From ‘unsafe’ BNPL to bladeless fans: Here are the winners of this year’s Shonky Awards

Shonky-Awards

Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland and Shonky Awards editorial director Marg Rafferty.

Consumer advocacy group Choice has unveiled the winners of its 2021 Shonky Awards, naming a compost bin by Breville, the Airline Customer Advocate hotline, and an ‘unsafe’ by now, pay later option as some of this years shonkiest offerings.

For 16 years, Choice has recognised the worst products and services it encounters, revealing what it describes as the shonkiest products and companies that have taken advantage of Australian consumers.

Announcing the winners, Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said businesses could have avoided getting a Shonky if they hadn’t promised things they couldn’t deliver.

“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,” Kirkland said.

Here are the winners of the 2021 Shonky Awards.

1. Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles

Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles markets itself as an affordable and healthy snack for toddlers but the lollies are made up of 68% sugar and cost $150 per kilogram.

Pru Engel, audience editor at Choice, described the gap between what Kiddylicious presents to consumers and the reality of the product as “inexcusable”.

“Parents should be able to trust that these products marketed specifically for young children are decent snack options that aren’t loaded with sugar,” Engel said.

Choice recently compared the Kiddylicious Fruit Wriggles with Allen’s Snakes Alive lollies in a nationally representative survey and found 71% of Australians viewed the Kiddylicious brand as a better option, with 60% believing the Wriggles were healthier than Allen’s snakes.

2. By now, pay later provider Humm

While safe lending laws usually require finance providers to check a borrower’s income before offering credit, Choice says buy now, pay later (BNPL) providers like Humm don’t have to make those checks.

Choice has awarded Humm a Shonky Award for “unsafe lending” because it offers clients up to $30,000 on a BNPL basis to purchase anything from solar panels to dental treatment and swimming pools.

Canberra-based financial counsellor Deb Shroot said she has witnessed clients falling into hardship after using Humm’s BNPL option.

“I had a client who did get into quite a bit of trouble with Humm transactions, was unable to repay, and Humm actually took that opportunity to sell them a high interest personal loan product,” Shroot said.

“So, rather than making their situation better they used that opportunity and the vulnerability of that person to make a sale and to sell them another product.”

However, this has been refuted by Humm, which told SmartCompany is does not have a personal loan product. The company also said less than 1.5% of its customers apply for financial hardship support.

“Humm has rigorous checks and balances in place to ensure that a consumer has the ability to repay,” said a company spokesperson.

“We conduct a detailed product suitability check with third party credit bureau Illion and mandatory income verification on all app driven purchases instore and online over $1,000. We then utilise our own sophisticated credit algorithms to ensure that customers have the ability to repay.”

3. Breville’s FoodCycler

Appliance maker Breville received the third Shonky award for its $499 compost bin dubbed the FoodCycler.

The product claims it can cut household food waste by more than 80%, turning leftovers into reduced ‘eco chips’ that can be composted or put in landfill.

But testing conducted by Choice economist Fiona Mair found the product was “unnecessary” and there were other “cheaper ways of composting”.

“It’s just another appliance that sits on your bench. I think it’s really quite unnecessary. There are so many other cheaper ways of composting,” Mair said.

Choice calculated the total cost of the device over five years, adding the initial purchase of $499, energy costs of $86 a year and replacement filters of $223 a year to figure out that the device costs about $2000 to operate.

4. Knock-off bladeless fans

The SmarterHome Bladeless Fan, which features a bladeless motor and ultra slim design, will set you back $150 online at Kogan. But Choice’s independent lab testing found that fans costing just a third of the price can be more effective.

Choice’s testing, however, hasn’t stopped other brands, such as Fenici, Dimplex and Zhibai, from selling similarly designed bladeless fans at Catch.com.au, Kogan, Big W and Harvey Norman. And it’s these ‘knock-off’ bladeless fans that have taken out the fourth Shonky Award.

Adrian Lini, expert tester at Choice, measured the volume of air pushed out by 50 models of fans and found the generic knock-offs performed poorly.

“The volume of air pushed out by this fan was so low that it looked like an error in the measurement,” Lini said.

“For the entirety of the test, it could barely reach 0.04 cubic metres per second. It pretty much has no output whatsoever, and that’s why the score is so terrible.”

5. Airline Customer Advocate

Established in 2012 to help Jetstar, Qantas, Rex and Virgin customers resolve their grievances, the Airline Customer Advocate (ACA) offers a free complaints service that promises a response within 20 days.

But Choice’s study of the ACA’s performance found that it mostly operates as a forwarding service and didn’t accept some of the most common complaints throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The complaints hotline specifically excluded grievances about delays in receiving refunds, being offered credit instead of refunds and lengthy wait times in receiving responses from airlines.

Alison Elliott, consumer rights expert at Choice, said while the airline-industry funded scheme is meant to solve your problems, in reality, it’s a forwarding service.

“The Advocate can’t look at your problem and make an independent decision. Instead, it will forward your complaint back to the airline, asking nicely for the airline to respond to you in 20 days,” Elliott said.

“You might as well put your complaint in a shredder than waste your time with the Airline Customer Advocate.”

This article was updated at on Friday, November 5, to include a statement from Humm. 

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