Archive for the ‘Evening Standard’ Category

Cyber-buyers Find Websites Fail To Deliver

Tuesday, December 14th, 1999

Cyber-shoppers buying Christmas presents via the Internet could be in for a big shock at the poor standard of customer service offered by some companies, a new survey reveals today.

Many of the big-name websites selling books, music CDs, toys, videos and fashion clothing – the Internet’s hottest products – failed a simple e-mail test which formed part of the research carried out by Eric White on behalf of Dial Internet, an Internet marketing consultancy.

One item was ordered from each of the websites surveyed and each was sent an e-mail inquiring about their exchange and refund policies. Apart from their e-mail response, sites were awarded points for payment security, ease of use, competitive pricing, variety of products and delivery speed.

The five websites which came out best for overall performance were,,, and

The five which came out worst were,,, and

‘We were surprised that Waterstone’s, a respected High Street brand, came bottom of our table,’ said Mr White today. ‘But they didn’t answer a simple query sent three times by e-mail and they delivered outside the stated delivery time.

‘Virgin’s site was another disappointment,’ he added. ‘Its website is totally designed for the US market and the products are sent from the States. I understand they have plans to launch a UK version but this isn’t available yet. They were slow to answer e-mail and although they delivered relatively quickly from the US in 11 days, this wouldn’t help any last-minute Christmas shoppers.’

Four of the 20 websites surveyed failed to reply at all to an e-mail inquiry sent three times to the relevant customer service address. These were Toys R Us,, online music retailer CDzone ( and Waterstone’s. The research also revealed some surprises about pricing.

‘We found a big price discrepancy between sites selling the same product,’ said Mr White. ‘We ordered John Major’s autobiography, which has a recommended price of £25. It cost £12.50 at Waterstone’s site and’s site, £15.99 at WH Smith’s site and £20 at amazon’s site even though amazon is renowned for its discounts.’

Traditional high-street retailers like WH Smith and Debenhams came out well in the research. ‘Debenhams has successfully translated its retail service into an online operation,’ said Mr White.

‘The WH Smith site is very informative and simple to use with no fancy graphics that take ages to download,’ he added.

Mike Hawkey, marketing director of Dial Internet, said: ‘A striking feature of the survey was the revelation that companies such as Debenhams and WH Smith – both traditional retailers with huge High Street pedigrees – are giving the ‘pure’ Internet-only companies a run for their money in the e-commerce stakes.

‘The companies who failed a simple e-mail test really need to re-think their customer service as this will only put consumers off,’ he added. ‘As an Internet business, one of the biggest crimes is to fail to respond to a simple e-mail.’

Forget Sherry And Mince Pies, It’s Dear

Thursday, November 4th, 1999

SANTA could end up swapping his sleigh for an e-mail address this year as 3.6 million shoppers turn to the Internet to order presents, a new survey reveals.

Almost a third of Britain’s Internet users will be cyber-shopping this Christmas, according to the MORI survey of 500 Internet users commissioned by online video and DVD retailer, BlackStar. co. uk.

Those planning to buy Christmas gifts online said they would spend around £130 each, representing about a third of their total Christmas shopping budget of £446. Thirty-five per cent expected to save time and 20 per cent thought they would save money by buying online.

Men were more likely than women to see the benefits of online shopping, and were twice as likely to see potential costs savings as a benefit.

Only five per cent said they planned to shop online to avoid crowded high streets, and just two per cent of men said they would buy lingerie online.

The most popular items that Internet users are likely to buy online this Christmas are CDs and books (27 per cent), theatre, cinema and concert tickets (14 per cent), and flights, holidays, computer equipment, videos and DVDs (13 per cent).

Most cyber-shopping will be done from home with only seven per cent considering using the facilities at work.

For half of those surveyed, websites would have to offer cheaper prices than the high street, while a third wanted free delivery to make online shopping appealing.

People said they would be encouraged to shop online if websites had fewer hidden charges, such as VAT (28 per cent), and offered assured delivery dates (26 per cent), a no-quibbles exchange policy (25 per cent) and a wider range of products than the high street (21 per cent).

Jeremy Glover, co-founder and director of BlackStar, said: ‘This doesn’t just represent a step up for Christmas cyber-shopping compared to last year. It’s a gigantic leap. This year will truly be Britain’s first cyber-Christmas.

‘We are accelerating our hiring plans for customer service personnel to cope with the anticipated pre-Christmas demand, as our customers say our personalised service and free delivery make online shopping more practical for them.’

The Internet is becoming a forum for other types of retail schemes that go beyond direct selling. The UK online bookstore, www. bol. com, has created an affiliates scheme allowing Internet users in Britain to turn their websites into virtual bookstores and earn 20 per cent of the net BOL discount price on every book sold.

Alexander Broich, BOL’s UK managing director, said: ‘With the BOL Affiliate Programme, every owner of a website, whether it is a personal homepage or a large portal site, can make money out of selling books on their website and by building these partnerships, BOL gains new and powerful distribution channels.’

Still Time To Weave Your Way To The Web

Thursday, November 4th, 1999

A new survey of Internet users suggests that as much as £450 million of Christmas spending this year will be online, with books and CDs proving particularly popular.

As many as 3.6 million Internet users could spend as much as 30% of their Christmas shopping budgets on the Net.

The MORI survey, commissioned by online video retailer Blackstar, reveals that many of those interviewed expect to save time and money by shopping online, with men more likely than women to avoid the traumas of the High Street crush.

When this cyber Christmas materialises, it will be bad news for the traditional retailers, many of whom still offer no facilities for customers to shop from the parlour rather than the pavement.

But it is an enormous opportunity for the entrepreneur with good products and fast feet. It is still possible to have a website up and running in a matter of days and cash in on the seasonal spend – if you have the nerve to do so.

A visit to might enable you to find an appropriate name for your site, particularly if you do not plan to be too subtle about your market.

Sitting on the shelf, for example, they have such gems as, and

If you want other, more sophisticated names they may have these as well. But if you want to check whether a specific name has already been taken, then offers a free search facility.

BlackStar could soon be in ascent

Thursday, August 19th, 1999

Video online retailer BlackStar might just be a Net star of the future. It has secured an investment of £3.8 million from Atlas Venture and a bunch of Texans. Not bad for the Belfast business launched early last year with its initial stock balanced precariously on a table tennis table. Now it offers 50,000 videos online at compared with a typical 2500 from your average High Street retailer. It claims customers in 95 countries and, unusually, to be generating profits on a turnover that has long since steamed past the £1 million mark. When so many lossmaking Internet stocks are trading at massively inflated prices, BlackStar could just be worth watching should it go public late next year, as seems quite likely.