The 2012 Shonky Awards

CHOICE's awards for the shonkiest products and shoddiest services are back.
 
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01 .The 2012 Shonky Awards

Shonky-Awards-lead

As usual, this year there were plenty of contenders lining up for the awards you’d think nobody would want. So who gets the lemon gong in 2012?

And the winners are...

CHOICE's annual Shonky awards recognises and reprimands misleading claims, false advertising, lack of transparency, faulty goods and/or poor service.

You can help decide which of the eight CHOICE Shonky Award winners is the Shonkiest. Vote now!

Video: The 2012 Shonky Awards

We hand out our Shonky Awards for 2012 in Sydney, after casting our eagle eye across the consumer landscape to find the shonkiest products and services.

 Samsung  

Having tested 170 washing machines over the last six years, the 7kg Samsung SW70SP top-loading machine takes top prize for water consumption - the Shonky prize, that is, and that’s nothing to cheer about. 

Using 224L of water on its auto-sensing mode to wash a 3.5kg load of clothes earned the machine a score of 0% for water efficiency. 

Unfortunately this enthusiastic water use didn’t translate to a great wash performance – though to be fair its rinse performance was top notch. Read more or Back to top.


 Liquipel  

Liquipel is a nanotechnology coating for phones and other mobile devices that claims it “can now make your phone water safe, supporting a long and receptive life”. It does this by applying “an invisible coating to the inside and outside of your electronic device, giving you optimal protection against damage from accidental contact with water”. 

We had some iGadgets Liquipelled and put them to the test. After sending four iPhones to a watery grave, it was apparent that the Liquipel claims, unlike the Liquipelled gadgets, don’t hold water, making the $99 service a false reassurance and a complete waste of money. The only iPhone to survive was a ‘control’ phone that wasn’t Liquipelled! Read more or Back to top.


 Exit-Mould-Coles-Ultra  

When CHOICE investigated bathroom mould killers this year, we were astonished to learn that they don’t actually kill mould. These alleged mould killers can’t penetrate porous surfaces, like grout, which is where mould tends to party. While it may look nice and white post-spray, courtesy of the bleach removing the colour, the root structure remains entrenched in the grout, ready to sprout again and party another day. 

It gets worse: the bleach can actually erode and corrode grout and tiles, making them more porous – and more receptive to future mould festivities. Read more or Back to top.


 Ticketek-and-Ticketmaster  

We pay a lot to see big international acts in Australia, but it’s the issue of the additional ticketing charges, courtesy of the ticket selling duopoly Ticketek and Ticketmaster, that’s so irksome. By the time you add the various credit card surcharges, handling fees and service/delivery fees, it’s extortion. 

And what about the rort where you still have to pay the service/delivery fee if you print them out yourself? On your own printer. With your own ink and paper. Read more or Back to top.


 Cabcharge  

You book a taxi, take the scenic route down to Shonkytown and hand over your credit card – whereupon you're hit with an additional 10% credit card surcharge. But according to Cabcharge, the company responsible for the payment processing infrastructure in cabs, it's actually not a 'surcharge'. Rather, Cabcharge says, it "applies fees on financial services rather than as a surcharge on the underlying transaction."

From January 1 next year, new surcharging rules come into play courtesy of the Reserve Bank, whereby surcharges have to reflect the true cost of providing the service. Naturally, Cabcharge reckons it won't be affected by the new rules… because it's not a surcharge. Read more or Back to top.


 Jetset-Travelworld-Group  

Our shonky radar bleeped into overdrive when we discovered, buried in its terms and conditions, that Jetset and other members of the Jetset Travelworld Group (Travelworld, Harvey World Travel and Best Flights) requires you to waive your chargeback rights in its booking terms and conditions.

Chargeback is a service that allows you to apply to your credit card company to get your money back if goods or services you’ve paid for with your credit card aren’t provided. CHOICE believes chargeback rights are vital when it comes to travel, particularly international travel where insolvency isn’t usually covered by travel insuranceRead more or Back to top.


 Natures-Way  

Shonky loves homeopathy. The idea of selling water for upwards of $1000 per litre and claiming it’s medicine represents the very essence of shonkiness. But convincing anxious or desperate parents they can use it to treat their children’s ailments takes it to a whole new level. 

Introducing the Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicine range of homeopathic remedies for various ailments. Being homeopathic, the harm doesn’t come from the stuff itself – it’s effectively water with blackcurrant flavour. The harm comes from it doing nothing for your children in the expensive and mistaken belief you’re doing something. Read more or Back to top.


