How Which? is leaving consumers in the dark…
Which? is a leading source of consumer information in the UK, helping people to make informed buying decisions with product reviews and guides. I was a subscriber for a number of years, and used their services to make decisions on significant items, from washing machines to a buggy for my newborn son. However, my trust and confidence in Which? as a credible source of information has been slowly eradicated in recent years, to the point where I am now at the point of cancelling my subscription.
Like many consumers, I used Which? to make important purchases, where I lacked prior knowledge and expertise. Their reviews are designed to fill the gap with expert insights, in exchange for a fee. Although my experience in many fields is limited, having worked in LED lighting for more than a decade, this is one subject that I know inside out.
I’m not here to make a full-blown attack at Which? – their guides on the basic aspects of LED lighting such as lumens, colour temperatures and how LED’s work are all solid and Pratik Desai published a very interesting piece which I thoroughly enjoyed.
However, overall I feel that Which? is misleading customers when it comes to identifying the types of LED lamps available, the state of the market, and the extent of their testing. Let me explain why I feel this is the case, and how they could improve the quality of information provided to their subscribers going forward.
Lack of Communication With the Industry
When I found out that Which? was going to be publishing a new LED lighting test in the June edition, I tried calling and sending messages to Matt Knight, the company’s Light Bulb Expert. I hoped to inform him about the brilliant range of LED lamps on sale in the UK – lamps that are genuine halogen and incandescent replacements with a CRI of 95 and above.
This wasn’t a sales pitch for products my company sells – I also tried to inform Matt about a brilliant company called Sorra. My sole motivation was to ensure that Which? testing would fairly represent the current state of the industry. I’d feel let down if I paid a subscription fee to find a washing machine, only to learn that the best products were excluded from the test; I felt it was in the interests of their subscribers to share my expertise. However it soon became apparent that he wasn’t interested in talking.
Which? LED Lighting Test – Reviewed
The early signs of the test were good. Which? had finally included a section on CRI (Colour Rendering Index), a key quality indicator that I have long heralded, but that is only just beginning to be acknowledged in the industry.
However, Which? brushes over the CRI with a misleading and inaccurate statement:
“one area where they (LED’s) have yet to fully replicate old-style bulbs is with colour rendering index”
Had Matt picked up the phone, he would have discovered that there are now LEDs able to fully replicate old style bulbs when it comes to CRI and have been for a while. Sorra has an LED spotlight with 95 CRI (with market-leading R9 value), whilst we offer an LED Spot with 95 CRI and an LED Bulb with 97 CRI. Our energy-efficient LED Bulb, featured in the Telegraph, will soon be enhanced by an LED Bulb with 99 CRI.
However the highest CRI value for an LED Bulb in the Which? test is 91; for an LED Spotlight it’s only 83. What’s more, their specification chart makes no mention of the actual colour temperature of any of the products tested, essential criteria to make an informed buying decision.
You can see here, using a child’s play matt, how CRI levels are not only vital when trying to re-produce the quality of light of halogen and incandescent lamps, but also can have a significant impact on the appearance of items in your home.
Comparing the Which? Results
With this in mind, let’s compare the Which? test winners against what I believe are the best products in the market:
The results are clear to see – Which? has never tested a genuine halogen or incandescent replacement, and is therefore failing to give accurate coverage of the LED lighting available. They are simply testing bulbs from the biggest brands. The 11w & 7w LED Bulb’s we sell reached the final 5 in the Observer’s Ethical Product of the Decade in 2015, it’s frustrating to see Which? ignoring the small, passionate and innovative companies.
A Question of Quality
However, the issue of transparency goes deeper than this. By testing more products and applying greater scrutiny during those tests, Which? could play an important role in controlling the quality of products it reviews.
Many of the large online retailers sell a huge range of LED lamps at low prices. It’s my belief that many of these are low quality products imported to the UK, in some cases illegally. The Guardian reported that over a 5-month period in 2014, 63% of all LED products tested across various UK ports were found to be un-safe and non-compliant with European laws on safety. However, consumers are given inadequate information to differentiate between products on the market.
For example, there is no credible evidence to suggest a low priced, mass-produced LED product from Asia will have a lifespan of 50,000 hours. Yet countless LED retailers make such claims about their products. Meanwhile, many claim their products are perfect replacements for halogen and incandescent lamps, when in fact they have the wrong colour temperature, wrong lumens and around 20% less CRI.
However, the biggest issue is the potential volume of illegal products imported into the UK and sold online. The Suffolk Trading Standards recently seized and destroyed a shipment of 1000 LEDs, because they had exposed wiring in a metal surround, making them potentially lethal. Similarly, the Manchester Trading Standards discovered around 2500 potentially dangerous LED lights in Oldham in 2014.
According to Fredrik Gronkvist, co-founder of China Imports, 90-95% of Chinese suppliers are ‘unable to manufacturer items in compliance with CE regulations’. This worrying statistic suggests that many consumers are buying products that are not fit for purpose, and possibly even dangerous.
A Final Thought
The LED lighting industry desperately needs regulating. Products and retailers need be subjected to random tests, to ensure their claims are substantiated and that their products comply with European laws on safety. Which? would be in the perfect position to assume this role.
By covering a wider range of products, and applying greater scrutiny during testing, their reviews would not only identify the best products in the market, but the worst too. Personally, I’m sure this is something their subscribers would find of serious value – I know I would.