10 Nov 2013, 6:08pm
frugality savvy shopping:
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  • Poundland are cynical con-artists

    We make so many consumer purchases now, that we don’t think about them or educate ourselves about what we are buying. We often go for the easy metric, which for most of us is price. The modern consumer is thus often price-conscious and value blind, and places like Poundland play to this. They simplify the price bit, so as a result value is simple never mind the quality, count the quantity. After all, Martin Lewis shops at Poundland, so it’s gotta be good, right?

    everything's 93p this week. suspicious minds might think it's due to the <99p shop that's opened opposit to replace QD

    everything’s 93p this week. suspicious minds might think it’s due to the 99p store opened across the way 🙂

    Poundland had a discount offer when I was in town, so I thought I’d take advantage of it to uncover some subtle price-gouging

    Batteries. So many. Such good value. So cheap. So, er - crap? Zinc Chloride? Why'd they bother importing this shite from China, FFS?

    Batteries. So many. Such good value. So cheap. So, er – crap? Zinc Chloride? Why’d they bother importing this shite from China, FFS?

    Such good value. 10 batteries for less than £1. Bargain! Pile ’em high and flog ’em cheap. An ermine’s inquisitive snout was piqued, and I encountered battery technology that was already identified as seriously second-rate in the 1970s of my schooldays.

    1311_zncl_P1060127

    Yup. Before Sex And the City polluted our minds with a different sort of pink battery powered rabbit, there was the Duracell Bunny, that tireless campaigner for the alkaline battery made by the Mallory Corporation.

    In the 1960s and 1970s all common batteries were of the zinc-carbon or zinc chloride type. They were crap – they had sod all capacity, and started to fade as soon as you started using them. Mallory batteries were the non plus ultra of the battery world then – longer lasting and only fading in terminal voltage towards the end of their useful life.

    promoted heavily, these took ever so slightly longer to leak and wreck your battery compartment than the SP2 variant. Poundland's bringing back 40-year old technology because people are price sensitive and quality-blind

    Promoted heavily in the 1970s, but still crap, these zinc chloride batteries took ever so slightly longer to leak and wreck your battery compartment than the SP2 zinc carbon variant.

    However, service life wasn’t really the main problem – after all in those distant days the only battery powered devices in common use were torches and transistor radios, none of the widespread motorised and heavy loads of today. The reason we moved on from zinc chloride battery technology was this

    zinc chloride battery failure mode

    zinc chloride battery failure mode

    The suckers eat the zinc metal casing in the process of generating power, or even sitting on the shelf due to self-discharge. Eventually the gunk inside gets to break out and ruin your device. Charming, eh?

    In theory these are ideal for low power devices that are used rarely, such as clocks and remote controls. However, unless you religiously change all the batteries every year, the blighters will leak and gunk up your devices, and corrode the contacts. You need to wash out all the gunk 1, then dry the battery compartment out. Then remove the corrosion from the battery terminals because it is insulating and gives you ratty intermittent behaviour. A Dremel with the brass, not steel brush on slow works well, as does wet and dry used dry. Steel wool can work, but you easily get strands of steel left behind which is all very exciting when introduced to a battery.

    Let’s get some science into the subject. One of the great things that has happened in electronics over the last 10 years while I was sitting behind screens coding after The Firm got out of hardware has been the introduction of the microcontroller, a simple single-chip microprocessor and associated bits. In Europe we tend to favor the Atmel range with Arduino, but because of my interest in low-power sensor design I use the US-favoured PIC series, and constructed this panjandrum to measure the service life of these batteries.

    Poundland battery tester

    Poundland battery tester

    Every minute it reports the voltage and current from the batteries running through a 2.5V torch bulb, the third bulb is maintained at 2.5V to provide a reference. It transmits the signal using radio to a datalogger. I got a camera to take a picture every 15 minutes, as a video the results are reasonably clear.

    The left-hand bulb is powered by the ‘cheap’ battery that Poundland sell for 9p, the middle is powered by the ‘dearer’ alkalines they sell at about 17p.

    Alkalines - only six, not 10. I will sprt the £2 one day to test how much more capacity these have than the cheap ones

    Alkalines – only six, not 11. Obviously dearer then.

    It all happens a bit quickly in the video, but the results from the datalogger clearly show that you get more than twice as much power from the alkalines, and they have a much more stable terminal voltage too.

    Battery life of alkaline and zinc chloride batteries in Poundland

    Battery life of alkaline and zinc chloride batteries in Poundland

    If we take the service life as the time for the battery voltage to drop by a third to 2V (for two 1.5V batteries in series, which is the most common torch configuration) then you get 1.7 hours from the cheap ones and 5.8 hours from the alkalines. Therefore the twice as dear batteries last three-and-a-half times as long. You get 1690mAh from the alkalines and a lousy 481 mAh from the zinc chloride batteries if you run them to the 1V/cell point.

    special offer at Poundland - woohoo

    special offer at Poundland – woohoo

    Nowhere does Poundland or the original manufacturer  provide you with the information you need to make an informed choice here. It’s particularly crap that Kodak/Strand don’t provide this info on their website – WTF is the point of the website if they don’t give you details of the battery capacity? It’s full of waffle and garbage about Kodak’s trade dress. George Eastman must be turning uncomfortably in his grave at what the stupid tossers have done in turning a  pinnacle of research and innovation into a purveyor of ‘trade dress’ to tart up cheap Chinese batteries so that Western consumers can be fooled into paying more for less by pound/dollar stores. Instead of useful capacity info, there’s some meaningless waffle

    Is this suitable for a torch? Buggered if I know, what does low powered equipment mean?

