7 Jul 2015, 7:06pm
living intentionally:
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  • How do you recognise product quality online?

    Buy cheap, buy twice – I keep on doing this to myself, and really need to learn 🙂 The trouble is that it’s hard to avoid – modern consumerism deliberately tries to strip out any markers of quality, leaving us chasing cheap, as Ellen Ruppel Shell highlighted a while ago.

    Three years ago I bought some RGB light strings from a fine Chinese emporium on ebay, which I used for parties outside. When new if I connected power to all RGB strands it would all light up white, but six lots of unrolling and restowing and it’s done for.

    Update 16 Aug 2015 – in rigging the Harvest party I found what the problem is – cable tying these to the poles of the marquee means the bending radius is too sharp when the tape hangs down halfway through rigging. This cracks the solder joints ot the LEDs or ballast resistors. So it was my damn fault – when you get these stick them to something rigid and leave ’em like that. They could warn you of that in the data sheet by indicating a min bending radius, perhaps…

    Whereas the equally Chinese white LED tape I bought five years ago is still going strong. This stuff is made out of three LEDs at a time – the workmanship was so shoddy that half the sections had gone – I bought two 5m lengths and both have become faulty with ratty connections and missing segments.

    should really all be a nice even white colour

    should really all be a nice even white colour

    Perhaps using it outside was bad – although we think of dew as a morning phenomenon, in fact dew descends soon after the sun goes down, particularly in the summer. This surprised me when I observed it, but it is a consequence of the dew point, which falls with temperature. Derigging the equipment at summer parties after 1 a.m. the gear is often damp. Maybe this got into the supposedly waterproof tape and corroded the connections, though it was sold as waterproof 🙂

    Buy cheap, buy twice – it’s an online thing

    Ebay is a marvellous cornucopia of components and bits and pieces – whenever you want some part it’s always cheapest from there. Recently on a design I was making I wanted some TL494 power control ICs – I can pay 50p for these from CPC in 10-up prices or I can pay 13p a throw if I buy 10 from China on ebay for £1.29 – delivery free 1. If I rock up to Mr Texas Instruments and say I want to buy 1000 they will a) laugh me out the door – 500k is probably the minimum order, and b) cite me a budgetary unit price of 21US cents, probably F.O.B. Texas Instruments.

    A pukka Texas TL494, from when they used to make them in the low-cost manufacturing place du jour before the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tianamen Aquare

    A pukka Texas TL494, made by Texas in 1988 from when Portugal was the low-cost manufacturing place du jour before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Whereas the spotty youth in Shenzhen could manage to slightly beat the manufacturer’s price and stick ’em in a Jiffy bag to send over here. The canny buyer will, of course, ask himself some serious questions about the provenance of these parts, let’s just say that the Texas Instruments stamp on the cheaper parts may be a little bit fuzzy and this is probably not an ISO9001 traceable supply chain. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

    Shenzhen electronics store

    Shenzhen electronics store

    The way most sellers of onesy-twosy Ebay goods work from China is you put your order in, and over in China an enterprising young fellow will go down to one of the fabled electronics shops of Shenzen and buy the part and stick it in the post to you. Looks like it pays to be a local here to avoid getting ripped off, but ’twas ever thus. At Huaqiangbei you can nip up to the next floor and check out Women’s World or Carnival Clothing City if you are, ahem, “bargain hunters and brand name copy lovers“. Which explains why so many Chinese ebay sellers of electronics parts are equally at home selling me some LED strips 2 or a girl’s dress. This puzzled the inquisitive Ermine snout, and now I know why.

    Price is not a clear signal of quality in many markets, and it’s hard to gauge quality online

    Once upon a time people used to go into a store to buy things, and when you handle the goods the experienced buyer can often gauge quality – by the weight, the smooth running of moving parts, the quality of workmanship. We’ve lost many of these quality cues when we buy online, leaving us with the basest metric of all, price. Although price can be correlated with quality it doesn’t depend on it – marketing is a lot more sophisticated now, indeed websites can show different prices to different consumers for the same thing, depending on their history. One of the main advantages we got with the Internet is that it allows us to compare by price, so that’s what we do, driving everything down to the lowest common denominator.. Which is great with many things – but it drives us right down to the bottom end for a lot of products. Which is not always where we want to be.

    I don’t know where to go to buy a better RGB LED strip. I could go to these guys, and pay £8 a go. But let’s face it, they probably get their strips from China and mark ’em up – the product image looks exactly the same as my faulty item. For all I know there is one massive company in China turning these out. What I will probably end up doing is getting big 3W LEDs and screwing them to a aluminium rail – at least if I get failures it will be my own rotten workmanship and I will be able to fix it 3.

    In the grand scheme of things this isn’t a big deal, but the quality conundrum is observable in many things now – if you want something a little better than the bottom end quality you have no way of finding a reliable supplier even if you are prepared to pay more money. I can pay more, for sure, but as UTMT said, price is what you pay and value is what you get.

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    Notes:

    1. the price matters here because someone is thinking of using this in a product; for a single unit 37p is neither here nor there.
    2. For the record I didn’t buy the defective LED strips from this seller
    3. I can’t use the obvious route of commercial lighting kit as that’s all 240VAC and I want to run 12V
     
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