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Yesterday I recommended Virgin Media's broadband services to a colleague, who is moving flat and said he might leave Sky after a decade or so. He checked out Virgin Media's combined broadband / TV / phone packages on offer and built a bundle worth more than £800 a year. Or so he thought. 

The bundle page suggested that he'd be paying £70 a month, but the following page reduced this to £31 a month. So which was it to be? In seek of an answer he continued along the purchase path, only to be blocked by a form and no indication / confirmation of fees. Perplexed and frustrated, he swiftly dropped out and insisted that I try it for myself. And sure enough, I can see why potential customers would be confused by the way that one-off costs and monthly charges are communicated. 

So here I'll detail the various areas that are ripe for optimisation, to help Virgin Media improve the most important pages on its website.

The first issue is that, having typed Virgin Media into Google and arrived at the site as a customer interested in TV and broadband services, I'm greeted with more of a web portal full of news and entertainment:

This is fine if I want the latest news, but where do customers wanting to get Virgin Media's TV, broadband or phone services go? I'm forced to hunt around for the relevant link.

There is a link above the search bar, but it doesn't exactly stand out. I wonder how many potential customers arrive at the site interested in TV and other services and leave in frustration. Why not make the link to buy services unmissable, and do more to promote them from its homepage? Also, Virgin Media would be well advised to display a unique sales-focused URL on its expensive TV ads, rather than directing prospective customers to the rather generic virginmedia.com experience.

It isn't just Virgin Media. Sky also has a similar portal style homepage which doesn't seem to do enough to direct potential customers to more information about its product and services, though the 'Join Sky' links are a little clearer: 

Since many people with an interest in both Sky and Virgin Media's services will be coming to the two sites having entered the company names into Google, why not do more to sell the TV and broadband packages? I'd direct Google-referred visitors to specific landing pages, or dynamically customise the homepage for these people.

At any rate, once prospective Virgin Media customers have spotted the link to 'more information' about the broadband, TV and phone services, there are a number of bundles to choose from, with a 'first two months free' offer.

Bundling products is a good idea, though the risk of overcomplication exists unless 'chooser' forms work well. But here the main problem relates to the communication of the offer, and the fact that the numbers don't add up...

Having selected my bundle in the screenshot above, I'm told the cost will be £20.50 for the first two months, then £70 monthly after that. However, on the next page, the charges quoted are different.

On the next page (click to enlarge image) I'm told that my total monthly cost will be £31.50. So what happened to the figures quoted on the previous screen?

This kind of thing sets alarm bells ringing for potential customers, and it doesn't get much clearer when looking at the individual monthly service charges in the table above. The figures in the table actually add up to much more than this, thanks to the £120 charge for the V+ service, making it even more confusing. I can see why my colleague bailed out, and I fear it's the tip of the iceberg.

At this point - on the second page of the purchase process - customers will be confused about the actual amount they are expected to pay every month, and if they don't back out at this stage, many are likely to call Virgin Media, putting more pressure on costly call centres when the task could have been completed online.

I went further into the process to see if the charges became clearer, and the summary on this page assures me that step four of the checkout process will be 'confirm your order', which will presumably give me a summary of charges before I finally place my order.

Unfortunately, having filled in address and bank details, I was led straight into a credit check, which - amazingly - I passed. This was a total surprise, since I had entered a made-up name and bank account number for the purposes of testing the process. I expected to be able to cancel my order at 'Step 4: Confirm Your Order', but it turns out that this page is mislabelled. It isn't about me confirming the order, but rather Virgin Media telling me that my order has been confirmed: 

All in all, the product selection and checkout process on Virgin Media leaves a lot to be desired. By displaying sets of figures that don't match and failing to make the actual charges clear, Virgin risks losing potential customers by confusing them.

On top of this, the checkout process is badly designed. The credit check option is obviously completely unreliable if I can pass it with randomly made-up details, while the summary of steps in the process is misleading.

It should be made clear to customers when they are finally placing an order online so that they can review charges and details and check all is correct before they confirm. By promising a confirm order step and not providing it, Virgin is denying customers this opportunity, and many customers may feel tricked when they see that they have actually placed the order.

In a nut, we feel that Virgin Media can significantly improve online conversions - and reduce call centre costs - by improving the buying process, focusing on form (and bundle chooser) design, labelling, and the information displayed on its key pages.

Graham Charlton

Published 12 January, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (11)

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Nat

I'm confused, you say that the figures in the table add up to £58, but they DO add up to £40 as Virgin stated. £24 + £5 + £11?

almost 7 years ago

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George Rosier, Product Manager at Spark New Zealand

Good review here: it's pretty unacceptable for such an apparently-consumer-focussed brand such as Virgin to have this kind of misleading journey at such a critical stage - and, as you say, there're changes that could be made that would most likely see some great improvements in conversion.