    Are these ZnCl batteries suitable for a torch? Buggered if I know, what exactly does low powered equipment mean, Kodak?

    What does it all mean? Damned if I know, and I’m a chartered engineer and worked in the electronics industry for many years. What does low power mean? Is the 300mA of my torch bulb low power or high power, Kodak?  How do I check my device for suitability? Where do the words ‘Heavy Duty’ fit in with ‘low power’ you oxymoronic gits? Let’s take a hint from the old geezer Lord Kelvin, who quoth thusly 130 years ago

    When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.

    Lord Kelvin

    Lecture on Electrical Units of Measurement” (3 May 1883)

    Howsabout it? I’d say by the piss poor performance of the ‘cheap’ batteries that the low power line should be drawn at about 50mA, but I wouldn’t normally think of a torch as a high power device. 2 A shaver, yes, a kid’s RC toy, yes, digital camera, yes, Carrie’s SATC pink rabbit probably yes, but a torch?

    Bet Carrie uses alkalines. It's a high power device - doing a lot of work ;)

    Bet Carrie uses alkalines. It’s a high power device 😉 As the man said in the ad, Duracell batteries can make fun times last a lot longer. ’nuff said.

    In terms of the energy you are buying 3, which is what you buy batteries for, the dear batteries are in fact the cheaper ones and the cheaper batteries are the expensive way of buying power. The cost of running a 2-cell torch with cheap ZnCl batteries is 10p/hr and the cost of running the same torch with dear batteries is 5p/hr. Plus you get to change them a third as often and a reduced risk of gunkage which has to be worth something in itself.

    It was plainly obvious that Poundland were shifting a lot more of the ZnCl batteries, cynically abusing their customers’ inability to make the right call with the information supplied, and marketing the ‘lots of batteries for a pound’ to make twice as much money out of their customers. While doing this they’re shipping twice as much weight from China and creating twice as much waste. No doubt they would say they are simply providing consumer choice, it’s out of our hands. There’s a lack of integrity in selling things like this. I can think of only one use for the ZnCl batteries, which is if you are going to give a child a toy for Christmas that makes an irritating noise then you may be prepared to pay double for your power so the pain only lasts a third as long 😉 But you really should ask yourself some searching questions about what you are doing and the example you’re setting in that case…

    We discovered that in the 1970s that you get longer runtimes from alkalines, and you don’t get to chisel corrosion out of your kit, but it seems Poundland is taking advantage of generations who don’t remember that – I don’t recall seeing many ZnCl batteries for sale in the 1990s or early 2000s though they never totally disappeared. Poundland is promoting an obsolete 40-year old technology because people have become price sensitive and quality-blind, so they can make more money out of them. The value for money equation has two sides – the value you get and the money you pay for it. Focusing just on the money side leads you to rotten value at times. We seem to have become inured to that, and become trained like Pavlov’s dogs to always follow the lowest price in a race to the bottom. You’ve got the science here. Don’t buy trash, it’s better for your wallet and better for the environment 😉

    Poundland also sell a lot of gizmos to discharge those batteries so you come back for more. Take this battery discharger

     

    Can't use rechargeables

    Can’t use rechargeables

    It draws 15mA from two AA batteries. You will observe Poundland reminding you to go get yer batteries bottom left.

    AA alkalines - great (probably okay on zinc chloride too, the terminal voltage is the same)

    AA alkalines – great (probably okay on zinc chloride too, the terminal voltage is the same)

    These things are designed not to work right from rechargeable batteries 4, which is by far the cheapest way to run standalone Christmas lights. Remember I was paying 21p/kWh from the mains and £72/kWh to Poundland for their alkaline batteries. Even if I lose 5x the power in the inefficiency of the charger and battery cycle 5 I’m 70 times better off. As an added bonus I can get 1/3 more runtime from a 2400mAh rechargeable. However, if you try that you will find the LED string is dim as a Toc H lamp and no earthly use to anyone.

    Gutless at 1mA with rechargeables

    Gutless at 1mA with rechargeables

    I went to Poundland last year after Christmas to see if they were selling Christmas stock off cheap, but they weren’t – they’d cleared the shelves overnight for a new range of junk. I wanted about 20 of these things, because an Ermine can make these work with rechargeables – you order three-battery switched battery boxes on Ebay, wait three weeks to get them from China and then unsolder the wire from the old two cell battery box and swap the resistor to run the LED string at 20mA off three NiMH rechargeable cells. I get to reuse the original two cell box elsewhere. On taking this to pieces I discovered what Poundland did with their unsold Christmas stock from 2012.

