Light and Building 2012 – LEDs need to evolve from the next greatest gadget into a light bulb

Each new LED lamp with its own placard expressing, with great enthusiasm, its features such as dimmability, total lumens and lm/W or claiming it to be the perfect replacement for “fill in the blank here”!
By Philip Smallwood, IMS Research (IHS Inc.) April 23, 2012

At Light and Building in Frankfurt last week, I was first impressed, then overwhelmed by the sheer number of LED lamps on display at the show. Each new product with its own placard expressing, with great enthusiasm, its features such as dimmability, total lumens and lm/W or claiming it to be the perfect replacement for “fill in the blank here”!

As I was leaving one of the many halls at the show, two major thoughts crossed my mind. 1) There sure are a lot of ice-cream stalls here and 2) Consumers are going to have a very difficult time choosing the right LED replacement for their 60 W A lamp.

First, consumers will have to choose between LEDs and much more familiar technologies such as CFLs and halogen lamps. Their choices will be based on the following basic factors:

  1. Halogen, which looks and behaves almost identically (short life and all) to their beloved incandescent, but, is 3-5 times more expensive.
  2. The much maligned CFL, which has a longer life than incandescent but contains toxic mercury, is accused of giving off “too white” light, has a shortened life when turned on and off too frequently and can also costs 3-5 times more than regular incandescent.
  3. LEDs, which can have a very similar light to incandescent, are marketed to have 25 times the lifetime of an incandescent, but also cost 20 times more. LEDs also benefit from the fact that they have been marketed as the next best thing since sliced bread by government, media and industry alike.

Let’s simplify by assuming that there are two kinds of buyers: early adopters and general consumers.

Early movers in this market are more willing to pay the high price of LED lamps but will also be more likely to spend the considerable amount of time needed to learn terms, definitions, specs and distinguishing factors between competitors. As such, they are more likely to go for the “gadget lamp” that stands out against the conventional technology it is replacing. What better way to get their peers to recognize the new gadget and therefore their purchasing prowess.

General consumers will generally go for the halogen or CFL until LED lamp price decreases sufficiently. These consumers will be less likely to conduct as detailed research as the early mover, and will therefore probably base more of their purchasing decision on their “gut feeling” on the lamp. They are not looking for the next best gadget to show their friends, but will be looking to purchase what is familiar to them, a regular old light bulb to fill their empty socket at home.