 Toblerone  

Picture, if you will, a gathering of 16 people, ready to tuck into their 400g bar of Toblerone, which conveniently contains 16 serves – according to the packet. But as serve number 15 takes the last mountain piece, a problem becomes apparent: 16 serves but only 15 pieces. 

And it’s not just the 400g Swiss chocolate-y mountain range that suffers a number of serves versus number of mountains disjunction. The 200g range has 15 pieces and 8 serves and the 50g has 11 pieces and 2 serves. Yep, it's as cuckoo as a clock! Read more or Back to top.

 
 

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shonky-Samsung-SW70SP-lead

The Shonky for
Wash not, waste not goes to... Samsung SW70SP

After testing 170 washing machines over the last six years, the 7kg Samsung SW70SP top-loading machine takes the prize for water consumption. The Shonky prize, that is, and that’s nothing to cheer about.

Using 224L of water on its auto-sensing mode to wash a 3.5kg load of clothes earned the machine a score of 0% for water efficiency. With a 4-star official water rating, the Samsung sits mid pack among its mates, but this is calculated using a standard test, not the autosensor program we tested – and we believe consumers would use. Meanwhile, the top-scoring machines overall used only one-quarter of that amount of water, while the most water-frugal machine, the 10kg LG WD14060D6 front loader, used only 37L!

We know what you’re thinking: more water means a better wash, right? Wrong. In fact at 62%, its score for dirt removal is one of the lowest on test. Its rinse score, however, is another story at 99%. Yep, it ranks numero uno for rinsing, absolutely trouncing the opposition with the runner-up scoring a mere 98% with a few equal-thirds lagging way behind on 97%. All right, so it’s not that much better than the rest, but a win’s a win, eh Black Caviar? Meanwhile, our desert dwellers’ delight, the LG, scored 78% for dirt removal and a not-too-shabby 82% for rinsing.

The good news is that Samsung can shake off its reputation as The Great Imitator – it’s out on its own with this one!

Update

NSW Fair Trading has written to Samsung to explain the findings by CHOICE.

CH1012_SHONKYS_LIQUIPEL

The Shonky for 
Don’t try this at home, folks goes to... Liquipel

Liquipel is a nanotechnology coating for phones and other mobile devices that claims it “can now make your phone water safe, supporting a long and receptive life”. It does this by applying “an invisible coating to the inside and outside of your electronic device, giving you optimal protection against damage from accidental contact with water”. It seemed a little too good to be true, but with the gauntlet thus thrown down, we duly sent off some iGadgets for Liquipelling.

Test time. First we conducted a test inspired by the Liquipel promotional video, which showed them generously dousing an iPhone with water, and leaving it fully submerged – contrary, it should be pointed out, to their disclaimers which say you shouldn’t do this. Their phone suffered no apparent ill effect. Unfortunately, our iPhone and iPad did, almost immediately. So it’s pretty much a case of do as I say, not as I do – not to mention misleading advertising.

Our second round testing, including a shower, a brief dunking and finally submersion, found that the Liquipelled phones fared no better than untreated control phones, with one of the untreated phones surviving unharmed. The Liquipel claims, unlike the Liquelled phones, don’t hold water, making the $99 service a false reassurance and a complete waste of money.

Meanwhile, four of the five test iPhones, went to a watery grave, and the iPad sustained permanent disabilities. Speaking at the funeral, a distraught Steve Duncombe, our Head Tech-head, stated grimly, “We did not expect them to die. We looked at Liquipel’s video, we read their press release, and we believed them.”

Liquipel: it’s homeopathy for iStuff.

Update

Based on CHOICE testing that showed the manufacturer’s claims are false, NSW Fair Trading has issued a substantiation notice under the Australian Consumer Law that requires Liquipel to justify the advertised claims.

04.Exit Mould and Coles Ultra Mould Remover

 
Exit-Mould-Coles-Ultra-lead

The Shonky for
More like a squabble than a killing goes to... Exit Mould and Coles Ultra Mould Remover

When CHOICE investigated bathroom mould killers this year, we were astonished to learn that they don’t actually, well, kill mould.

Mycologists – that’s fungus boffins to you and me – tell us there are several reasons for this, first and foremost being that these alleged mould killers can’t penetrate porous surfaces, like grout, which is where mould tends to party. 

Yes, it may look nice and white post-spray, courtesy of the bleach removing the colour, and some of the surface mould may even have rubbed off, but the root structure remains entrenched in the grout ready to sprout again and party another day. But it gets worse: the bleach can actually erode and corrode grout and tiles, making them more porous – and more receptive to future mould festivities.

And did you know that the active ingredient actually deteriorates over time? While this is kind of disclosed on the packaging, the starting levels are so low anyway that after a while there’s not much left but the reassuring fragrance of chlorine.

