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Starflix problem emails

Updated Dec 2004

Here is my email correspondence with Starflix regarding my concerns on their inventory claims. Their phone line gave me a contact for a Walter Fortunato in management, and I sent him an email, which he replied to. I sent a followup which I have not heard back on to date.

From: "David Oberst"
To: "Walter Fortunato"
Sent: Tuesday, November 16, 2004 7:21 PM

Hi - the woman at your toll-free line gave me your email address and suggested you might be the person to address myself to. My name is David Oberst, and at the beginning of the year I tried out a few of the Canadian DVD rental companies. Although I soon became a happy ZIP.ca customer, I created some webpages with various bits of information I had discovered in hopes it would useful to others. It currently resides at http://www.dvdinfo.ca.

I also participate at another website which has forums dedicated to rental sites (http://onlinedvdrentalguide.ca). There was a certain amount of skepticism about Starflix when someone first brought it to attention there, since your website is making inventory and warehouse claims above or beyond the known top-end of the market (ie. ZIP.ca and VHQ), while no-one knew anything about you.

I've finally got around to adding Starflix to the database I use to generate the results on my webpage, and had a couple questions before I update my Starflix notes:

1) Your website claims "3 distribution centers allow us to provide...titles in one or two days". My assumption is that these would be no more than mail-drops for returns and a point where you can express-ship orders from your main warehouse (in Quebec?) to insert into Canada Post? A couple of the other companies already do this, but to my knowledge no-one actually has multiple independent warehouses, and I would be surprised if Starflix did.

2) The list of (non-Criterion) titles I use for testing is composed of the Roger Ebert 4-star list, plus a couple of hundred others. Starflix came out quite low on this measure (around 40%), given your claim that "We have virtually every DVD available for rental in Canada, more than 23,000 titles". I'm checking my system to see if it is dropping titles you actually have, or if your search feature is broken, but those I have checked manually truly don't show up.

To be honest, and without offense, Starflix would appear to be a small to midsize entrant in the Canadian DVD rental market, which would be fine if it weren't for the rather different claims your website makes. Please drop me a line (or provide a contact phone number) if you'd like to provide more information about Starflix which might help to clear up any misunderstandings.

Starflix reply from Walter, Nov 22

In response to your questions, here is your requested response:

(1) Distribution Centres:

We in fact have 3 distribution centres located in Montreal, Toronto &
Vancouver. In addition to this, we will be opening 2 more locations in the
very near future to service all of Canada more efficiently. This would
bring us to a total of 5 National Distribution Centres and would clearly
make us the leader in this industry.

Without offence, your assumption is wrong. They are not "mail-drops for
returns and a point where you can express-ship orders from your main
warehouse (in Quebec?) to insert into Canada Post". We "actually have
multiple independent warehouses" in each of these locations and we would
thank you not to falsely advertise otherwise.

This provides our members with the ability to receive more DVDs at their
doorstep in less time due to the proximity of our distribution centres to
their homes. Some of our customers have received a total of 6 DVDs in one
week (based on a 3 DVD at one time package)! In addition to this, we will
soon be offering various packages:

2 DVDs at one time for $19.95
3 DVDs at one time for $24.95
4 DVDs at one time for $29.95
5 DVDs at one time for $34.95

(2) StarFlix Movie Offerings

You can search our offerings using our "advanced search options" in order to
better determine what we offer. We do have a large selection and our search
engine is being further updated. We also offer titles that would be
difficult to find elsewhere.

(3) StarFlix Credibility

StarFlix is the largest Canadian DVD Rental company based on location
metrics. The operators of this company individually have 20 years of
experience in the Movie/Rental Video industry and have held executive
positions with the two of the largest public National companies in the Video
Rental sector. We also have a brilliant partner and operator who is a
Computer Engineer, and he is developing the electronic delivery of our
service, keeping us at the cutting edge.

