From life-endangering baby's dummies to hotlines that charge customers to complain, these are the dodgiest Australian products of the year as nominated by consumer watchdog CHOICE. As an added bonus, this year CHOICE is letting the public vote for their "favourite" offender. Read on and cast your vote!
Each year, consumer watchdog CHOICE doles out the dreaded ‘Shonky Awards’ -- an anti-prize for terrible products and services. Each Shonky recipient is either misleading, dangerous or of particularly bad value to consumers. This year's Shonky "winners" were a motley bunch of propagandists and price gougers who are plainly guilty of misleading or ripping off customers; sometimes simultaneously.
If any of the companies below got your hackles up, it's not too late to let your displeasure be known -- we suggest you send them a public Tweet and get all your friends to do the same. You can also cast your vote for the shonkiest product at CHOICE's website. It will publish the People's Choice winner at a later date.
Here are the dishonorable finalists in full.
Mr. Vitamins -- honourable mention
We kind of admire the sheer gumption of this one. Discount vitamin store 'Mr. Vitamins' recently came under CHOICE's attention due to some sleight-of-hand on its shopfront signage. At first glance, the banner outside select outlets appear to proclaim Mr Vitamins as "Australia's Cheapest Vitamin Store". However, upon closer inspection, the sign actually reads: "Are We Australia's Cheapest Vitamin Store?" with the first two words printed in a much smaller font. Instead of making a statement, the store is simply asking a question. Bless.
Sim City Online/EA Games
When EA Games' hotly-anticipated Sim City Online launched across the globe, it was rendered virtually unplayable due to a raft of ongoing technical glitches and server issues. This would almost be enough to land the game a Shonky by itself, but what was truly galling was the $2.48 per minute that EA charged customers who rang up to ask for assistance via the company's tech support line. That's right; EA chose to slug customers with an exorbitant phone bill even though it was their fault that people were ringing up to complain.
To make matters worse, gamers in the US were charged nothing for the same service. The advice given was also found to be pretty pedestrian for a premium service -- a CHOICE representative was charged $14.32 for the privilege of being directed to an online help forum. Tch.
As we've noted in the past, there’s no single recognised standard for what ‘free range’ means in Australia, and definitions vary from state to state. This has allowed unscrupulous egg manufactures to advertise their products as "free range" when the living conditions of their chickens are vastly inferior to the common perception of what the phrase means.
One of the worst offenders is EcoEggs, which houses up to 20,000 birds per hectare of space. This is a far cry from the 1500 birds per hectare outlined by the Free Range Model Code. The eggs also carry a premium price of $6.60 despite only containing 10 eggs per carton.
Nuk Starlight Silicone Soother (0-6 months)
Of all the products at this year's Shonky Awards, Nuk's Starlight Silicone Soother would have to be the worst. The dummy (or pacifier for our American friends) failed to meet the mandatory Australian safety standard because the dummy’s shield was too small. This means that babies can potentially get the whole dummy in their mouth and choke on it. Even more shockingly, the company received a Shonky back in 2006 for the exact same reason. In both cases, the dummy's shield passed through the opening in the test template used to simulate the dummy passing through a baby’s mouth.
Increasing the shield size by a few millimeters would resolve the issue, but apparently the company would rather save a few cents in manufacturing costs. For its part, Nuk claims that all its products have successfully passed safety tests overseas, but CHOICE rejects the methods used. The matter has now been referred to the ACCC.
Credit Repair Australia
This Shonky recipient is particularly low, as it involves taking advantage of consumers who are already financially vulnerable. For the princely sum of $990, Credit Repair Australia claims it can restore a customer's credit rating and get them back on their feet. The aforementioned "administration and service" fee is nonrefundable which could lead to even more debt. In addition, similar services can be accessed free of charge from financial councilors and ombudsmen bodies. According to CHOICE, the company has also overstated its ability to improve a credit report (in most cases, default listings can’t actually be removed from a credit report, despite Credit Repair Australia's claims to the contrary.)
Kleenex Mansize tissues
Kleenex recently shrunk the box of its man-size tissue range, presumably in a bid to be more environmentally friendly. The accompanying advertisement promised consumers that the contents were "the big, strong two-ply tissues you love, just in a smaller box". Clearly, the implication was that while the box had changed, the tissues remain the same. In reality, CHOICE discovered the tissues had shrunk by as much as 14 percent when compared to the previous version. We'll leave you with this amusing Peep Show clip which gets to the meat of what man-sized tissues are really used for. You know it's true.
Energy Australia has been having a pretty rough time of it lately. Earlier in the year, the company was forced to dump its entire door-to-door sales force due to customer dissatisfaction. Now, it's managed to land itself a Shonky Award for hiking its electricity prices without adequately informing customers. CHOICE found that the flyer the company sent out was lacking in key information, including how much prices were going up by. By contrast, rival energy provider AGL was able to inform its customers in advance that prices were rising and what the old and new prices were, as well as giving an estimated weekly increase based on a typical household use.
You can read more about deciphering energy bill percentages here.
Oats Express Banana Honey
Food manufacturers are known for stretching the truth in their advertising; just look at our Takeaway Truth series for proof. But Dairy Farmers' Oats Express Banana Honey breakfast drink really takes the biscuit. As a cursory glance at the ingredients label will tell you, the product contains no oats, no banana and no honey. That has to be a special trifecta in false advertising. Instead of mashed oats, the product contains a piddling 1.25 percent of oat fibre and in place of banana, a small amount of fruit 'extract' is used. Honey, meanwhile, is completely AWOL. You can read more about the dubious nutritional claims of these liquid (dog's) breakfasts here.
On paper, the Qantas Toolbar (and the similar Coles' flybuys Toolbar) seem like a pretty good proposition to consumers -- in exchange for using its toolbar while surfing the web, Qantas awards the customer with free frequent flyer points. However, the reality is somewhat more sordid. Even if you can get past the dubious notion of giving up lots of personal information, the payoff is insultingly small. Earning enough points to get you from Sydney to Melbourne would take an epic eight years. The search tool is also sluggish and obtrusive. Frankly, we'd rather walk the distance. On the plus side, there is a script available for Mac users that automates the process.