So when market leader Exit Mould, along with Coles Ultra Mould Remover (using uncannily similar wording), tells us the product “Kills ingrained mould” and “penetrates porous surfaces to attack mould at the source”, we’re not convinced.

shonky-ticketing-lead

The Shonky for
Ticket to taking us for a ride goes to... Ticketek and Ticketmaster

We pay a lot to see big international acts in Australia, located as we are, to paraphrase Paul Keating, at the gluteus maximus end of the world. But it’s the issue of the additional ticketing charges that’s so irksome. Take Elton John, for example, touring in November. The cheapest Ticketmaster tickets for the Sydney Entertainment Centre cost $119.90. But add the credit card surcharge of $2.64 and a ‘handling fee’ of $9.50, and you’re looking at $132.04. We guess that’s why they call it the music-fan blues.

But it’s not just Ticketmaster – Ticketek, the other half of the Aussie ticket-sales duopoly, also add on extra charges, including a ‘service/delivery fee' and credit card surcharge. The cheapest Jennifer Lopez tickets at the Rod Laver Arena cost $101.60, with a service/delivery fee ranging from $5.20 to $11.10, depending on how the tickets are delivered, and a credit card surcharge of 1.75% – and no alternative method of online payment. While the service/delivery fee is the same regardless of whether you buy one or 10 tickets, you still have to pay if you print them out yourself. On your own printer. With your own ink and paper. How J Lo can they go?

Unfortunately consumers – and the event managers themselves – have little choice other than to use the Big Two, which have wrapped up exclusive ticketing rights to many venues around the country. Competitors with better pricing and service for consumers are unable to compete without being impeded, and the ACCC’s action against Ticketek last year, which saw them charged with anti-competitive behaviour and fined $2.5m, appears to have had little trickle-down effect in terms of benefits for consumers and probably didn't put much of a dent in their reported $50m profit that year.

Cabcharge-lead

The Shonky for
Taxiing down the runaway charges goes to... Cabcharge

So you book a taxi, take the scenic route down to Shonkytown and the fare comes to $42.10, including booking fee, flagfall, applicable road tolls, night loading and GST. Unfortunately, the driver hasn't enough change for your $50 note, so rather than give him the $7.90 tip he was probably hoping for, you hand over your credit card – whereupon you're hit with an additional 10% credit card surcharge. This makes a mockery of the typical 1-3% credit card surcharge we seem to be hit with elsewhere these days.

According to Cabcharge, the company responsible for the payment processing infrastructure (card-sticky-inny-machines) in cabs, it's actually not a 'surcharge'. Rather, Cabcharge says, it "applies fees on financial services rather than as a surcharge on the underlying transaction."

Right, so a fee on a financial service. Not a surcharge. Uh, sorry, but if it waddles and quacks like a lame euphemism and charges like a wounded bull, then it's a 10% credit card surcharge. But the sting in the tail is the financial sting at the tail end of the transaction – the GST that's charged for non-Cabcharge credit cards on top of the surcharge. Fee on financial service, that is. So you're actually paying 11%.

We're not the only ones who think it's excessive, and from January 1 next year, new surcharging rules come into play courtesy of the Reserve Bank, whereby surcharges have to reflect the true cost of providing the service. Cabcharge is firmly in the sights of hunters seeking to reduce the waddling, quacking surcharge to a more reasonable level, such as the 5% recommended in the recent taxi inquiry in Victoria.

Naturally, Cabcharge reckons it won't be affected by the new rules. Because it's not a surcharge. Quack.

Jetset-Travelworld-lead

The Shonky for
Sending consumer rights packing goes to... Jetset Travelworld Group

Having saved many long years for your dream Aral Sea cruise, and realising it’s now or never and you’ve saved a grand total of zilch, you pay for it on credit card. And there’s a bonus – if something goes wrong – like the cruise company goes belly-up along with the Aral Sea itself – you can use chargeback to get your money back.

Chargeback is a service that allows you to apply to your credit card company to get your money back if goods or services you’ve paid for with your credit card aren’t provided. They, in turn, will get the money back from the people you paid. CHOICE believes chargeback rights are vital when it comes to travel, particularly international travel where insolvency isn’t usually covered by travel insurance.

This is why our shonky radar bleeped into overdrive when we discovered, buried in its terms and conditions (which you DO read, don’t you?), that Jetset and other members of the Jetset Travelworld Group (Travelworld, Harvey World Travel and Best Flights) requires you to waive your chargeback rights in its booking terms and conditions. The group commands one-third of the travel industry market share, so it’s a big player.

