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‘Worst ever seen’: Shonky Awards reveal Australia’s dud products

·5-min read
Image of shopping trolleys on blue background, woman looks at shelves in supermarket.
CHOICE has taken aim at several Australian products and services. (Sources: Getty)

Australia’s worst products and services have been revealed, including toddler snacks with more sugar than lollies, a consumer advocate service that doesn’t advocate and an “unsafe” financial product.

CHOICE revealed the winners of its annual Shonky Awards on Thursday, with CEO Alan Kirkland expressing shock that after 16 years, it was still required to name and shame poor-performing brands.

“It’s easy to avoid getting a Shonky Award. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver, don’t rip your customers off and don’t sell unsafe products,” Kirkland said.

“Sadly, we keep finding businesses that fail these basic tests. This year’s Shonky Awards highlight some of the worst CHOICE has found in the past year.”

‘Worst ever’ dud fan

Man looks at camera while standing in lab with two dismantled fans.
Expert tester Adrian Lini in the CHOICE Labs. (Source: Choice)

As Australia heads into its warmer months, CHOICE has warned consumers to take care when purchasing fans.

It described a range of knock-off bladeless fans as generic fans offering no wind power.

“These knock-off bladeless fans are some of the worst-performing retail products we’ve ever seen. Their marketing promises smart home features and the design copies fashionable trends, but these are fans without smarts, without power and without puff,” Kirkland said.

“The CHOICE Labs originally tested the Kogan model and found it to be the worst we’ve ever tested but once we dug a little further, we found a number of these knock-offs littered across Australian retail.”

He said the generic fans were available at Harvey Norman, Big W and other retailers but that smart shoppers could find better and cheaper fans simply by doing their research.

‘Unsafe’ buy-now, pay-later

Close up image of Australian $50 notes.
BNPL provider Humm is in the spotlight. (Source: Getty)

CHOICE also took aim at buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) provider Humm, which offers customers access to up to $30,000.

“BNPL products have been deliberately designed to avoid safe lending laws. That means they don’t need to check whether you can afford to repay a debt before they lend you money,” Kirkland said.

“Humm ... demonstrates just how dangerous these products are. CHOICE has asked Humm four times how they check whether they are lending safely and we could not get a straight answer.”

Toddler snack with more sugar than Allen’s lollies

Blonde mother and sun sit at park bench with bowl of sugar, bowl of snakes and bowl of children's fruit sacks.
Choice audience editor Pru Engel and Archie Engel. (Source: Choice)

Parents of young children may often be time poor and exhausted, CHOICE audience editor and parent Pru Engel said.

She called out Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles as featuring deceptive marketing, using phrases like “real fruit” to appear healthy, when actually the jelly strips are 68 per cent sugar.

CHOICE compared the Wriggles to Allen’s lolly snakes and found they had more sugar than the snakes.

“Parents should be able to trust that these products, marketed specifically for young children, are decent snack options that aren’t loaded with sugar," Engel said.

‘Put it in a shredder’

Woman looks at camera with water and plane in the background.
CHOICE consumer rights expert Alison Elliott. (Source: Choice)

The Airline Customer Advocate also scored a Shonky after CHOICE found the body was “basically a complaint-forwarding service”.

The Airline Customer Advocate describes itself as a free and independent service for passengers looking to make complaints.

However, CHOICE warned that the advocate - which is funded by participating airlines - was powerless to investigate complaints or make independent decisions.

“Instead, it will forward your complaint back to the airline, asking nicely for the airline to respond to you in 20 days. And that’s about it,” said CHOICE consumer rights expert Alison Elliott.

“You might as well put your complaint in a shredder than waste your time with the Airline Customer Advocate.”

The advocate also changed its policies in 2020 to the effect that it no longer receives complaints about customers being offered credit rather than a refund.

“From CHOICE’s extensive travel survey this year, we heard from thousands of Australians who struggled to get their money back and received poor customer service from the airlines,” Elliott said.

“The height of the COVID-19 crisis was the time we most needed an independent advocate to help us navigate these tough times. Instead, the Airline Customer Advocate left Australians

Stranded.”

She said the sector desperately needed an independent ombudsman with the resources and power to investigate and make decisions.

“Until then, the Airline Customer Advocate is merely a fake advocate designed to help the airlines avoid accountability.”

‘Pointless’ composter that creates more waste

Woman stands in kitchen with fruit and vegetable scraps, Breville FoodCycler and eco-chips.
Fiona Mair in the CHOICE Kitchen Lab. (Source: Choice)

The Breville FoodCycler claims it will reduce household food waste by up to 80 per cent, however CHOICE found it was “pointless”.

“Why would you want to spend money on an appliance to reduce your food waste going into landfill when you can buy something that virtually costs nothing to do the same thing?” home economist Fiona Mair said.

“We think Breville are taking advantage of people who are wanting to look after the environment.”

The FoodCycler is designed to turn food waste into “eco-chips”, however CHOICE dubbed it an expensive product that simply took up bench space.

While the FoodCycler has an initial purchase price of $499, CHOICE calculated that within five years, replacement filters and energy costs would easily hit $2,000.

“Many Australians don’t realise their local council offers options for your food waste - it’s worth

contacting them to see what they offer or asking them to start a service,” Mair said.

“Otherwise, you can have a simple kitchen caddy sitting on your bench that doesn’t use any energy and can be put to waste in your own backyard.”

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