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Insight

January is the biggest sales period across the year for Virgin Holidays and the whole travel industry. The misery of the cold inspires Brits to plan their escape, and both airlines and holiday providers pull out their best offers to tempt people to choose them.

For Virgin Holidays, retail has become the biggest single channel for the brand during this sales period, with 49% of sales coming from physical stores (the other half a combination of web, sales centres and trade).

Virgin Holidays retail predominantly consists of concessions within larger department stores or supermarkets, meaning limited real estate. The impact of this seasonal shift puts the stores under considerable strain, causing them to become so busy that queues form, and potential customers give up on waiting and leave the store. Virgin Holidays are at a distinct disadvantage, occupying 100 retail locations compared to Thomas Cook (over 800) and Thomson (over 700), who are more than well equipped to pick up any lost potential-customers.

This was a huge challenge for Virgin Holidays and OMD; launching a cross-channel media campaign that convinces people to use Virgin Holidays, only for them to walk away into the hands of a competitor owing to their frustration of the in-store experience.

Strategy

The agency knew that a holiday can have a transformative effect on a person, and that starts from the moment of booking. It also knew that travel buying is an incredibly visual decision making process, with 61% of leisure travellers saying they view a travel video to help them choose their destination, according to Google’s Travel Study of 2014.

Waiting in a queue is delay to that experience. Time poor customers give up waiting in store because they want to feel closer to their holiday, so if they can’t speak to someone about it there and then, moving onto another holiday provider makes them feel like they are doing something to get their holiday booked. The agency needed to create an experience that could bring the holiday feeling closer to potential customers and make the Virgin Holidays queue one worth being in.

Execution

OMD believed it could transform the holiday sales process by using Virtual Reality as the technology to solve this problem for Virgin Holidays. The agency created a unique solution where stores could occupy waiting customers with a virtual tour of Virgin Holidays’ destinations, allowing them to ‘try before they buy’. Using the latest mobile technology and 360 filming techniques, it built and launched a virtual reality retail experience using Google cardboard technology.

It went on location to Riviera Maya, a key target destination for the target audience, and filmed 360 video footage of the best bits of such a holiday; tours of parks, stays at hotels, swimming with dolphins, sandy beaches, cultural sites of Tulum.

It recorded ambient sound to create a real, sensory experience of what the holiday would sound like. The agency then manufactured and assembled 200 bespoke Virgin Holidays cardboard headsets to roll out to stores. It also created a Virgin Holidays Virtual Reality App, and pre-loaded onto 100 Android handsets, which were locked into the branded headsets. These were distributed to 50 stores for launch on the first day of the sale.

This was the biggest roll out Virtual Reality in the UK to date, and it had to be made easy and accessible for retail staff to use, as they would be key to creating a great customer experience. The agency developed a responsive support site containing training materials for staff on how to use the Virtual Reality headsets and approach customers. It did all of this in-house, and by Boxing Day.

Results

The use of VR had a phenomenal impact on sales and customer experience. Staff fully embraced the technology and created a new type of in-store experience. This kept customers in the stores longer, which staff were then able to convert into sales.

Staff feedback was overwhelmingly positive too, which comments such as:
• “They're helping us to entertain people when waiting, getting them excited rather than leaving them to read brochures.” - Bristol store manager
• “It’s encouraging sales.” - Regional sales manager for Cardiff, Abingdon, Cheltenham.

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Brand:
Virgin Holidays
Category:
Travel/Airlines
Region:
United Kingdom
date:
December 2014 - January 2015
Agency:
Manning Gottlieb OMD
Media Channel:
Experiential,Digital,Retail/POS
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