

Most high street retailers stock about 2,500 to 3,000 videos and the online and offline British market, including sales of digital video discs, is valued at around £1 billion per year.

Collins says 20 to 30 per cent of those sales are forecast to be secured online within the next five years.

Online sales in western Europe, which accounts for about 70 per cent of BlackStar’s current market, are expected to grow to more than £11 billion by 2004, according to market research group Fletcher Research.