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The woes of owning C&B Seen cycle lights
Categories: Life

I’m a keen all-year cyclist, and accordingly I do a fair bit of night riding. Since I live in a British city, being visible on the roads while on the bike is important to me. For a few years I have used front rechargeable lights of Chinese manufacture and British import; I started off with a MagicShine, and then moved to C&B Seen (See & Be Seen). These companies occupy the same gap in the market – the equipment is neither awful nor high-end, and in each case it is backed (theoretically) by a UK company and warranty terms that are better than anonymous overseas sellers.

I find myself wanting to record my experience of C&B Seen, as it has been extremely mixed, and my most recent interactions with them caused me to wonder if they were going out of business. Sometimes they have been enormously helpful, and sometimes my patient enquiries have gone unanswered for months. I think they have gone through a change of ownership, which has completely changed the quality of their customer service. I have finally given up with them, and decided you get what you pay for: I have purchased an Exposure Race Mk14, which costs about four times the price. Hey-ho, if it keeps me safe on the roads…

The good-old days

I started off with a 1200 Lumen Bike light (similar to this one) which features a head unit and separate rechargeable battery. This was not a bad unit; it offered a reasonable number of power and flash modes, and the road coverage was impressive. However, the leads entering the head unit were being chafed by a sharp edge on the body, and were causing the battery management system to cut out. To C&B Seen’s credit, the owner (at that time, in 2013) was not only willing to send a replacement kit, but was happy to shoot the breeze via email, and discuss possible product improvement issues that would be raised with the manufacturer.

I then had a couple of battery failures. The first in November 2015 was out of warranty, and so I spent some time tracing the issue, and found that the connecting lead on the battery side had a loose connection. I replaced the wire (with some snipping and soldering) and was able to make use of the pack for a while longer.

In January 2016, I upgraded to the 1900 lumen kit.

In August 2016, I had a second battery failure, caused again by a faulty lead. I sent it back to the company, who replaced the lead, and sent it back in a working condition.

By December 2016, I had already done various bits of re-soldering on battery leads, and found myself contacting the company to request spare female-connector leads. Memory does not serve me well, but I would guess I undertaken four or five separate wiring repairs, and I was wondering whether all this frustration was worth the time and effort I was spending. Roger at the company, quite used to receiving emails from me at that point, was happy to send out leads for the cost of postage.

In February 2017 I sent details of another lamp-side cable strain relief problem, which was resulting in difficulties turning the lamp on. Again, Roger responded at length, and assured me that the unit would be replaced under their two-year warranty. By this stage, my patience was starting to fray, but I was buoyed by the company’s willingness to keep sending replacements.

In September 2017 I requested more battery side cables, which were gamely supplied. Reading my old emails, I am perplexed why I put up with these problems for as long as I did – I wonder if I was just regarding each failure as an isolated event, rather than increasing evidence that the products were not fit for purpose. Now that I am forced to consider them together, my patience looks rather foolish, but we live and learn.

Going downhill

Having now apparently outed myself as a masochist, it should make no difference to my shredded reputation if I own up to purchasing a C&B Seen City Slicker all-in-one front lamp unit in September 2018 (yes, I know).

I had some website problems when I was placing this order, and once again, corresponded by email to sort it out. By this stage, the company had changed hands, and it is interesting that all email replies from this point forward were anonymous. I outlined some woeful security practices I had noticed with the website, and someone thanked me for reporting them, but I have no idea if they were fixed.

Two months later, the rubber bobble on the power microswitch fell off the new unit, and so I requested a replacement, which came in the mail.

In July 2019, I was starting to have troubles charging the lamp. I had hoped that given there were no unreliable cables involved, connection issues would have been consigned to the past, but apparently not! To start with, I was able to wiggle the charging USB cable, and eventually the green charger lamp would turn red; I suspected a main-board soldering problem. Eventually, this stopped working entirely, so on 27th July I sent an email.

I sent a reminder on 2nd August, and I finally received a reply on the 5th August. I was invited to return the lamp, which I duly did on 10th August. It was signed for at the company’s returns address on the 14th.

On 31st August I sent a new email asking for a progress update, as I had heard nothing. I sent another terribly polite email on 5th September, noting that not having good front lights was not ideal from a road-safety perspective. I left a voicemail on 11th September; this prompted a belated email reply on the same day, which said they were “away”, and that they “would be back next week”. Again, the responses were anonymous.

On 7th October, I left another voicemail.

On 10th October I emailed again, and addressed the message to the current directors of the company. I explicitly asked if the company was still in business. By this stage, the C&B website had started to exhibit technical problems (an expired security certificate was causing browser security warnings that would have discouraged customers from making purchases – this was shortly replaced with an invalid certificate, which caused the same set of difficulties).

On 16th October, finally, a replacement lamp was put into the postal service, and I collected it on the 19th. As of today, a slew of emails still remain unanswered. The main question of whether the company is in operation is rather a hard one to answer; there is clearly still someone at the other end, but whether they will stay in business, or whether they want to, could reasonably be said to be in doubt.

Summary

The bottom line when reviewing a company’s performance is to combine an assessment of their products and their service. With C&B Seen, this is not an easy judgement to make. To start with, I take the view that given the consistently high failure rate, the company’s products are just not up to snuff. I have not put these lights through heavy load, misuse or inadequate care, and yet I have experienced an embarrassing catalogue of failure and unreliability.

The company’s customer service, on the other hand, has had a long period of being exemplary. The original owner offered excellent product warranties, made fair-minded judgements about whether to replace or repair, and to my mind was willing to side with the customer, even if he might privately have suspected the units were not being cared for correctly. Indeed, so reasonable was this service that it has now caused me to wonder if the business model was based on selling cheap products in bulk, and regarding a high frequency of returns as a viable long-term business plan (though not a very environmentally sound one).

My guess is that when the business changed hands, the new owners were not willing or able to carry on the same level of service. They may have lost faith in their products, or, given the woes they have had with their e-commerce site, they may have had a dispute with their technology provider. Perhaps they just didn’t have time to focus on the business they had bought, or their overseas supplier let them down, or maybe they suffered a personal crisis that meant that the business had to be abandoned for long periods. While I sympathise with the pressures on any small business owner – I am one too – I cannot in good conscience tell people to keep shopping here.

In the meantime, I have a lamp in my possession that I can neither rely on nor sell. I suspect I will give it away, with appropriate caveats.

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