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.