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Brand Promise: LED bulb industry committing ‘nightlight’ robbery against consumers on value for money

Some Brands of LED Light Bulbs in Nigerian Markets

*The LED light bulb manufacturers have made a promise that their products will last anywhere between 6,000 hours and 50,000 hours but they reportedly have failed to deliver on this brand promise to millions of product consumers across the world

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

In what experts have the ‘night light’ robbery, LED bulb industry has ensured that consumers keep buying light bulbs that are nowhere close to their promised lifespan of between 6 and 20 years.

There are grounds for suspicion that perhaps this industry has fallen back to the days of the infamous Phoebus cartel, which ensured that the old filament-based light bulb’s lifespan was reduced from 2,500 hours to 1,200 hours, reports India Today.

If consumers don’t have to replace their light bulbs, then, they will not need to buy new LED bulbs.

It was learnt that experiences across countries around the world indicated, that in many cases, after about a year, the LED light starts blinking.

Whereas the LED bulb manufacturers have been promising at least 20,000 hour-long life of bulbs.

However, some have asked if the LED bulb industry really wants consumers to have light bulbs that last forever.

Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya, in India, stated: “A promise is a promise.”

That was one of the famous statements of Ratan Tata when he launched the Tata Nano, after a few years of delay and cost overruns.

The Tata Nano was launched at Rs 99,000, ex-showroom, to reflect the promise made several years ago that it would be a Rs 1 lakh car, report said.

Despite inflation, and several price-related challenges, Ratan Tata stuck to his promise.

So, what does Ratan Tata’s promise have to do with the “night light” robbery?

The problem is that LED light manufacturers had made a promise that their products will last anywhere between 30,000 hours and 50,000 hours.

If an LED lightbulb is kept switched on for four hours a day, every day, then 30,000 hours of life roughly translates to over 20 years.

Nigerian consumer experience with LED bulbs

ConsumerConnect reports  several consumers, in the past years in the country, had got habituated to changing their LED light bulbs, otherwise known as the “energy-saving bulbs” in local parlance with promises of lifespan by many bulb brands ranging from two to three years.

However, after the initial razzmatazz and publicity about the bulbs, checks revealed that within weeks, months, and most times barely a year, the LED light starts blinking, and it forces consumers to replace the substandard with another LED light bulb, which price has continued to increase in the Nigerian economy in recent years.

Likewise, in view of all manner of imported substandard LED light bulbs into the country, especially from China, some have complained of several brands of bulbs lasting for just days with no tinge of any value for their money.

As a result of the illegal activities of importers of these counterfeits, market regulatory agencies, including the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) have not been to curtail their excesses as many importers of these fake products continue to flood the country’s markets with many fake brands of LED light bulbs, beating the market regulation.

Whereas the whole premise of switching from cheap filament light bulbs to extremely expensive LED ones was based on the calculations of “power savings” over the life of an LED bulb, which would make the lifetime cost of the LED bulb lower than the incandescent bulb, according to report.

Subsequently, observers have asked if the promise of six or 20 years of the life of an LED bulb does not hold, then does the economics of an LED bulb itself hold?

Why should people use LED light bulbs and not use conventional incandescent or fluorescent lights in order to get value for money?

The bigger question mark is, does the LED bulb industry really want consumers to have light bulbs that literally last forever, which will then be a death knell for the industry?

Brand value and suspicion of LED bulb industry’s conspiracy theory

Report also indicated if consumers don’t have to replace their light bulbs, then they will not need to buy new LED bulbs, which means once they have bought all the lights that are needed, the LED bulb industry will shrink drastically?

Some have asked if the scenario is a conspiracy theory that the LED manufacturers are “purposefully” reducing the lifespan of their bulbs, or is there any substance to such a possibility?

LED bulbs seem to be in grip of what appears to be a neo-Phoebus arrangement, report stated.

The startling fact is that the lighting industry did actually collude in the past to curtail the life of incandescent light bulbs. And any industry player who did not follow the diktat of this cartel was punished, according to report.

This cartel was referred to as the Pheobus Cartel, based on the name of the organisation that they created – Phoebus plc Industrial Company for the Development of Lighting”. This was incorporated in Switzerland.

The cartel included well-known manufacturers from the United States (US), Europe, and Japan, who operate to date.

So, what did the Phoebus cartel do? The bizarre actions of the cartel were discovered by the historian Markus Krajewski.

Besides controlling production and slicing out different geographies to players in order to limit competition, the lighting industry realised that with the advancement of technology, the bulbs were lasting several thousand hours.

In fact, some bulbs from that era, are still functioning, report noted.

So, the cartel started pouring in resources to actually work on shortening the life of the bulbs and limiting them to 1,000 hours, in order to force consumers to continue buying the bulbs, an unethical practice that is now labelled as “planned obsolescence”.

In parallel, they put in an audit system that forced manufacturers to conform to the 1,000 hours of bulb life goal.

It was learnt that Slstringent penalties were imposed on manufacturers whose light bulbs lasted more than the prescribed hours. This ensured that the industry had the market, year after year, as consumers would line up to buy new bulbs after their old ones stopped working after roughly 1,000 hours in several economies.

The cartel’s system worked brilliantly. Within a decade of the cartel coming into existence, the lifespan of a bulb was brought down from an average of 2,500 hours to less than 1,200 hours, report said

And even though the cartel stopped functioning by 1940, its impact has stayed till today.

These days, when you buy an incandescent light bulb from the market, its life will be roughly around 1,200 hours, half of what it used to be in the 1930s.

The exploitative practice reportedly also led to the creation of the strategy of ‘planned obsolescence’ that infests consumers’ laptops, smartphones, and a host of other smart devices, where bloat wares are injected into their machines under the garb of “updated software”.

And the moment a new model is launched, magically, some of the older models become slow and the battery life suddenly diminishes, according to report.

As noted earlier, lighting industry did actually collude in the past to curtail the life of incandescent light bulbs.

So, that brings us back to the issue of LED light bulbs and their real-life being closer to 2,000 hours (roughly 2 years) and certainly not the promised 30,000 hours to 50,000 hours.

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