Virgin has unveiled a loyalty app, called Virgin Red, which uses gameification to engage customers from across its 24 UK businesses.

All Virgin customers from across the UK portfolio can download the loyalty app, which offers exclusive rewards and discounts.

Neal May, head of product and data for Virgin, told Essential Retail: "We wanted to be a bit different than standard loyalty schemes by injecting Virgin's fun and personality."

He said the main objective of the app is brand engagement as customers are encouraged to take quizzes and play games in exchange for points which unlock competitions and curated offers.

Virgin Red has been working closely with the other businesses to align user experience and communications. Customers can currently verify their details for three of the Virgin businesses – Atlantic, Trains and Media – but May said the app is not a central data-sharing initiative to improve customer visibility across the company.

The brand wanted to develop a loyalty programme for several years, but May said it has been difficult to bring all of the separate companies together.

"We're hoping to create a positive feeling towards the brand and increase spend across the company, increase retention and introduce Virgin customers from one brand to another," he explained.

Mobile app v mobile web

On choosing to create a mobile app on iOS and Android, rather than developing mobile web functionalities, May said it was about "convenience and utility".

"It's convenient to play a game or look at an offer when customers have some downtime, it's fitting to their lifestyle. While there's an element of utility – it's on the move, rewards are for a free coffee in store, so they want to show the voucher on their phone," he said. "Native app rather than mobile web, we think it's a better design and feel and that's what customers would expect from us."

The app is based around gameification – the more the customer engages with the app through quizzes and content, the more points they accumulate which unlock rewards – like 2-4-1 coffees, free prosecco with a meal at Jamie's Italian or discount on wine.

"We didn't just want to reward with points for spending pounds," said May, who noted he looked at schemes like the Marks & Spencer's Sparks Card for inspiration. "We wanted something a bit more fun, which disrupts routines and is engaging – people get bored of loyalty schemes and have certain expectations."

Creating the app in this way also removes it from existing loyalty programmes like Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club. "We're working with Atlantic to make sure the user experience is beneficial on top of what they do, not trying to compete, so customers will gain extra points if you have a flight number as well, and will be rewarded with related offers and extra content on Virgin Red."

Virgin partnered with DMI International to create the app in six months and it was softly launched last summer. Virgin and DMI have spent the last year rapid prototyping and user testing to ensure it is ready for launch today. 

The app is hosted on the Google App Engine and built using Java. It also uses Big Query for reading data, Swrve to gather analytics and Stripe for payments.

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DMI International