Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has announced the winners of its 18th annual CHOICE Shonky Awards, which recognise the very worst products and services uncovered by the organisation in the past year.
The 2023 Shonkys are:
- Coles and Woolworths - for cashing in during a cost-of-living crisis
- RentTech - for 'data gouging' people desperate to find a home
- Personal alarms - for being unreliable and hard to use
- Kogan - for tricking customers into a $99 sign-up
- Xbox Mini Fridge - for being a 'fridge' that doesn't make things cold
"We'd love to never award another Shonky again, but over the past year we have continued to find terrible examples of businesses doing the wrong thing by their customers, leaving us with no shortage of nominees to choose from," says CHOICE CEO, Alan Kirkland.
"2023 has been yet another hard year for many Australians. When facing a cost-of-living crisis, people want to be confident that their money is well spent, but unfortunately our Shonky winners have only disappointed us during this difficult time," says Kirkland.
"We've seen Coles and Woolworths record huge profits, and rental platforms taking advantage of people desperate for a home. Microsoft has been hawking an Xbox 'fridge' that doesn't actually cool anything, Kogan is tricking customers into a $99 annual subscription, and personal alarms continue to fail when they're most needed," says Kirkland.
Coles and Woolworths - for cashing in during a cost-of-living crisis
"Coles and Woolworths have each recorded over a billion dollars in profits this year and people are questioning whether that's justified. In a nationally representative survey CHOICE conducted in September, more than 60% of shoppers said they believe the big two are making a lot of money from the price hikes, and less than 20% think Coles and Woolworths are doing enough to keep prices low," says Kirkland.
"The same survey found 88% of Australians are worried about the cost of food and groceries, up from 56% in January 2021. While Coles and Woolies have been promoting how they're supposedly helping with the cost of living, in the background they've been banking huge profits. At the same time, frequent changes in prices mean it's hard to tell if you're even getting a genuine discount. They are well and truly deserving of a Shonky award," says Kirkland.
RentTech - for 'data gouging' people desperate to find a home
"Earlier this year a CHOICE investigation found over 40% of renters have been pressured to use third-party rental platforms, such as 2Apply and Snug, to apply for a home. These platforms require people to hand over unjustifiable amounts of personal data, putting them at risk of data breaches and information being used unfairly when screening rental applications," says Kirkland.
"Finding a home as a renter is already difficult enough, particularly when rents have risen dramatically and vacancy rates have plummeted to new lows. Third-party platforms should not be taking advantage of these circumstances to collect excessive data," says Kirkland.
"Governments need to regulate these businesses to ensure that tenants are protected from unfair practices," says Kirkland.
Personal alarms - for being unreliable and hard to use
"We've tested over 40 personal alarms in the CHOICE labs since we began reviewing them in 2017, but we still can't recommend a single one. Personal alarms are meant to provide peace of mind for carers wanting to keep their loved ones safe, but we've found these alarms often fail to perform their most basic functions," says Kirkland.
"Our tests focus on personal alarms that are intended to call a person's nominated contacts in an emergency, but the models we have tested frequently failed to deliver on their most important job. The reception on these devices is sometimes so poor that the emergency call feature simply won't activate, leaving people without help when they need it most," says Kirkland.
Kogan - for tricking customers into a $99 sign-up
"If you were buying something online and the free shipping option was already selected, why would you choose another option? Unfortunately, if you miss the fine print when buying something through Kogan, you may find you've inadvertently signed up to a two-week trial of their 'Kogan First' program, and committed to pay $99 when the trial is up," says Kirkland.
"Kogan is receiving a Shonky Award for using deceptive website design to trick people, pre-selecting the free shipping option for all customers, and sneakily signing them up for a Kogan First membership trial. When CHOICE conducted a mystery shop of Kogan with 19 shoppers, six accidentally signed up for Kogan First, and none of them knew how much they had agreed to pay after the trial ended," says Kirkland.
Xbox Mini Fridge - for being a 'fridge' that doesn't make things cold
"The Xbox Mini Fridge is receiving a Shonky Award this year for failing to cool anything other than expectations. This 'fridge' took a lengthy 24 hours to bring eight drink cans to 21°C in our 32°C test chamber. For context, 21°C is warmer than tap water," says Kirkland.
"To make matters worse, the Xbox fridge's energy consumption is so high that it uses around the same amount of electricity as a regular full-sized fridge, without actually cooling anything. It also pooled an alarming amount of moisture in our testing. The Xbox fridge's many problems meant it was an obvious choice for a Shonky award," says Kirkland.
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