    What Poundland do with the unsold stuff - store in in a damp environment for next year, I guess ;)

    What Poundland do with the unsold stuff – store in in a damp environment for next year, I guess 😉

    They store it somewhere damp and flog it to us next year 😉 The 20Ω series resistor looks just ready to short against the battery terminals too. You can’t get the staff anymore in China it seems…

    So overall I think it’s game, set and match. Poundland are cynically selling an obsolete battery technology to extract more money from customers, along with devices that can’t use rechargeable batteries. But of course it’s a discount store and everything’s only £1 so it’s great value. Kodak can do with a mention is a supporting role, along with Strand Europe with a gong for most useless website of the year award.

    Welcome to the World of KODAK Batteries

    Strand Europe are delighted to present to you the world of KODAK Batteries. From the brand known as its excellence in photography over many decades, comes a range of quality batteries to compete with the very best in the market. Enjoy browsing our site to see how we can support you in your use of our products.

    Support us in any way other than telling us some basic facts like the capacity and the absent great big warning that using these batteries may knacker your gear.

     

    Notes:

    1. obviously without soaking your item in water or getting it into the works
    2. I was slightly unfair on Kodak when I wrote this, as I’ve since discovered this page which indicates that these are suitable “For common household appliances, our zinc-chloride heavy duty range is meant for everyday use such as toys, flashlights, clocks and remote controls”
    3. the energy available during the service life was 0.6Wh for ZnCl and 2.2Wh for alkalines. I paid £141/kWh for ZnCl and £72/kWh for the alkalines, as opposed to 21.4p/kWh from the wall socket from those nice Frenchmen at EDF
    4. rechargeables have a terminal voltage of 1.2V as opposed to 1.5V, and it is the 0.6V lower voltage that conveniently stops you using them with the Poundland lights
    5. this is an overestimate – you lose about 14% of the power over the battery charge/recharge cycle
    20 Mar 2013, 10:06am
    rant:
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  • Cait Reilly was out of order about Poundland, but not half as out of order as the Government

    Cait Reilly shot to fame as the woman who was too special to work for her Jobseeker’s allowance because she was too busy with more important things to do with her time. In particular she wanted to do her work experience in a museum rather than Poundland.

    Now my experience of work has usually be that he who pays the piper calls the frickin’ tune, so evenually when I came to be sick of the tune I had to tell the piper to get on his bike. Then you don’t get the pay, natch. So as far as I am concerned Reilly’s case doesn’t wash. In the end if the DWP is paying you, Cait, and they say you go  to Poundland, well, you go to Poundland. Or you stop claiming JSA. The choice is yours.

    Cait Reilly in Poundland

    Cait Reilly in Poundland

    However, Reilly pressed her case through the courts, and the law of the land as it stood at the time found in her favour. Which in the end is as it should be. I’m entitled to shoot my mouth off here but the whole point of living in a complex human society is that you need organised ways of determining rules and we have one. And it found that Cait Reilly was right and the DWP and I were wrong.

    We have Parliament, which makes the laws, and the judiciary, that interprets the laws, and that’s because tough experience in human societies shows that when the guys who make the laws do the intepreting and applying it all tends to go downhill and ends up with some Big Cheese saying “You lot damn well do what I say and I call the shots round here”. The more swivel-eyed nut-jobs think we’ve already got that but I’m not one of them. Although Britain has its problems at the moment they pale into insignificance compared to the issues of some human societies at the moment that have ended up with the “I call the shots round here”, and if the price of that is that the Cait Reillys of this world get their way and a free ride at the taxpayer’s expense then that’s not too bad a price to pay for holding the thin line against mob rule 😉

    Parliament is perfectly entitled to say, having seen this debacle, that no, what they meant to happen agrees a lot more with my view on things than Cait Reilly’s. And obviously I think that’s a Very Good Thing. But what I am most certainly not happy about one little bit is the attempt by the DWP to create a retrospective law to avoid paying out the JSA that was denied to jobseekers up to now because they were wrong.

    The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.

    Hello Iain Duncan Smith and the government generally. What exactly is it about unlawful that you don’t get? We’re going to a bad place when the Government shows a disrespect for the laws they make, and retrospective legislation is always a disrespect for the rule of law. Law only has meaning when it is knowable, and if people can come back in time and change laws retrospectively, then anything can be made unlawful.

    So back off, IDS and call off your dogs. By all means change the legislation from this point on, so that precious princesses like Cait Reilly do get it – claim JSA and you bloody well do what the Jobcentre tells you to do. But since that did not hold when her JSA and that of others was docked then bloody well pay it back, with interest and accept you screwed up.

    After all, the West Coast cock-up cost 50m and rising simply because of a lack of common sense – that’s what you get when you run an operation with consultants rather than competence – you end up not knowing what you’re doing. So less of this ‘protect the national economy’ bullshit. You protect the economy by plugging this particular loophole from now on. You don’t protect the economy by overturning the rule of law, chumps. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Cait Reilly deserves the money that was withheld. But she should get it, as should anybody else who was in that situation, because the Government needs to  respect the law.

     
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