At Brightec, we have decades of experience developing top-quality applications that get our clients noticed, win them more customers, and ultimately deliver an unforgettable user experience. As experts in app development, we know what people want and we develop applications that meet needs and create connections.
That’s why in 2020, Virgin Red, Virgin Red’s new rewards club, approached us to help build out their new loyalty platform and help them to come up with exciting new ways to reward existing members and attract new members too.
For half a century, the Virgin brand has been renowned for providing unique and exceptional customer experiences across the Virgin group and Virgin Red is now the red thread that connects all the Virgin companies together. Using one universal currency - Virgin Points - which never expire, Virgin Red celebrates its members for living a life more Virgin by giving them exclusive access to rewards from the Virgin group and beyond.
Anyone can sign up to Virgin Red and start earning points to spend on everyday treats and extraordinary experiences. Virgin Red also makes it easy to support local communities, charities and the environment. In the UK, members can earn and spend points with Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money, Virgin Experience Days, Virgin Wines, Virgin Voyages, Virgin Active and Virgin Limited Edition, as well as some of the UK’s biggest retailers including John Lewis, TK Maxx, Wickes, Dunelm, Clarks, Lego, Halfords, Greggs, ebay and more.
One of the many things we love about the Virgin brand is that everything it does revolves around its customers and Virgin Red is no exception. The rewards club is always looking for new ways to lift experiences out of the ordinary and surprise and delight its members.
In 2020, the team decided that they wanted to launch a new train ticketing feature as part of Virgin Red. This new service would take something ordinary - the necessity of purchasing train tickets - and make it extraordinary by giving members the chance to earn points on their everyday travel. The service would not only reward existing members, but also help attract new members into the Virgin Red rewards club.
As with most Brightec projects, we began with a Discovery Phase. This provided an invaluable opportunity to find out more about Virgin Red, their members, and their vision behind the train ticketing service. Over a period of six weeks, we met with the Virgin Red team to discuss the app and gather information that would inform the development process. We collected this information in the following ways:
Workshops: We hosted workshops with the Virgin Red team to explore its vision behind the app and the feasibility of developing a ticket booking system within the existing Virgin Red application.
User Testing: User testing is an essential element of the app development process as it helps us assess the usability and accessibility of digital applications. Through user testing, we learned how Virgin Red members interact with the platform, as well as what works for them, and what doesn’t. This information informed the design of the new service.
Prototypes: An application of this size requires multiple rounds of technical prototyping. This is always a fun stage for our team. It lets us showcase what an app is going to look like and how it’s going to work. Prototyping also gives us a chance to quickly and easily explore new avenues and try out various ideas. The Virgin Red team was overflowing with creative ideas, so we were never short of inspiration!
User Research: In-depth user research helps us understand what users are looking for when booking train tickets and what they respond to. Creating an app with the knowledge of what users want from it is a reliable way to ensure success. We worked closely with Virgin Red’s user research team to integrate multiple rounds of research into their customer base. The data we collected from this stage helped guide and refine the app development process.
Technical Design: Surfacing multiple systems from multiple teams takes some significant planning. To create a robust application, we needed to onboard existing codebases, assess architectural choices, and explore API and data structures. The creation of technical designs got the whole team on the same page before we even wrote a line of code.
In September, the design and development of a minimum viable product began. Working as an extension of the Virgin Red team with their delivery and product managers, as well as other third parties, we collaborated to ensure that all developmental challenges were thoroughly solved.
Through detailed app design and development, we addressed performance and memory limitations, network speed, cross-device compatibility, battery consumption, and assisting with app store releases.
Working within React Native, we produced some middleware to sit between the train's data and the application. We designed everything in Sketch, version-controlled with Abstract and handed over designs through Zeplin. Carrying out multiple rounds of user testing to ensure users would understand and enjoy the proposition.
The application was built within an agile framework running two-week sprints. Working closely with the Virgin Red team to plan the work in short cycles allowed us the opportunity to meet regularly to discuss any issues, overcome any roadblocks, and keep the project running smoothly together.
As a team, we reflected on each two-week period and used this information to improve upon our approach for the next two-week sprint. This helped us continually refine our processes and streamline the app's development.
At Brightec, we know how important it is for applications to work seamlessly across a range of technologies and devices. Applications that work well on mobile only to fail on the web can be damaging to a brand's reputation, so prioritising web app flow is essential.
Therefore, during November our primary focus was to develop a seamless web app flow. Led by our web engineers, the web app mimics the design, aesthetics, and usability of the mobile application on the web, ensuring the Virgin Red brand remains consistent across all platforms.
Before the app was released, it had to pass certain accreditation criteria from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to ensure it was ready to handle user demand. The app was subjected to careful testing to ensure it could handle everything from basic journeys to complex ones, including the uncertainties of travel; from late trains and ticket cancellations to multiple changes and rail replacements. Following this extensive testing, we were reassured the app was ready to be released to the public.
We are delighted the application has received an overwhelmingly positive public response. The application is making travel more convenient and more enjoyable for Virgin Red members, as well as helping them to earn Virgin Points to spend on everyday treats and extraordinary experiences. Hear what users have to say about the app:
“I was very pleased with the easy joining process and the ease then to link it to my Virgin Red account which worked straight away.”
“Great App and even better support. I think they are working 24/7 to iron out any bugs and make sure all is ok for everyone”
“Great app. Brilliant functionality, easy to use. “
Brightec’s ethos is to produce meaningful technology that makes people’s lives better, so knowing that thousands of people will use and benefit from Virgin Trains Ticketing on a regular basis is something we take great pride in!
Our team loved this project from the get-go. It was fantastic and inspiring to work with the Virgin Red team and we are grateful to have learned new things and grown as a team during the process.
We’ve already begun work on the next Virgin project and it’s a big one, so stay tuned because there is more to come…
If you liked the sound of this project and you are looking to develop something on a similar scale, get in touch. We welcome all kinds of app development projects and would love to share how we can help.