Cheap LED lights and Toxic Pricing

A message went across my screen recently informing me that I can buy a 10W exterior floodlight for less than three quid. Ridiculous, of course. But there it was, and it’s not just one company offering bargain basement prices. Where do you want to set your price point? £10.00? £5.00? £2.89 . . .

It set me to thinking. Is there a price point for a light fixture below which it becomes toxic? We’re getting used to silly prices in the race to attract the bottom-feeders among the contractors, but does it ever reach the price when even that dead-eyed crew say; “you gotta be kidding me?”

Two thoughts flicker across my synapses when I see this kind of thing:

  • That fitting has to be rubbish.
  • That company has to be rubbish.

I have absolutely no evidence that either statement is true but, surely,  something has to give somewhere. And it’s not just the reality of a fitting costing that little to buy, it’s actually costing far less to make.

Here it is: if a floodlight is offered online for, say, £3.00 and we assume that the trading company is looking for a typical wholesaler 30% margin, then that company has paid, say, £2.10 for it. If the manufacturing company is looking for a 50% return, then that fitting cost just around £1.05 to make . . . but if there’s a third party distribution source in the chain as well, then we’re down to a fitting that’s being offered for sale in the UK, to operate on the outside of a wall, in all kinds of weather, that cost a few pennies to make.

This is what we know: a modern light fixture is a complex beast, with several points of vulnerability.

The housing: our floodlight will be rated at IP65 – it says. It’ll be a die-cast aluminium body with a toughened glass front. It’ll have a neoprene (or something like it) seal to keep the wet out, and – at a guess – we hope it’ll have a glanded cable entry to keep the water out and the electricity in.

Main point of failure, then? I’d put my money on the seals that keep the fixture safe and dry – unless the extrusion falls into holes, which is possible.

The LED source: well, it will have an array of LED chips, as cold as you like to pump up the output, mounted onto a board pretending to be a PCB. Do we know anything about the chips? We do not.

Main point of failure? Cheap as chips, wouldn’t you say.

The electronics? What would they be? The absolutely bare minimum to get the LEDs to light, I’d suggest.

Main point of failure? Any one of the very small number of components to be found inside the soon-to-be-damp housing.

I don’t know enough about betting odds or statistical analysis to work out the far more uncomfortable truth about multiple failure options, but someone in the UK is prepared to gamble their reputation by offering such a thing for sale.
Do they really think that this piece of quality engineering will survive any length of time?
How can this be a good thing?

There’s an old saying in the sustainability world; ‘a brown company cannot make a green fixture’. Well, I’m left with the uneasy thought that an unfeasibly cheap fixture can only be supplied by an unfeasibly cheap distributor. And why would I risk my reputation with my clients for someone who’s prepared to risk their own future by openly offering such detritus. And I certainly don’t understand any contractor who’s prepared to flush their local reputation down the toilet for the sake of saving a few quid. Do they really think so little of the nice people that are paying them for a proper job?

This is toxic behaviour that can only bring everyone associated with it crashing down.

And let’s not imagine this is only going on with 10W floodlights – does anyone want to get started (again) on LED panels? So if you’ve followed this seething rant all the way from the top to here, you might like to let me know about your favourite piece of toxicity.

Email me at jb@thelightreviewonline.com in strictest confidence, as they say.

And don’t just take my word on this one. I may be the only lighting designer who spends time watching electricians take apart crap LED floodlights (please tell me that there’s someone else out there) but I enjoy watching the likes of David Savery exposing the problems of failed LED kit.

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