(4) Some other benefits of StarFlix.com are as follows:

- Bilingual Website & Emails: We serve everyone in Canada in either English
or French, based on their preference settings or selection on our Website)
- First Class mail delivery via Canada Post (currently based out of 3
National Distribution Centres)
- Numerical Priority listing for each individual DVD selection in your
StarList.
- Advanced Movie Search Engine - By Title, Actor, Director, Genre or
Keywords
- More Advanced Searches: click on active actor or director links to get a
list of all movies associated to them!
- Diverse movie categories (Karaoke, Musical, Western, Sports, Fitness,
Biography, Quebec, and many more!)
- Easy to use "Genre" selection
- Movie Suggestion Box
- Personal Movie Recommendations (Click on "Recommendations" in the
Navigation bar once you are logged in)
- Much more!

Regards,

StarFlix Management

My Followup, Nov 24.

Thanks for the reply. I decided to sign up for a Starflix trial (although I won't continue on) to see if it helped with my questions. My shipment included the top three titles I queued up, which is good going. However, I still can't reconcile your claimed "23,000" inventory with my results.

> You can search our offerings using our "advanced search options" in order to
> better determine what we offer.

Actually, I _was_ using the "title" portion of your Advanced search for my
tests. I found about 226 of the 543 tested (41%). While one or two might
have slipped through, I can't see anything systemically wrong with my code.
I manually tested a handful of common titles ("Dead Man Walking", "Boogie
Nights", "A Fish Called Wanda", "The English Patient", "Gosford Park", "The
Fog of War", "Speed") using your site without finding any. I don't know if
you saw the results on my webpages (www.dvdinfo.ca) - here is a direct link
to a page listing the "missing" titles from my test:

http://dvdinfo.ca/MissingStar.html

> We do have a large selection and our search engine is being further updated.

The 41% result is just completely inconsistent with "23,000 titles". This
is ZIP.ca or NetFlix territory, and it would be almost impossible to have an
actual inventory this size and score so low on these titles. DVDflix for
instance has under 5000 titles and still comes in around 60%. 41% is almost
exactly what DVDsToYourDoor came in at, and they have under 3000 titles.

The only thing I notice is that you seem to have a fair number of inventory
IDs which don't seem to show up in a search. As an example, your #16002 is
"A Zed and Two Noughts". I was unable to bring these titles up in any way using your search features, but they do display if you manually input the proper URL:

http://starflix.com/product_info.php?products_id=16002

I had assumed that these were items you had loaded internally for whatever reason but which were not active parts of your public inventory (some had French covers, were retail gift set listings, etc). However, once I signed up I called up the above example again, and it let me add to the queue. I don't know if it should let me do this or not. Perhaps you could check and see if this is a valid title. I'm guessing not, but if it is this might explain some of the missing inventory, although it would mean a major bug in your search engine.

> We also offer titles that would be difficult to find elsewhere.

I couldn't find many signs of this in the titles (mainly theatrical films) in my tests - unless you mean a specialty in genres such as anime? Your selection of Criterions is minimal, and of the couple dozen "import" titles in my test I found none (things like "Brother From Another Planet", "Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai", "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, etc").

> We in fact have 3 distribution centres located in Montreal, Toronto &
> Vancouver. In addition to this, we will be opening 2 more locations in the
> very near future to service all of Canada more efficiently. This would
> bring us to a total of 5 National Distribution Centres and would clearly
> make us the leader in this industry.
>
> Without offence, your assumption is wrong. They are not "mail-drops for
> returns and a point where you can express-ship orders from your main
> warehouse (in Quebec?) to insert into Canada Post". We "actually have
> multiple independent warehouses" in each of these locations and we would
> thank you not to falsely advertise otherwise.

Could you describe what your distribution centres actually entail? 3 (much less 5) independent warehouses, requiring staff, their own stock and doing their own processing, filling the majority of the requests for their region, would seem extremely ambitious for a startup. On a per-capita basis this would exceed the 29 shipping centres NetFlix runs in the US, and they have been around for years and in a market with presumably much larger participation rates. You can see why the question comes up.

BTW, should I assume my discs will ship and return to Vancouver (I'm in Yellowknife).

