I recently had occasion to buy a bedside lamp. I am not a fan of the harsh overhead lighting style known as the ‘main light’. I prefer side-lamps in the living room, and as little intrusive light as possible. I thought it might be nice for me to have one by the side of my bed. If I wake up early, it is very dark in Beetley, and a small lamp means that I don’t have to use the big light in the bedroom.
I didn’t need anything fancy. Just one of those small pottery round bases, with a shade about six inches across. As our local branch of Tesco is a ‘superstore’, selling almost anything you might need, I thought I would try there first. I quickly found exactly what I needed, in a neutral colour, complete with fabric shade. Fully wired, and complete with a sealed plug. The plug is fused, but has no real third pin for the earth, just a stub. So if the bulb blows, it will trip the electrics in the fuse box. But they are all much the same, so I bought it.
How much would you expect to pay, for a complete lamp like that? I thought I would go to £20, and happily pay that for something I not only wanted, but actually needed. I knew that I would have to pay extra for the screw-in bulb to go with it, but that’s life. But I looked at the price tag, and was surprised to find that the lamp and shade cost just £5. This big chain store can buy this product in, allow for shelf space to display it, and expect a decent profit from selling it to customers. And all for £5?
The clue to this was in the country of origin. ‘Made in China’. I cannot imagine how low production costs must be in that country, to supply a pottery base with approved EU wiring, and a sturdy fabric shade too. Then they have to promote it to foreign buyers, pack it into a carton, and send it by ship or aircraft all the way around the world, to end up in a shop in central Norfolk. Trying to break down the overall costs; salaries, shipping, raw materials, marketing, all just made my head ache. How can they possibly sell this for the relatively paltry sum of £5? People pay more than that for a ‘designer coffee’, in some trendy establishments.
I should be a happy customer. I got my lamp, and it works well. But I couldn’t help wonder how all this had destroyed similar industries in Britain. Paying Chinese people a pittance to work in factories making those lamps does not sit well with me. It doesn’t just spell the end of manufacturing in this country, but also does nothing for the individuals in China.
I had to buy a bulb of course. That was made in Britain, and cost me £2.50, half the price of the complete lamp. Is this what they mean by ‘Market Forces’, I wonder?