Woolworths and Coles receive the infamous Choice Shonky award

Choice boss Alan Kirkland on the 2023 Shonky Awards

Source: Choice

The worst products and companies of 2023 have been revealed in Choice’s Shonky Awards, with Coles and Woolworths in the firing line.

From supermarkets and their prices, to taking advantage of the rental crisis, to mini fridges that can’t get drinks cold, Choice has called out the worst products and organisations of the year.

“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,” Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said.

He said it had been a tough year for consumers with the cost-of-living crisis, which hasn’t been helped by the Shonky winners leaving people disappointed.

Coles and Woolworths

The two biggest supermarkets share a Shonky “for cashing in during a cost-of-living crisis”.

Kirkland said both made more than $1 billion in profits this year, leading consumers to question whether that was justified given prices had risen so much.

He pointed to a Choice survey in September that found 60 per cent of Australians believed the big two were making more money from price hikes. Only 20 per cent said Coles and Woolworths were doing enough to keep prices low.

“The same survey found 88 per cent of Australians are worried about the cost of food and groceries, up from 56 per cent in January 2021,” Kirkland said.

“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.”

Both major retailers rejected the allegations on Thursday. Coles expressed its “disappointment”, saying the award didn’t reflect supply chain issues, the rising cost of everyday staples, or its actual profit on individual shops.

“For every $100 a customer spends, Coles makes $2.60. This ensures we can continue to employ more than 120,000 Australians, partner with more than 8000 suppliers and farmers, support local communities and continue to invest in value for the millions of customers who visit our stores every week,” a spokesperson said.

“Coles is also not immune to the increased cost of doing business – construction costs, energy prices, the cost of logistics and packaging have all risen.”

Woolworths offered a similar defence, saying it offered the fairest possible deals for customers, staff and suppliers.

“We’re acutely aware of the pressure that’s being placed on Australian families through cost-of-living increases, whether they are our customers or our team members,” a spokesperson said.

“We’re doing more everyday to help customers spend less with us. That’s why we have more than 6000 weekly specials, more than 3000 products on our Low Price program, hundreds of products across our seasonal Prices Dropped campaigns and introduced Member Pricing.

“We know there’s more to do and that’s why we’ll continue to invest in the future, whether that’s support for our team, creating jobs, investing in communities and paying fair prices to the thousands of businesses (both large and small) we work with across the country.”

‘Data gouging’ during a rental crisis

It has been a difficult year for renters, which is why ‘RentTech’ apps and platforms are winning these awards.

A Choice investigation found 40 per cent of renters had been pressured to use third-party rental platforms to apply for a home.

Such platforms include 2Apply and Snug, and while they did make the process more seamless in many cases, Kirkland warned such platforms asked people to hand over “unjustifiable amounts of personal data”.

Supplying it could put people at risk for data breaches or people could have information used against them unfairly when rental applications were screened.

“Finding a home as a renter is already difficult enough, particularly when rents have risen dramatically and vacancy rates have plummeted to new lows,” Kirkland said.

“Third-party platforms should not be taking advantage of these circumstances to collect excessive data.”

He said regulation was needed to ensure tenants were protected from unfair practices.

Personal alarms prove alarmingly bad

Since 2017, Choice has tested more than 40 personal alarms and yet it cannot 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,” Kirkland said.

Choice’s tests have focused on personal alarms that can be used to call someone’s nominated contacts in the event of an emergency. However, all the models tested have failed to do just that.

Sometimes reception on the devices are poor, so the emergency call feature won’t activate, leaving people alone when they actually need help.

Deceiving customers

Kogan’s Kogan First program has been called out for tricking customers into a $99 sign-up fee.

“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,” Kirkland explained.

Choice had 19 shoppers use Kogan and six accidentally signed up for Kogan First – none knew they were going to have to fork out $99 at the end.

pictured is CHOICE testing the Xbox fridge

Choice awarded the Xbox Mini Fridge a Shonky. Photo: Choice

The fridge that doesn’t make things cold

You would expect a fridge to keep things cold, but if you’re looking at buying an Xbox Mini Fridge, you should perhaps lower your expectations.

“The Xbox Mini Fridge is receiving a Shonky Award this year for failing to cool anything other than expectations,” Kirkland said.

“This ‘fridge’ took a lengthy 24 hours to bring eight drink cans to 21 degrees Celsius in our 32-degree test chamber. For context, 21 degrees is warmer than tap water.”

In addition to not getting things cold, the fridge’s energy consumption is about the same as a full-size fridge and it pooled an “alarming amount” of moisture during tests.

“The Xbox fridge’s many problems meant it was an obvious choice for a Shonky award,” Kirkland said.

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