Dodgy lender, powerless fan and airline advocate win Shonkys

Consumer watchdog CHOICE has released its 2021 Shonky Awards, which highlight the worst products and services available in Australia.

CHOICE’s top selections this year were:

  • Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles – a shonky sugar bomb
  • Humm – for unsafe lending
  • The Breville Foodcycler – a $2000 compost bin
  • Knock-off Bladeless Fans – generic fans with no wind power
  • The Airline Customer Advocate – for leaving passengers stranded

CHOICE is the mouthpiece of the Australian Consumers’ Association, a not-for-profit, independent membership-based consumer advocacy organisation founded in 1959. Its Shonky Awards, now in their 16th year, promote the organisation’s research and advocacy on behalf of Australian consumers.

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Last year, CHOICE gave Shonkys to InvoCare Funerals, Harvey Norman, Revitalife, Greentech air purifiers and floor cleaners available at Bunnings and Coles.

“These are our 16th annual Shonky Awards and it amazes me that we have to keep giving them out,” said CHOICE chief executive Alan Kirkland.

“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.

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“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.

“The major theme of the 2021 Shonkys is companies making big promises that they can’t deliver – whether that be healthy food, environmental benefits, advocating for you in tough times or keeping you cool on a hot day. 

“Healthy toddler food should actually be healthy. An expensive compost bin shouldn’t generate more waste. A credit provider should lend safely. A smart fan should cool you down. And an airline customer advocate should advocate for you.”

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As Australia approaches another hot summer, the timing on the warning for fans could not be better.

The bladeless fans, which are a generic brand given different names by different retailers, were accused of being the worst fans ever produced.

“These knock-off bladeless fans are some of the worst performing retail products we’ve ever seen,” Mr Kirkland said.

“Their marketing promises smart home features and the design copies fashionable trends, but these are fans without smarts, without power and without puff.

“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.

“Each retailer uses a different name but sells the same Shonky option and variations on this fan were found in Harvey Norman stores, Big W, and across retailers online.

“Avoid these lazy retailers who whack their logo onto cheap, dud products. CHOICE lab tests show you can get much cheaper, better fans if you do your research.”

The Airline Consumer Advocate came under fire for basically doing nothing to justify its existence.

“It can’t investigate your complaint, it can’t make an independent decision and it has no power to make airlines do anything,” Mr Kirkland said.

“In 2020 the Airline Customer Advocate announced that it wasn’t taking complaints about the most common problems faced by air travellers – such as being offered a credit instead of a refund.

“It’s basically a complaint forwarding service masquerading as an independent complaints handling body. Australians deserve a real airline ombudsman with the power to investigate complaints.”

Mr Kirkland explained that Humm was awarded a Shonky for its unsafe lending practices, something that is common in the buy now pay later sector.

He explained that Humm was lending people up to $30,000 without checking whether clients could afford to repay the debt before lending them the money.

“CHOICE has asked Humm four times how they check whether they are lending safely and we could not get a straight answer,” Mr Kirkland said.

“Buy now pay later providers like Humm like to pretend they are just a modern form of lay-by but nobody ever lay-byed $30,000. This is unregulated credit, pure and simple.”

Ripped off?
If you feel you have been misled or cheated by a product or service, your state or territory has an agency that can help:

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Written by Ben