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Virgin Trains Ticketing: Digital Transformation in Transportation 

    Virgin Trains Ticketing (VTT), launched in the summer of 2022, is a train ticket app that lets you plan and book your rail journey and get rewarded for doing it.
    A start-up challenger brand to incumbents like Trainline and the train operators, VTT offers a way to purchase train tickets across the national rail network; earn 3 points for every £1 spent; split tickets to save money; and use points to make savings.
    VTT engaged Hippo in late 2022 to enhance delivery capabilities to further enable this user-centred service and increase the pace to market.
    We provided back-end software development, product management and design, delivery management, business analysis, data science and engineering expertise.


    Mark Plowright, Director of Virgin Trains Ticketing.


    VTT’s delivery of this new service was through, Brightec, an app development and design supplier. Virgin Red asked Hippo to partner with Brightec on this service to ensure collaboration and smooth scaling of delivery teams.
Key areas requiring attention included:
  • Scaling the 1 team to 2 core teams and a discovery team, providing capabilities to supplement the incumbent Brightec.
    Integrating with the Virgin Red platform and loyalty capabilities to give the service a unique selling point over its competition (earning and redeeming points for buying tickets).
  • Scaling the program to increase feature development in 2023 to get to feature parity with its competition quickly to ensure maximum market penetration.
  • Discovering opportunities for a web channel (rather than just an app) to ensure its viable for the business plan in 2023.
  • Understanding the value the channel could drive and the costs/tie to implement against other features.
  • Ensuring the platform is scalable and resilient for the expected customer volumes reducing issues and support requests for users.
  • Designing and developing a data strategy to monitor, report and use data to inform decision-making maximising value.
  • Designing and implementing a content strategy for the service to ensure clarity and consistency of messages to help users use the service and ensure operations are efficient.


Solutions we provided
  • Back-end software development
  • Product management and design
  • Delivery management
  • Business analysis
  • Data Science and Engineering
    Before the contract start date we facilitated a co-design session with the current team leads across Brightec and Virgin to establish the new team structures. We used this to inform our recruitment process ensuring not just the right skills and experience but the right leadership strengths and team fit. We landed people in cohorts with planned onboarding sessions to meet the team, learn about the product to date & tech stack as well as facilitate ways of working sessions to get alignment from day 1. We ensured pair working for the first sprint, followed by observed working the following sprint, allowing dual running from the third sprint. This allowed us to get the teams onboarded and up and running in 4 weeks delivering value back to the business quickly.
Web discovery
    At the time of engagement, web retailing was a completely unexplored channel within VTT. Therefore, to effectively guide the project we ran several discovery activities, outlining the opportunity and covering everything from product goals and competitor analysis, to target audience mapping and stakeholder prioritisation sessions.
    This allowed us to create a roadmap of activity for web MVP and the first 12 months of delivery, with the immediate focus falling on improving the accessibility and SEO performance of the existing VTT website.
    In parallel, Hippo initiated a technical evaluation exploring collaboration opportunities with the wider Virgin Red group. This included evaluating existing technology stacks, with an ultimate recommendation to switch from a Single Page application architecture to a Server Side Rendering approach.
Redeeming points for tickets
    As the project began moving forward, an existing integration with SilverRail API was identified that allowed users of the mobile app to make successful train bookings. However, no integration allowed VTT to purchase train tickets that used Virgin points as a method of payment.
    Therefore, Hippo were able to successfully architect and develop a solution that allowed Virgin’s Customers to use their accrued points to purchase a ticket. Hippo were given 6 months to deliver this feature end to end, including creating a great user experience on the mobile app.
    Although challenging, Hippo managed to deliver on time and as such gained a reputation within Virgin Red for meeting our milestones!
    One of the main challenges was to seamlessly allow both methods of payment to be made against a ticket purchase with SilverRail and, if required, to refund said purchases accurately back to the customer. This step-changing capability was delivered and deemed a huge success both for SilverRail and Virgin Red.
    Virgin Train Ticketing is the only SilverRail customer that utilises both payment methods, it had never been done before.
Data strategy
    A further, critical part of the project was to create a robust data strategy that would underpin the VTT service and serve as a vital foundation to enable data insights while the service scales.
    Close collaboration between Hippo’s analytics lead and senior strategy and marketing stakeholders established logical, easy-to-understand and measurable KPIs and metrics. These formed just part of a self-serve business intelligence suite, ensuring that key operational teams had access to the insights they needed on demand. Dashboards developed to date include:
  • Monthly and weekly KPI monitoring (8 key KPIs tracked against targets with contextual information)
  • Weekly ‘Flash Report’ for quick performance updates for senior stakeholders
  • Trends and Behaviours dashboard for a more granular view of key performance metrics, along with a breakdown of customer demographics and ticketing and travel choices
  • Campaigns dashboard for monitoring the performance of paid ad campaigns, and acquisition via various channels
  • Customer Engagement dashboard for understanding the customer journey through the app, as well as monitoring behaviours of different customer segments (in progress)
  • Journey Explorer dashboard, which maps the most common journeys in and out of a given train station and highlights revenue and customer volumes for specific journeys
  • Points Redemption dashboard, to provide a closer look at how customers are making use of the option to use their Virgin points to redeem against their train ticket
    A full exploration of existing data and filling the associated gaps ensured Virgin were basing decisions from an informed position. Bringing together data from multiple sources provided a fuller picture and ensured stakeholders had a consistent view of performance and customer behaviours.
    As a result, richer insights into successes and recommendations were regularly delivered, optimising service performance in line with customer segments and industry trends.


    Achieving our goals on time gave Virgin Trains Ticketing every chance to meet their yearly revenue and customer growth objectives. Across 14 Releases so far (to August 2023), Hippo has provided value across several key areas:
  • The launch of split-ticketing functionality – allowing users to find cheaper train fares
  • The ability to earn and use Virgin points when purchasing train tickets
  • 66 individual accessibility improvements made to the app to improve user experience
  • Google Wallet integration – enabling users to add e-tickets to their Google Wallet for easy access
  • Adding Marketing consent to help share offers with our users
  • Integrations with Branch and Braze – allowing customer analytics, relationship management and tracking increasing insights to help improve the end-to-end service
  • 10 improvements to the user experience of adding a railcard to a ticket search
  • Customer reporting and data analytics are embedded and built to ensure product prioritisation is data-driven
  • Backend improvements, monitoring and alerting to ensure the service is robust
  • Enabling promo activity at pace, such as Double Points, gives VTT’s customers an even more rewarding experience
    Since Hippo joined the project in January 2023, the service has seen significant growth:
  • 130% increase in revenue, increasing on average 13% month on month
  • Bookings are up by 140% over the same period and an increase of 14% month-on-month
  • New customer acquisitions are up 130%, 16% month on month
    This is only the first stop on our long and successful journey together. Additional value will be added to the VTT service platform including Live Departure information, promotional offers for first-time purchases and Virgin ID login integration.
    Work will also be completed to continue to improve the after-sales process and implement top-level accessibility standards for an optimum user experience for every Virgin customer.