Mind the gap between the train and the platform. That’s our story in a sentence. Once a train operator, now an independent rail retail platform. We spent more than 20 years running trains up and down the West Coast mainline, connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and more. We helped boost passenger numbers and local, regional economic growth. That journey came to an end in 2019 and since then, we’ve been busy working on Virgin Red, a rewards club that helps you get more from your everyday.
You can earn Virgin Points on your favourite brands from the Virgin family – or by shopping with one of our many specially selected partners. And with everything from the biggest brands in retail, travel and entertainment to smaller, exciting new start-ups, earning points couldn’t be easier.
Rail travel is crucial in our collective pursuit of NetZero. Rail supports £43 billion GVA in economic growth, 710,000 jobs, and £14 billion in tax revenue. Yet, it is facing acute challenges today and volumes are still at around 80% of pre covid levels. What’s more, when polling 2000 UK consumers, Virgin found that rail travel was the least rewarding industry for loyalty.
In 2021, we created Virgin Trains Ticketing. The perfect everyday gateway into Virgin Red. A mobile platform through which customers can book their commute, leisure journey or business trip via any GB train operator and earn 3 Virgin Points in the process. VTT was initially embedded in the Virgin Red, before going standalone in Summer 2022. You might think we’d have had enough of rail, but that simply wasn’t the case. We saw an opportunity to shake things up, to challenge stale incumbents who we felt were missing a trick in terms of making customers feel special, making travel by rail more rewarding.
The small but perfectly formed team behind VTT is made up of Virgin Red expertise (powering our unique connection with the rewards club), Brightec, a software development company specialising in mobile apps, and SilverRail, the technology partner providing access to GB rail inventory. Together, an awesome outfit who have launched an app and its respective features, aimed squarely at customer satisfaction, at pace. VTT is led by Director, Mark Plowright. A rail industry professional formerly of Eurostar, Virgin Trains East Coast and London North Eastern Railway.
VTT has been on an intensive journey over the past year. Primarily we’ve focused on giving passengers more choice, becoming a credible retailer in a very competitive space. To even register with customers, we’ve had to nail a whole carriage-load of hygiene factors, so we built handy functionality like ticket-sharing, the application of railcard discounts and putting e-tickets in a digital wallet.
We discovered first and foremost that customers want the cheapest fares. To address that need, especially given this cost of living crisis, we went above and beyond to develop split ticketing functionality in a matter of months. Our innovative functionality enables a customer to find a split ticket by searching in the app, saving them up to 70% versus the standard fare. Since March 2023, 12% of all bookings now include a split ticket. Complex functionality delivery at speed.
VTT’s biggest opportunity however is in the rewards space. Capitalising on the unique relationship with Virgin Red, we’ve awarded more than 9.5m Virgin Points to rail passengers since launch. Cross pollinating customer bases means those passengers can turn their everyday commute into treats from Gregg’s sausage rolls to cinema tickets, through to discounts on Virgin Atlantic flights. We’ve gone one step further. This Summer sees the launch of ‘Pay with Points’. So not only are customers rewarded for their travel, but they can also save on their journey or pay in full using points accrued in the app or via another member of the programme.
VTT is great outlet for Virgin’s purpose, ‘Changing business for good’ to flourish. An in-house accessibility audit for example, highlighted 87 app issues that would impact users who relied on assistive technology, such as screen readers. To date, we have resolved more than 70 of those issues and intend to make accessibility ‘front and centre’ by achieving AA standard this year.
It’s amazing reflecting on the busy year we’ve had, being able to look back at functionality that is changing the game for the rail consumer. It’s especially pertinent to be able to surface the best value fares, combined with rewards, when the cost of living crisis is having such an acute impact on the lives of everyone. To win this award would be a hugely welcome pat on the back for a team that has worked exceptionally hard since VTT was conceived, with the customer firmly at heart.
On being finalists for Mobile App of the Year at the UK Business Tech Awards, Mark Plowright said “What better first birthday present than being shortlisted for App of the Year in the UK Business Tech Awards, celebrating the UK’s finest tech businesses”.