Virgin Trains relaunched its website yesterday with an updated look and feel for the site, which apparently aims to ‘convey the brand’s new positioning of train travel as superior to other modes of
transport’.

I’m not sure whether it does that, but it does look a lot better than the previous version. I’ve been comparing the site with the old version…

Homepage

The new homepage (above) is a big improvement on the old version shown below. It has been centred and now fills more of the screen, while the background picture is better than all the blank space, which all makes for a better first impression. 

Old Virgin Trains homepage

The search box has been enlarged, and the page in general seems cleaner and less cluttered, though the Virgin Trains logo seems to be too small to me.

Searching for tickets

The new search interface provides more help for searchers than the old version, the pop-up calender is easier to use, and little touches such as providing a quick link to search for trains today or tomorrow, or select a same day or next day return saves users the bother of typing in or selecting dates.

Search results

A big improvement here. Now, you can see available times and fares on the same results page, saving an extra step in the process, and making it much easier to decide which train to book.

Also, clicking on the links to see details, such as number of changes or off peak times, produces a pop up box, so the site doesn’t need to send you to another page. Also, mousing over the ticket price will provide more details, a useful touch. 

Also, if you need to alter any of the details of your selected journey, you can do this easily on the same page rather than having to go back to the beginning of the process and start again:

This all worked well when I looked at it last night, but I’ve noticed this morning that I cannot click to select any of the tickets, and therefore can’t book a journey. Perhaps it’s just me, but it is a pretty serious fault if not.

Registration and checkout

After selecting trains and tickets, you need to either login or register to book your journey. This can be a barrier to purchase on most e-commerce sites, but seems to be par for the course on rail websites:

After this, the process is smooth and well designed, form-filling is easy, and as the screenshot below shows, available payment methods, security reassurances and little details such as card security codes are clearly shown:

The checkout process on the site hasn’t been enclosed, so clicking on one of the menu items at the top of the page will take users out of the process. After this, getting back to the payment process is tricky, since there is no basket / checkout link, as you would find on most online retail sites. The only way back in is to use the browser’s back button. 

Conclusion

The new Virgin Trains website is definitely a big improvement on the previous version. Most importantly, the process of searching for and booking tickets is very easy, and compares well with other train websites, some of which can be frustrating to use.