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Internet company bitten by internet - but blames growing pains

Canyon Bikes is under fire from frustrated customers on social media, some cancelling orders after delivery dates were pushed back – in one case to next April, eight months after the bike was ordered, and six after it was originally due to be delivered.

The German brand, which has a direct-to-consumer business model, says the move to a new factory coupled with teething problems following the implementation of a new IT system, are to blame. It insists it is clearing the backlog of orders.

But other issues raised by unhappy customers on Twitter include failure to respond to questions about delivery dates through multiple channels, plus incorrect or multiple billing.

Some have even bypassed UK customer service altogether, contacting CEO Roman Arnold directly in the hope of resolving problems.

He’d written to customers in November to explain the issues the company was encountering.

However, several Canyon customers have contacted road.cc in recent weeks to express their concerns about the service – or lack of it – they have received.

One, Jos (we’ve withheld full names) told us he’d ordered a bike in August, paid for it in September, and been promised delivery in October. He’s now been told to expect it in April.

Another, Phil, sent us a picture of the box containing a Canyon bike he received in late December, almost three weeks after he cancelled his order; a few days before it arrived, his card was charged the £1,699 cost, but he said that earlier, the company had tried to take £5,000 from his account.

Other customers contacted by road.cc include Guy, who bought a Canyon bike in February,  receiving it 11 days later, and who then decided to order another bike from the brand to use in the winter.

After ordering the Canyon Inflite 9.0s on 20 November, he was told it would ship 10 days later; the date was put back to 14 December, then 21 December, but no bike arrived.

He spoke to Canyon UK on 23rd December who said they would email Canyon Germany, promising a reply by 28th December.

“I’m still waiting for that reply,” he told us. He said he had twice tried calling Canyon, spending half an hour on hold each time without an answer, was unable to contact them via the chat function on their website, and received no reply to tweets.

“I then emailed a formal cancellation over and tweeted Canyon saying the same again,” he said. “I’ve had zero response to either.

“Bearing in mind the number of people I’ve spoken to who have cancelled and then had either money taken or bikes then actually sent to them I’m not overly hopeful of this cancellation taking effect,” he added.

A fourth customer, Elliott, said that when he was told the bike he had ordered in September wouldn’t ship until March, he emailed the company’s CEO to complain.

He accepted a discount on a past season’s bike, only to be told later it was no longer available.

“At this point I was furious as I hadn't gotten anywhere, it was absolutely ridiculous and having done some research I'm not the only one in this boat, a friend of mine had a similar experience and just gave up in the end and bought a different bike from a different manufacturer,” he said.

Having set his heart on a Canyon, he persevered, but says that despite the company offering him a 10 per cent discount, the paperwork he has received does not take that into account.

He has continued to pursue his order via the CEO and received a shipping order in mid-December, then another yesterday; he’s now wondering whether two bikes will turn up.

So, what’s gone wrong with a brand that many swear by for providing a lot of bike for a lot less money than much of the competition?

Well, it seems in part that Canyon is a victim of its own success.

A move to a new factory in Koblenz in October to meet rising global demand was accompanied by the rollout of a new IT system that proved to have some bugs in it that needed ironing out.

While in the planning stage it may have made sense to do both together, hindsight suggests that the company had not accounted for the potential disruption that would cause.

Canyon brand manager Frank Aldorf, who is based at its head office in Germany, told us that those changes were accompanied by a surge in demand, partly as a result of the success of riders from teams it sponsors, such as Katusha.

Migration of orders from customers who had ordered before the IT system changed caused problems too due to incompatibility issues, while customer service representatives would check the database to confirm a despatch date one day, only for it to be pushed back the next.   

Meanwhile, customer services in the UK at least were becoming overwhelmed, with 1,000 emails and 600 contacts through its website chat function each day.

A reduced staff over the Christmas and New Year period didn’t help the situation at a time when angry purchasers were using their own downtime from work to chase the company.

He admitted that the company’s recent performance had not matched the expectations customers have of it, and told us it is working round the clock to remedy the situation; of 15,000 orders outstanding at the start of October, some 2,000 remained unfulfilled by mid-December, although that is still around one in seven customers who remain disgruntled.

"From our standpoint, all the compelling reasons why a customer would choose a Canyon have in no way changed,” he insisted.

“Canyon continues to stand for the highest quality possible and for excellence in product design, in order to provide the very best riding experience. Here our demands from ourselves are no less than those of our customers.”

Nick Allen, UK market manager for Canyon, told us: “We are aware of the teething issues and subsequent delays and take them incredibly seriously and I can assure you that both myself and the team here in the UK are working extremely hard to ensure we give the best level of customer service we possibly can to ensure the levels of outstanding customer service we expect.”

The reality of doing business these days, however, is that consumers can now vent their frustration about poor customer service – or, their perception of it – on social media.

So brands – and especially internet pure-players with a direct-to-consumer model – need to reassure potential and existing customers that they are delivering on their promises.

If you’re thinking about buying a Canyon bike and your research takes you to the company’s Twitter page right now, you may think twice given other people’s recent experience; some have said as much on internet forums.

As Guy said says: “In the space of six months Canyon have managed to turn me from a fan (the Ultimate is a superb bike) into a very unhappy now ex-customer.

“The lack of communication from anyone senior at Canyon addressing this up front and explaining what is going on is an object lesson in how to not deal with your customers.

“Yes they’re great value and superb bikes, but the low prices are no longer worth the grief involved with actually getting a bike from them.”

Canyon have promised that they are committed to turning rectifying the problems.

Aldorf said: "The current situation is simply the unfortunate consequence of truly astronomical growth. Canyon’s brief history and staggering product demand is unparalleled in the bicycling industry.

“And, as we have struggled to accommodate this astonishing growth, we have fallen short of providing an equally positive consumer experience.

“We are confident, however, that all our recent investments and changes will enable us to achieve customer service on par with our products, and that we will be able to put these growing pains behind us in the next one to two months.”

Customers waiting on orders will be looking to the company to fulfil that promise.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.