These travel agents are shirking their duty to take responsibility for the actions or conditions of merchants with whom they do business and have a commercial relationship. Consumers shouldn’t have to bear the risk of non-delivery of services effectively recommended by the agent, leaving them to work out any dispute directly with the merchant. If your grasp of Uzbek is shaky at the best of times, it will be even worse at 3am on a dodgy phone line when you’re trying to negotiate a refund.

True, what Jetset Travelworld Group is doing is not illegal, but we reckon asking consumers to waive this vital consumer protection is unethical and dodgy, and a fine example of shonkosity.


Update

Jetset Travelworld Group have recently amended their contract terms and conditions, removing any mention of the word "chargeback".

However we think that they are still asking consumers to sign away an important consumer protection. The new terms and conditions inform consumers that if they do not receive a service that they have paid for, liability for the undelivered service is “against the provider only and not against us”. In our view, these weasel words essentially have the same effect as the original clause.

CHOICE referred Jetset Travelworld Group to the ACCC for it's new clauses. After receiving a tip-off from a member, CHOICE also referred Flight Centre for including a similar clause in its terms and conditions. 


NSW Fair Trading asked the Jetset Travelworld Group to explain their previous contract terms and conditions regarding a clause that consumers waive their chargeback rights provided through credit and debit cards, reducing the protection available to consumers where services fail to be provided.

08.Natures Way Kids Smart Natural Medicines

 
Natures-Way-lead

The Shonky for
Woo water goes to... Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicines

Shonky loves homeopathy. The idea of selling water for upwards of $1000 per litre and claiming it’s medicine represents the very essence of shonkiness. But convincing anxious or desperate parents they can use it to treat their children’s ailments takes it to a whole new level. Introducing the Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicine range, with variants for colds and flu, hay fever and runny nose, pain and fever, and for calming kids down. Already feather-whipped by the TGA for making unsubstantiated claims about the uses and effectiveness of the products, the company has done nothing to temper its assertions the products might actually do something.

Most of the homeopathic “ingredients” – and given the dilution factor, we use the term loosely – feature plant extracts, including strychnine and insecticidal Sabadilla, and arsenic. Stop. Rewind. Was that strychnine? They’re giving kids strychnine? Sure enough, the “Nux vomica 6C” in the “Calm” liquid is the homeopathic term for strychnine, in a dilution of one in a trillion.

To picture this 6C dilution in real terms, imagine you have an Olympic-size swimming pool full of water. Now take 20 such pools, and join them all together. Now put one drop of the strychnine “mother tincture” (the original liquid containing the now-discarded strychnine) in this mega pool, stir, and you have a 6C Nux vomica swimming pool. Worried? Well don’t be: this is further diluted in the bottle by a further one-thousandth.

Clearly the harm doesn’t come from the stuff itself – it’s effectively water with blackcurrant flavour. The harm comes from it doing nothing for your children in the expensive and mistaken belief you’re doing something.

As public health campaigner Dr Ken Harvey points out, “Symptoms like ‘restlessness, anxiety, irritability and agitation’ the ‘Calm’ claims to treat can be the symptoms of potentially serious childhood infectious diseases for which a homeopathic remedy is entirely inappropriate, and such misguided treatment might make a parent postpone seeking more appropriate medical advice to the child’s detriment.

"In my opinion, such promotion is dangerous and an affront to public health and medical science.”

Update

The claims have been referred to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) for investigation. NSW Fair Trading has written to the ACCC and offered to assist.

CH1012_SHONKY_TOBLERONE-13

The Shonky for
Serving it up goes to... Toblerone

Picture, if you will, a gathering of 16 people, ready to tuck into their 400g bar of Toblerone, which conveniently contains 16 serves – according to the packet. But as servee number 15 takes the last pyramidal piece, a problem becomes apparent: 16 serves but only 15 pieces.

Clearly this logistical nightmare of mountainous portions can only be solved by breaking out the Swiss Army knife (which is why they were invented*), cutting one-sixteenth off every single piece and giving the resultant nougaty-chocolate crumb collection to the sweetless sixteenth. Either that, or it’s all-out chocolate war.

And it’s not just the 400g mountain range that suffers a number of serves versus number of mountains disjunction. The 200g range has 15 pieces and 8 serves and the 50g has 11 pieces and 2 serves. Yep, it’s as cuckoo as a clock! But still we buy them, leaving Herr Tobler yodelling all the way to the Swiss bank.

Only the 100g mountain range can be divided in the sane, diplomatically neutral and mathematically pleasing manner of which we might imagine the Swiss would be proud, having 12 pieces and 4 serves. No knives, no war, no crumbs.

Toblerone: it’s Swiss for Shonkalicious!

* Any resemblance to actual historical fact is purely coincidental and extremely unlikely.

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