Australia’s Worst Businesses Crowned in ‘Shonky’ Awards

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Consumer awareness brand CHOICE has crowned some of Australia’s worst businesses in its 2020 Shonky Awards, designed to shine a light on deceptive business practices and anti-consumer tactics. 

Each year, CHOICE,  a well-known consumer awareness group awards a number of Australian businesses with their ‘Shonky’ award, that names and shames “the shonkiest products and companies that have taken advantage of Australian consumers.” 

In 2020, Harvey Norman, Revitalife mattresses, the GreenTech air purifier, floor cleaners and InvoCare funerals – the company that owns and operates White Lady Funeralswere all awarded the infamous Shonky awards, suggesting they’ve got some work to do in order to regain consumer confidence. 

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InvoCare, the owner and operator of White Lady and Simplicity Funerals has a total of 40 brands under its umbrella “would not provide an itemised list of expenses and they gave wide-ranging quotes for the same services,” according to a report from the ABC

Funeral Operator “profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark”

Choice writes that InvoCare was awarded a Shonky for taking advantage of grieving customers “by offering funeral packages at a set price – often a high one – without breaking down all the costs properly, making it hard for people to decide whether they need or even want everything they’re paying for.” 

Choice used mystery shoppers that visited a number of funeral companies that refused to hand over itemised invoices, and failed to respond to requests for a cheaper ceremony. “When we did get quotes,” Choice says, “it was only after repeated requests… the quotes for the cheapest option – cremation without a funeral – ranged wildly from $2400 to $5600, all for the same set of goods and services.” 

Choice CEO, Alan Kirkland told the ABC that part of the reason why InvoCare was awarded a 2020 Shonky award was due to the fact that “InvoCare – the company behind White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals – has done everything it can to avoid being upfront with grieving families about cost.” 

Choice says that “our earlier investigation caught the attention of NSW Fair Trading, which introduced legislation requiring operators to display transparent funeral pricing. But unfortunately, it only applies in NSW.” 

Amy Pereira, a Choice campaigner has said that “InvoCare is profiting from keeping grieving families in the dark… NSW made funeral companies disclose their prices so families wouldn’t be taken advantage of. Companies like InvoCare have done the bare minimum… InvoCare needs to be upfront with all Australians and provide itemised costs for services online,” she said. 

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“One of Australia’s Most Predatory Finance Companies”

Consumer product giant Harvey Norman also took out a Shonky for what Choice called its “toxic partnership with Latitude Finance,” that saw individuals with low literacy rates targeted with “high interest” credit cards. Choice says that “more often than not, the credit card in question can be traced back to one of Australia’s most predatory finance companies – Latitude Finance.” 

“Simply put, Latitude is a company that seems to specialise in driving people into debt. When we recently ranked the 10 credit cards with the highest interest rates in Australia, Latitude had four cards in the top five, with interest rates ranging from 21.99 to 24.99%…Issuing credit cards at point of sale isn’t illegal, but we think it should be ” Choice says

 Patrick Veyret, a Choice campaigner has said that “financial counsellors and community legal centres across Australia have seen that Latitude credit cards sold at Harvey Norman harm people experiencing financial vulnerability… Something needs to be done about Harvey Norman and Latitude charging 22.74 per cent interest rates,” he said. 

Another brand awarded a 2020 Shonky is Revitalife, a therapeutic bed supplier that was found to have a “sales scheme that needs to be put to bed.” Choice says that the company was targeting older consumers with health and sleep surveys that acted as a “tool to generate sales leads for its pricey ‘therapeutic sleep systems’. 

These telephone and online surveys would often be followed-up by an in-person visit from a salesperson. Choice says that “the Consumer Action Law Centre also has concerns about the company not always being upfront about the reason for their visit. And in the cases we’ve seen, the surveys targeted older Australians.” 

Choice says the main reason for Revitalife being awarded a Shonky is that “staffers in these cases haven’t actually done a medical assessment of the target customers. They’ve just flogged their beds, whose prices seem to range from $4000 up to $8000-plus,” which Choice questions due to the fact that “the suitability of these technologies for treating sleep problems among elderly people is shaky at best.”  

Also mentioned in the Shonky awards were manufacturers of floor cleaning chemicals, whom Choice’s cleaning expert, Ashley Iredale said that after testing “didn’t perform any better” than water, despite “how expensive they are compared with water.” Choice says that it “put 15 popular brands to the test in our labs, and only two floor cleaners edge out water (with scores of 41% for the cleaners compared with 40% for water.” 

Finally, Choice put GreenTech’s PureAir 500 air purifiers in its sights for a Shonky Award after claiming the product had “pathetic purification” credentials after scoring 19% in a CHOICE lab test. Consumer goods expert, Chris Barnes said that “this and the other GreenTech model we tested performed so poorly that we basically couldn’t detect them doing anything at all.” 

“They were abysmal at removing dust from the air, terrible at removing smoke from the air, couldn’t remove VOCs from the air… they really are complete duds… I can only assume the problem is in the design. Certainly the price tags don’t indicate that they’re cheaply made,” Barnes added. 

Choice says that part of its judging criteria for the Shonky awards take into consideration things like failing a standard, poor performance on CHOICE tests, hidden charges, lack of transparency, consumer confusion, poor value for money, customer frustration and outrage, as well as the fact some consumers were actually worse-off after purchasing a product or service.

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