For more than 60 years, CHOICE has helped everyday Australians sort the good products and services from the bad and the unsafe.
Some products we've looked at are clearly a waste of money – such as the insurance policy against alien abduction. The problems with other products are less obvious. At first glance they may appear to be perfectly fine, only to prove problematic later on once you've already parted with your cash.
Those are the products we're particularly interested in shining a light on, and were the inspiration for the launch of the first ever CHOICE Shonky Awards in 2006.
More than 120 Shonkys awarded
Since then, we've awarded 128 Shonkys to businesses or products for a range of reasons including misleading marketing claims, ripping off consumers and being downright dangerous.
The awards were created to raise awareness of shonky products and services among Australians, and to put pressure on businesses and the government to ensure that what we buy is safe, and works.
Over the years, the Shonkys have led to some solid wins for consumers – here are ten of those victories.
Qantas found itself the recipient of a Shonky last year after delivering a disappointing experience to many customers.
1. Qantas shows some spirit
Last year, we branded the so-called "Spirit of Australia" the "Spirit of Disappointment" after we found the airline's customer service to be severely lacking.
Qantas's rock-bottom performance on flight punctuality, long call-wait times and poor baggage handling led us to conclude that the company had given up on being a premium airline and was happy to languish at budget status.
To make matters worse, the carrier was holding on to over $1 billion in flight credits from the pandemic and consumers were complaining that flights cost more when paid for with a voucher than with other methods.
The ACCC in August launched legal proceedings against the embattled company, saying it'll be chasing record penalties
And while the punctuality of Qantas services has improved recently, the airline continues to disappoint many, ranking among NSW Fair Trading's most-complained about companies in the first half of this year.
Amid continuing criticism from our consumer advocates and many others across the corporate and media spheres, Qantas CEO at the time Alan Joyce apologised to customers and retired early and the company has scrapped the expiry dates on COVID travel credits.
Foreshadowing more action to come, the ACCC in August launched legal proceedings against the embattled company, saying it'll be chasing record penalties in the hundreds of millions of dollars from the airline as it takes it to court for allegedly selling tickets to flights it had already cancelled.
We gave online florist Bloomex a Shonky for flowers that failed to live up to expectations.
2. Faulty florist found out
Online flower delivery service Bloomex is another dodgy operator that's found the ACCC hot on its heels after being the recipient of a 2022 Shonky.
The consumer regulator launched federal court proceedings against the florist in December last year, alleging the company had published misleading reviews and prices on its website.
The scrutiny came one month after we delivered a Shonky, after following up on a trail of (real) negative reviews from consumers and conducting a mystery shop which revealed the business's true colours.
The consumer regulator launched federal court proceedings against the florist in December last year
When we tried to get flowers delivered to several locations that Bloomex claimed to service, we found many arrived late or wilted and on several occasions the company came back to us (after we had already paid) saying they couldn't complete the delivery at all.
The ACCC says its case is currently in mediation before the federal court.
In 2022, Revitalife admitted it had probably breached Australian Consumer Law.
3. Bed retailer admits to illegal sales tactics
In 2020, we awarded a Shonky to Revitalife for targeting older Australians with a misleading "health survey" and using the results to encourage the purchase of an expensive "therapeutic" bed with questionable benefits.
Our investigation, prompted by multiple tip-offs from CHOICE members, readers and supporters, as well as community legal centres, revealed some harrowing stories.
In 2022, Revitalife delivered over $57,000 in refunds
We spoke to a number of elderly Australians who were subjected to high-pressure sales tactics when visited at home by Revitalife sales people.
At the time, our consumer law expert described the company's practices as "unacceptable" and condemned the way they targeted older Australians who were worried about their health.
Along with the Shonky award, we also made a complaint to the ACCC, which began an investigation of the company.
The result? In 2022, Revitalife delivered over $57,000 in refunds, admitted that it probably breached the Australian Consumer Law with its sales tactics and agreed to implement a compliance program.
Samsung's washer and dryer won a 2017 Shonky for taking 6.5 hours to dry a single load.
4. Wasteful washer-dryer discontinued
Samsung has received multiple nominations over the years, notably for concerns in relation to its products catching fire. But its 2017 nod was for selling a $3000 lemon, namely the Samsung WD16J9845KG washer/dryer combo.
When testing this model in the CHOICE labs, we uncovered a host of problems, most notably that it used a massive 210 litres of water and took six-and-a-half hours to dry a load. This led it to receive a score of zero in our drying time test.
"In the time it takes to dry a load of clothes, you could nab a cheap fare from Sydney to the Gold Coast and dry them on the beach every week for nearly a year instead of buying this shonky product," we said at the time.
Following the publication of our test results, Samsung contacted CHOICE for more data about our product testing. The model was discontinued shortly afterwards.
CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale mixes business and pleasure on the Gold Coast.
The new information standard means that companies like Viagogo will need to be more honest with their customers.
5. Ticket sites put under the microscope
In 2017, we also gave Swiss ticketing company Viagogo a Shonky after receiving hundreds of reports from concertgoers whose dealings with the website left them substantially out of pocket for tickets that were often still available for less on the promoters' sites – or, even worse, in possession of tickets that did not allow them entry to events.
This, combined with their high-pressure sales tactics, made Viagogo a deserving Shonky Award recipient. But, more than that, our work highlighting their many shortcomings drove useful reforms that help protect Australians from similar rorts.
