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Like HMV, there isn't essentially anything wrong with Virgin. I enjoy going there, wandering round and browsing what they have on offer. All the Virgin stores I have been in to date have been very spacious and clean, and it is very relaxing to simply dander around at your leisure. All the stores I have been in have a "futurist" look to them, with metal fittings and panels all over the place, and huge plate glass windows at the front of the store.
The local Virgin Megastore to me (Belfast) was recently revamped to make it even more spacious. I don't quite know how they managed it, as they still seem to carry the same amount of merchandise, if not more. Downstairs in each Virgin Megastore is where music is kept, and it is divided into music and singles. On the singles front, I think HMV do better, they have a larger range of back catalogue singles and their new releases are always more prominent. Virgin’s selection isn't bad, but they seem to rely more on what’s already in the chart. A nice touch here is that they have a small section devoted to local music, and will buy in singles by some of the less well known established acts. Singles are generally as cheap here as they are in all the high-street shops, and you will sometimes find some of the older back catalogue singles on special offer, though these tend to be from artists I've never heard of.
On the album side, again we are divided into back catalogue and new release. The chart albums are displayed along a wall, and are divided up into compilations and ordinary releases. Back catalogue albums are arranged in racks in the aisles alphabetically, and to help they are divided up into sections like dance, R&B and Rock & Pop. Each artist is given their own small section, with dividers with their name clearly marked to distinguish them from everything around them. Classical music is given it's own enclosed section, so that they aren't trouble by the raucous music in the rest of the store. I imagine that’s good if you like that kind of thing.
Upstairs you'll find games, videos, DVDs and books. The range of books they carry are small, generally popular film and TV tie-ins, but they frequently have them in a "2 for £10" offer or suchlike, making up for their lack of choice with a small discount.
Again Videos are divided up - there is the chart and new releases, which gets a wall devoted to it, then also the back catalogue film, which also gets a wall. They are divided up into full-price and budget films, which can make browsing for a particular film awkward if you don't know which section it's in. Aside from that, if you're a cheapskate, it's always an advantage to have the cheap videos highlighted! The rest of the videos are in racks in the centre of the floor, easily divided up into TV, Sport, Music and the like so that you can find the video that you're looking for easily.
DVDs are also given a chart, and everytime I go into the store they seem to have taken over a little more, as the popularity of the format continues to grow. The stuff that isn't in the chart is displayed alphabetically, with a small section for DVDs under ten pounds, although this section is very small indeed.
Games are divided up into the various formats, and there are usually a couple of demo consoles (currently an N64 and Playstation 2) which are popular with the kids. Games are easy to find, as they are arranged alphabetically. Prices are quite competitive here, pretty much on par with everything else in the high street.
There is a section on each floor devoted to offers - usually one on DVDs, one on videos and one on albums. Sometimes the offer can be good, other times it's not really worth your while for the few extra pounds you save. Albums tend to be of the "2 for £22" variety, which although a substantial saving on Virgin prices, isn't that competitive with the likes of Tesco's or Woolworths. The video offers tend to be quite good, often discounts for multiple buys with something like "4 for £20" and the videos tend to be pretty up to date and current. DVD offers have yet to really get off the ground, with offers like "3 for £45" with titles similar to those in the "3 for £39 offer in HMV.
Sale time always tends to be good in Virgin, with some top titles given some real discounts. You need to have a really good look though, as you'll often found some really good offers buried amongst some of the tat. Everyone else appears to have the same idea though, and you'll probably find it hard to get near, but persevere. Usually I come away from the sale with a few decent items either on Video or CD. Never tested them before DVD-wise, but the next sale will be the first time I have a DVD player when they've had a sale on.
Sales aside, Virgin tends to be the same price as HMV, which is too expensive. £13.99 is far too expensive for a chart CD when you can get it online from somewhere like CD-wow! for £8.99. Consequently most of my time in Virgin is spent just browsing. With prices like £15.99 for a video and £19.99 for a new release DVD, my funds don't stretch to shopping there. Occasionally (and I do mean occasionally). You will find a decent price in Virgin, but you'll have to look hard. I confine my purchases in Virgin to sales and singles.
If you're pushing a buggy, Virgin is a great place. The aisles are very far apart, with ample space to get your buggy up and down. The tills are set apart from the aisles as well, so queuing isn't a problem if you have a pushchair. There are a couple of till points in each store, usually two sets on the ground floor and one upstairs, so queues aren't ever too bad. The store also has a great range of listening posts, always with the new releases on, a few from each genre so you can test out albums before you buy. If what you're interested in isn't on a listening post, as the staff and they'll happily put it on for you.
The staff I've encountered have been helpful and pleasant, they have been able to answer all my queries quickly and point me in the right direction. Not only do they have a good idea where everything is in the store, they also have a great knowledge of music or films, depending on what section you find them in. Exchanges I have had to carry out have been dealt with speedily and easily, with the minimum of fuss.
The best thing about Virgin is its instore radio. It's one of the few shops I actually remove my earphones to go into. I can walk in the door and immediately hear some good music, it isn't just chart rubbish, and they play stuff from all walks of music. In fact, it's so good I have known to stay for a little longer than I intended in order to finish listening to a song. That can't be bad for a shop now. I would love it if they started to broadcast nationally, I'd listen! It's a whole lot better than their namesake radio station anyhow.
Another good thing that Virgin do is their instore sessions - occasionally a band will come to the store to promote their new album/single and play a short gig and do a signing. Admittedly, most of this occurs in London, but I met Ash (and got a kiss from Charlotte!) when they played in Belfast. Check your local store and press for details.
All in all, although it's such a good store, it doesn't get that much money from me, which is a shame. Really enjoyable to look round, but not so enjoyable for the old budget. Still, it whiles away the hours....
I've always found Virgin to be to expensive for non chart cds. They also seem to be stocking less and less non chart releases than ever before.
mikeydred 08.05.2001 10:14
I agree its fine for browsing, but vastly overpriced. You get the feeling that they're really just pushing product to a gullible public. I do browse in Virgin, but seldom buy. My total spending at Virgin in the last 12 months has been £10 on two cheapy double albums (Dodgy and Curtis Mayfield). Good Op. Mike
earningstuff 08.05.2001 10:03
i find virgin overpriced at lacking in stock for the bands i like! I have found other places i'd rather spend my money! good op though!