Optus have announced that they are closing down the Virgin brand, which means along with the 200 staff and 36 stores, over a million accounts will be affected. That’s a lot of customers, and of course Optus is hoping to inherit them – but if you are a Virgin customer, once your contract expires you’re free to choose whoever you prefer.
The Virgin Brand
Virgin Mobile Australia began in 2000 as a joint enterprise between Optus Mobile and Virgin Mobile UK. The brand benefited from the exciting international reputation which went beyond phone plans into areas such as music and travel. Most people were with either Optus, Vodafone or Telstra, so the introduction of a fresh new brand was enticing to consumers.
Virgin Mobile was particularly appealing to the youth demographic. They offered relatively low cost plans, and were one of the first to address the growing customer demand for increased access to mobile data. Initially they included relatively high amounts of data, and then built on that with their “fair data” policy. This meant that customer data belonged to them, and could therefore roll-over and be gifted to other Virgin customers. They also offered high-end phones along with their plans, including making the latest iPhone and Samsung models available to customers.
Virgin Mobile started making changes last year, ceasing all pre-paid plans in December and offering only BYO phone post-paid plans and plans including a phone. Earlier this month, Virgin were receiving awards for customer satisfaction with mobile broadband, and scoring highly in overall customer satisfaction, value for money, customer service and network performance.
So What Happened?
Virgin Mobile have been in the gap between low-cost MVNOs and the three major telcos, providing a mid-way option that still provided a high quality image and great customer service with a relatively good value plan. However, even though Virgin Mobile is owned by Optus, they are still required to pay for the brand and are in competition for customers. Cutting Virgin will streamline their revenue sources and allow them to focus on providing competitive plans and media to customers.
With the massive rise in available MVNO options and a coming shake-up of the market with TPG entering as a major player, Optus have decided to attempt to attract those customers directly to themselves.
What Next for Virgin Customers?
The plan is for Optus to phase the Virgin Mobile brand out over two years, meaning that Virgin Mobile Australia will officially cease to exist in 2020. That gives enough time for people who are on 24 month contracts to finish their contract with Virgin Mobile. After that, it’s up to the customer.
People who do not choose to move themselves to another provider will be automatically switched to a similar Optus plan. However, it’s well worth investing some time in researching options before allowing an automatic switch to take place. Phone plans have drastically increased in value in recent times, and the number of smaller companies entering the market offer a range of choice not available even a year or two ago.
For customers who signed up with Virgin Mobile two years ago, there could easily be plans that offer you almost the same benefits and inclusions for half the price. There are so many options available, it’s worth having a think about the reasons you signed on with Virgin, and finding a plan that could offer you better value.
Staying with Optus
Optus are counting on the majority of customers taking this route, and no doubt some people will simply allow Optus to put them onto a plan by default. However, allowing the automatic switch virtually guarantees that you won’t be getting the best deal Optus has to offer.
Optus are offering a range of promotional plans to Virgin Mobile customers in an attempt to get them to sign on now, instead of waiting to see what happens further down the line. By entering your mobile number and area code, you can find out what Optus is prepared to offer you to make the switch now instead of later. For some customers, Optus are prepared to waive early exit fees for Virgin Mobile customers who switch.
In a move that must be frustrating to existing Optus customers, people who are currently with Virgin are being offered plans that are as much as $15 a month cheaper than those on offer to anyone else. For example, Optus offer 15 GB of data with 300 international minutes and unlimited standard calls and text for $45 per month on a 12 month SIM-only plan. A Virgin customer making the switch would pay only $30 a month for the same plan.
But don’t be drawn in by the attempt to get you signed up without having a look around first – there are plenty of other options available that most people will find are much better value.
Getting a Good Deal
If you want a better value plan, particularly if you signed up with Virgin a while ago, then there are many, many different options available to you. MVNOs are a good place to start – they use the networks that are owned by the bigger companies, so you should get the same service, but generally with better plan inclusions at a much lower cost. If you simply want better value, finding the best plan will mean deciding how much data you need, whether you require special features like low-cost international roaming or international calls, and then choosing the cheapest option.
However, if you’re after some of the other features that made Virgin a great company, you’ll have to look more carefully at your options.
- Optus Network:
Like the Optus network, but don’t want to pay Optus prices? Phone companies such as Moose Mobile, OVO Mobile, Spintel, Amaysim, Vaya and many more use the full Optus network but generally offer lower prices.
For some customers, being able to stream services like Spotify without using their data was a selling point for Virgin. Optus also has data-free streaming available for the same services as Virgin. If you prefer Apple Music, Telstra and Boost Mobile offer data-free streaming for this service.
- Customer Service:
Virgin scored high on customer service this year, but they didn’t win. Aldi has held Canstar Blue’s top spot for overall customer satisfaction for three years running, and also got 5 stars for customer service, so they could be worth a look if customer service is at the top of your list,
- Fair Data:
If Virgin’s approach to data (including roll overs and gifting) was what made you sign up, you might want to look at Belong mobile. Offering a “data vault” that lets customers keep all unused data, they are the only other telco that do data rollover and gifting on a post-paid plan. If you don’t mind a pre-paid plan, there are more options. Telstra and Woolworths Mobile prepaid plans include data rollover, although the amount you can roll over is capped at 50GB for Telstra and 15GB for Woolworths Mobile.
The End of an Era
It’s sad that Virgin Mobile are closing down. We can look nostalgically at their innovative ideas about data, their reliable customer service and the plans that used to be among the best on the market. Especially sad is the uncertainty surrounding the jobs of Virgin Mobile employees. But it’s not all bad news.
Virgin Mobile was a great brand that was well loved by customers, but that can have a downside. Long term devoted customers can become complacent and forget to check if their once-great deal is still the best value available. Staying with a phone company because it’s the “easy option” does not lead to finding the best value plan. The end of the Virgin Mobile Australia brand will force a reshuffle of customers, and could result in a better deal for people who do their research.
Being wary of the easy option also applies to defaulting to an Optus plan instead of making the switch based on your needs. Remember that there are also a lot of options from phone companies which use the Optus full network, including Moose Mobile, OVO Mobile, Spintel, Amaysim, Vaya and plenty of others. They are all more likely to offer good value than Optus or Virgin. Belong Mobile is another excellent, low-cost option with the additional benefits of their “data vault”.
Change isn’t always pleasant, but it can be a good thing. Farewelling the Virgin Brand might mean customers need to spend time thinking about the options that are best for them, but ultimately means more people will access better deals. Virgin attracted people for a lot of reasons, so it’s unrealistic to imagine that Optus will meet the needs of the wide range of customers who will enter the market as a result of the shutdown. Before locking into a contract, make sure you’re comparing your options based on what works best for you.