The company's long history of shameless consumer abuse earned it a $7 million fine following ACCC action for misleading claims in 2020
In April last year, the government announced a new information standard on ticket resale websites, meaning companies such as Viagogo will need to be more honest with their customers, reducing the risks of people being misled.
And Viagogo's dealings with disgruntled customers didn't go unpunished – the company's long history of shameless consumer abuse earned it a $7 million fine following ACCC action for misleading claims in 2020.
But, serving as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance, this year the platform was back in the spotlight again, when we called it out for hosting resale tickets at potentially illegal prices for a popular pop tour.
Dollarmites' shonky behaviour included promoting credit cards to children. Image: Commbank.com.au.
6. Shonky school banking shut down
Following years of campaigning against the Commonwealth Bank's school banking program, we awarded Dollarmites a Shonky in 2018 for being nothing more than a marketing scheme aimed at locking in customers from a young age.
We followed up with a submission to a 2019 ASIC inquiry, revealing that Dollarmites had been promoting credit-card products to Year 3 students, and in 2020 had our first big win when Victoria banned the program. Not long after, the ACT and Queensland followed suit.
But with the program still spruiking its products to children in other states, CHOICE continued to call for an Australia-wide ban.
Then in 2021, in a huge win for consumers, CommBank revealed it was ditching Dollarmites for good, just days after NSW announced plans to scrap the program.
"With the end of Dollarmites, we can feel confident that students will get lessons in financial literacy instead of bank loyalty," said CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.
We shone a light on InvoCare's pricing practices, leading to changes in legislation and the company rolling out more transparent funeral pricing.
7. Funeral operators come clean on pricing
Our in-depth 2019 investigation into the funeral industry exposed several dodgy pricing practices at InvoCare, the largest funeral operator in Australia and owner of White Lady Funerals, Simplicity Funerals, Guardian Funerals and more.
After discovering the company was charging a late payment fee masquerading as an "administration fee", we submitted a complaint to the ACCC, arguing that the funeral giant had breached consumer law.
In February 2020, we celebrated a partial win for consumers when InvoCare announced it would remove the fee.
Greater transparency for bereaved people means they can decide whether or not they want or need all the services on offer
But the company's unwillingness to be upfront about the true cost of funeral packages (outside of NSW and Victoria, where new legislation was introduced following our investigation) saw it pick up a Shonky Award in 2020.
"InvoCare is profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark … they need to be upfront with all Australians and provide itemised costs for services online," we said.
With pressure from more than 5000 Australians, who emailed their local consumer affairs ministers about the issue, one month later InvoCare rolled out itemised funeral prices online nationally.
This was a huge win for Australians that led to big savings. Greater transparency for bereaved people means they can decide whether or not they want or need all the services on offer.
8. Better insurance for pets
In 2019, we gave the entire pet insurance industry a Shonky for being expensive, confusing, and offering policies with so many exclusions and conditions that they were basically pointless.
Following this, insurers started changing their policies for the better. For example, most policies now provide full coverage for out-of-hours emergency care, or if your pet gets sick with an illness it was previously vaccinated against.
Dog days… Following its 2019 Shonky, the pet insurance industry made positive changes to its policies.
This is a huge win for pet owners, especially those whose furry friends have pre-existing conditions.
"Previously, you weren't covered if you took out insurance after your pet developed a pre-existing condition," says Uta Mihm, CHOICE insurance expert.
"Now, most insurers will cover that for new customers for a range of conditions, as long as the condition is fully cured and they've been symptom-free for a period of time."
Bitter pill – Nurofen's 'targeted pain relief' caplets were pulled from sale following court action and a Shonky.
9. Dubious pain relief removed from shelves
In 2010, CHOICE awarded Nurofen a Shonky for its targeted pain relief products. The company was offering a range of higher priced caplets for migraine, back, tension headache and period pain, and claimed that each product was formulated to treat a specific area.
A fast-acting painkiller that goes directly to the source? It sounded too good to be true. And it was. In reality, all the "targeted relief" products contained the same active ingredient, meaning they would have the same effect throughout the body, regardless of the area of pain.
The ACCC later took action against Reckitt Benckiser (the manufacturer of Nurofen), accusing it of engaging in misleading conduct. In 2016, the full federal court ordered it to pay a $6 million fine and to remove the targeted pain products from sale.
Wash out – the entire insurance industry won a Shonky in 2011 for failing to define a flood.
10. Home insurance industry taken to task
Since we lobbied the insurance industry to become more inclusive following the floods of 2010–11, we've continued to fight for a fair, accessible and affordable insurance market.
We awarded the whole industry a Shonky in 2011 and lobbied industry and government to come up with a standard definition of the word "flood", after thousands of homeowners were horrified to discover their insurance wouldn't provide for them.
This was because the insurance industry had failed to come up with a standard definition of what counted as a flood, meaning many policies had a series of carve-outs and restrictions that left many people without cover.
The federal government took action and amended the Insurance Contracts Regulations 1985 to finally include a standard definition of flood
A year after we called this out, the federal government took action and amended the Insurance Contracts Regulations 1985 to finally include a standard definition of flood, although it didn't take effect until 2014.
But we believe more can be done – in August this year, we joined with fellow consumer advocate groups to release a report which highlighted the continuing problems in the home and contents insurance industry, including complex product design, unaffordable premiums and homeowners' mitigation measures not being considered by insurers.
We're staying on the case and have made a number of recommendations for how governments and insurers can help rebuild an insurance market that is fair, affordable and accessible for everyone.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.