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When life gives you lemons

We're still putting the squeeze on shonky products and services

October 2017

The lead-up to the Shonky Awards is a fun time at CHOICE as we sort through nominations from the public, compete to see who will win our lemon-themed bake-off (sadly never me but not for lack of trying) and see who is willing to dress up in the silliest costume for the awards ceremony.

But all of this fun is really about pursuing a very serious purpose: trying to warn the Australian public away from some of the worst products and services we've encountered in the past year. Sadly, some themes just keep coming back.

Big bad banks

Little wonder that Australia's big banks have such a problem with community trust when they keep working so hard to destroy it. From NAB's 'low rate credit card' in2015, which at 13.99% simply wasn't, to this year's Westpac Bump account, which uses a $200 'bonus' to lure new parents into a terrible children's savings account – they just seem to have a knack for coming up with products designed to rip consumers off. And that's before you get to the major scandals, like the financial planning disasters that won the CBA an award in 2014.

Misleading health claims

This year we zero in on vitamin gummies (glorified lollies that claim to be good for children's teeth) and the Pain Erazor, but these are really just the latest in a long line of products that make unjustified health claims.

What worries us about these products is the way they target human vulnerabilities to sell false hope. And not all of them are cheap – the Pain Erazor retails for $159. The 'Medical Weightloss Institute' that we highlighted last year was charging consumers upwards of $4000 for medicines that did nothing to support weight loss.

Cleaners that don't

In the past few years, we have increasingly looked at common household products to see whether they do what they claim. It's amazing how many leading brands we find that really do nothing. That's the case with the Cuddly fabric softener in this year's awards (less effective than water, but at $6 a litre, a lot more expensive). It's similar to what we found with a Vanish Preen carpet cleaner last year, and Exit Mould in 2012.

These might seem like trifling domestic purchases but when you're on a tight budget, looking for products that make household chores a little bit easier, you've got a right to expect that they'll work.

It's easy for businesses to avoid a Shonky. Charge fair prices. Avoid sneaky terms and conditions. And don't tell porkies. Seems simple to us, but too many businesses are still struggling to work it out.

Alan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
Twitter: @AlanKirkland