I've done some searching with Google and other means, and can't find any indication that you are doing much national advertising. Your site referenced a write-up in what seemed to be a Quebec men's magazine, and your signup forms seemed to indicate you are doing some local Montreal radio and newspaper ads, but nothing that would seem consistent with the investment in those 5 warehouses and 23,000 titles (all I could find were some search engine listings and some re-publications of your initial press release). ZIP, for instance, has had a number of festival sponserships, web banners, Globe & Mail/Macleans/National Post mentions, and sponsered an contest with CTV for the last Academy awards. VHQ has their entire corporate apparatus and is connected with AirMiles.

> In addition to this, we will soon be offering various packages:

Just as a note, your price points are $5/disc above all the major players
(ZIP, VHQ, MoviesForMe, etc.), who have settled at 4/$25 and equivalents.

> StarFlix is the largest Canadian DVD Rental company based on location
> metrics.

I'm not sure what "location metrics" might mean. As a consumer, I might expect claims of "largest" based on number of customers, number of discs shipped out daily, or largest number of discs owned, although these numbers are hard to come by. Based on their statements and info from their shipping labels, ZIP would seem to be in the 10,000 customer ballpark and ship 5000+ discs daily, with perhaps 100,000+ discs. VHQ claims "access to over a quarter million DVDs", but that careful phrasing makes me think this might include some of the inventory for their physical stores, or some other qualification. Do you have any ballpark numbers for these categories that you'd care to make public?

> We also have a brilliant partner and operator who is a
> Computer Engineer, and he is developing the electronic delivery of our
> service, keeping us at the cutting edge.

I notice your software is a package provided by Jatech Solutions - I don't know if you are connected with them somehow or merely bought it as a turnkey system?

Is there is a phone number I can reach you at for more info?

Regards,

Email I sent to Walter Nov 29 before posting these notes. No response to date.

I received 2 of my 3 trial period discs today. The return envelopes are
addressed to "150-766 Cliveden Place, Delta, BC". A quick Google search
shows this is the distribution centre for Video One wholesalers. I assume
you have some arrangement with them for distribution (or perhaps they are
investors in Starflix)?

On the inventory front quite frankly I can't see 23,000 as anything other
than a misrepresentation. As best I can tell, your inventory numbers run
from 16,000 to just under 33,000, but more than half of these seem to be
"dead", and their titles don't come up using your search engine. Of the
rest some are multiple disc sets such as TV shows, but even taking that into
account my best case guess comes in somewhere under 9,000 unique discs
accessible through your site. Even that would be at the high end for Canada
(except ZIP which has over 20,000), except for your poor showing on the
titles I use for my percentage chart. There also seems to be no way (even
for customers) to determine if a listed title has actually been stocked. I
found a few listings that probably aren't (the "Once Upon A Time In America"
/ "Short Cuts" / "Wolfgang Petersen" examples), but there is no way to tell
how many there might be.

I'm working up some notes on Starflix for my webpages. I have a draft (not
linked yet) at:

http://dvdinfo.ca/StarflixNotes.html

If you would like to provide some more information to clarify my
understanding of your inventory situation or anything else, please let me
know. I'm not sure if you are available through your toll-free number, but
I'll try and give you a call there.

From Starflix reply from Walter, Dec 7. I've given up on them after this - I found this reply to be both unresponsive and offensive.

We have provided you with the information you have requested. After having
reviewed your interpretation of our response, we feel that your
extrapolation techniques are questionable and your reasoning is strongly
based on opinion. We strongly recommend that if you post any information
regarding StarFlix.com, you will ensure that only accurate information is
provided and not your personal opinions.

Furthermore, please refrain from posting any contact information not listed
on the StarFlix.com site and remove any that may already be posted
immediately. This is a legal matter which you may be in violation of and,
in the best interest of both parties, a course of action you may not want to
pursue.

Note: Walter's concern about accuracy are touching, but with all due respect could be best applied to their own website. I stand by my "interpretation". As for the rest, Walter's name (and email address, which I have not made public) were originally provided to me by Starflix. The Vancouver address leading to Video-One was of course printed on the DVD return envelopes. If he is referring to my posting on the onlinedvdrentalguide.ca forums, the only information there is the name of the individual who registered the "starflix.com" website (and is listed as a director of the company), from the public record.