I recently had a similar-ish issue with Apple's (of all people!) checkout process whilst trying to find the consumer finance option.

almost 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Nat - Good spot... there was also an £18 charge displayed for TV but the screenshot we've used has chopped that out. We'll see if we can use another one to make this clear, as it did add up to £58.

Despite that, the key takeaway is that different prices were displayed on the bundle and basket pages, which causes confusion.  

Try it for yourself: http://allyours.virginmedia.com/html/bundles/triple-builder.html.

almost 7 years ago

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Dave Abbott

All the bundle prices are quite straight forward to understand, as you add £11 pound to the total when the previous page is under scored with the words. 

When taken with a phone line.  Cheers Dave.

almost 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Dave It's the way that the charges are presented that is misleading. If there is an £11 phone charge, why not add it to the £20.50 for the sake of clarity?

Many web users tend to scan page quickly and what they will see between the two pages is two sets of figures that don't seem to match. 

To make matters worse, the chart with the detail shows a £120 monthly charge for V+, making it even more confusing for customers.

almost 7 years ago

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Nick Coe

The £11 phone line charge used to be bundled into the prices, however when Sky (VM's main competitor) started selling Broadband/Calls with their TV packs they routinely quoted prices excluding line rental - hence (deliberately) making VM look expensive by comparison.

VM then started unbundling the phone line from their price to comparisons with Sky were "fairer".

However, I agree that the way the pricing is presented on the Cost Summary page is awful - especially the £120 "monthly" charge for the V+ box and the way the standard charges after the introductory offer are not shown.

I used to work at VM in Pricing (Business) so this kind of stuff is a pet peeve.

almost 7 years ago

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Gabrielle Hase

Again, proof that even people with the biggest budgets to spend on getting it right don't always get it right.  Or even half right, in this case.

almost 7 years ago

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Matthew Treagus, Managing Director at rtobjects

I've not worked with Virgin and don't know their business;

Websites (or more accurately their designers) are often faced with the challenge of being the first/only place where products have to be presented cohesively to the customer.

On the 'phone the cracks are less obvious, the choices presented are fewer and the sales person takes you through the process and presses all the buttons.

When the underlying systems, propositions and promotions don't hang together - and in some ways compete for space - the web needs to paper over the cracks.

That's what is happening here - the cracks show through - although I've seen worse.

To move this foward the business will need to align around the customer experience rather than the website having to drive it from a user experience perspective.

almost 7 years ago

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Matt Walton (Head of Online Sales @ Virgin Media)

Thanks Chris for flagging this up to us at Virgin Media. We're on the case. You've highlighted a few pricing problems in our basket that are obviously causing some confusion. My team are looking into how we improve this as soon as possible.

Feedback always welcome to help us make our online experience meet the high expectations everyone has of us!

almost 7 years ago

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Patrick Archer

INSTALLATION BY VIRGIN MEDIA                                                               The customer service looks great on paper but is the worst I have experienced from

any company. Not only do they not turn up for the the appointment they do not even

have the courtesy to inform you that they are not coming to as arranged.

My Installation Date 29th March time was 1.00pm-6.00pm . At 3.30 I phoned [ THE TEAM] and was told

the engineer was on his way to me.I phoned again at 4.30pm was told the same.

6.00pm I phoned again and was told he would be with me ,give him a bit more time.

AS far as i can see ,the so could Contact Team have no direct  contact with the engineer.

They are supposed to be a communications company yet the engineer did  not have the courtesy to phone me.

"The Virgin Media Team" have not bothered to check if engineer arrived.

I left a message on the answer phone of the Rep. that took my order.

Up to now not one of these have contacted me.

Patrick Archer

over 6 years ago

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steven stewart

Hi all
After reading this article I was just wondering if any other people out there were having the same problems with fault repairs that I am having?
Have now had an ongoing fault with broadband signal for nearly 3 years
Have had so many visits from engineers, head engineers and area managers that I have lost count
Have had loads of new equipment replaced as well
Recently upgraded to their new 30MB servive to see if that would solve problem but now a service that is worse than ever
On a ping test I am losing on average 80% packet loss making even the most web page hard to open if at all
Strange that when I do a speed test I am actually getting 30MB but have a line rating of "F" unsuitable for Realtime Internet Applications
Antone else having these problems??
Please contact me
stewart124@hotmail.com

almost 6 years ago

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