"Cashing in on Aussies" in a cost-of-living crisis, a fridge that "doesn't stay cool", "gouging data" from desperate renters and "tricking customers into a $99 sign-up fee".
These are the reasons consumer-advocacy group CHOICE determined the winners of its 18th annual Shonky Awards, which "recognise the very worst products and services" from the past year.
"2023 has been yet another hard year for many Australians," CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland said.
"When facing a cost-of-living crisis, people want to be confident that their money is well spent but, unfortunately, our Shonky winners have only disappointed us during this difficult time."
"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."
So, without further ado, let's take a look at this year's 'winners'.
Coles and Woolworths
Coles and Woolworths have come under fire for raking in billion-dollar profits as the cost of a weekly shop adds to the pressures of rising energy costs, a tight rental market, and essentials like petrol climbing.
The supermarket giants received Shonky Awards "for cashing in during a cost-of-living crisis".
"Coles and Woolworths have each recorded over $1 billion in profits this year and people are questioning whether that's justified," Kirkland said.
A survey conducted by CHOICE in September showed more than 60 per cent of shoppers believed Australia's two biggest supermarkets made a lot of money from price hikes, while less than 20 per cent thought they 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 added.
"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."
He added that frequent changes in prices made it hard for customers to tell if they were getting a genuine discount.
Both Coles and Woolworths have rejected the claims made by CHOICE.
More than a third of Australians said the rising cost of groceries had had the biggest impact on their budget and was the biggest financial burden, above mortgage repayments and energy prices, according to a Compare the Market survey.
The data shows that the average Aussie spends $199.46 on groceries per week, which is around $864 a month or $10,372 a year and a $1,565 jump in yearly spend from 2021.
Platforms created for tenants to apply for rental properties received a Shonky Award "for 'data gouging' people desperate to find a home".
Kirkland said a CHOICE investigation earlier this year found more than 40 per cent of renters had been pressured to use third-party platforms such as 2Apply and Snug to apply for a home, requiring them to hand over an "unjustifiable" amount of personal information.
This put them at risk of "data breaches" and information being unfairly used when screening rental applications.
He said there needed to be government regulation of third-party platforms to ensure tenants were protected from unfair practices and handing over excessive amounts of data.
Snug told Yahoo Finance it continued to “significantly improve the experience for renters” and welcomed “ongoing privacy reforms to ensure all businesses keep pace with evolving consumer expectations in managing their personal information”.
A Shonky Award went to personal alarms for "being unreliable and hard to use".
After testing more than 40 personal alarms since 2017, CHOICE found the devices often failed to perform their most basic functions.
The tests focused on alarms that were intended to call a person's nominated contacts in an emergency, but Kirkland said the reception on these devices was sometimes so poor the feature simply didn't activate.
Although they're designed to provide peace of mind for carers wanting to keep their loved ones safe, personal alarms leave people "without help when they need it most", Kirkland said.
The retail service scored a Shonky "for tricking customers into a $99 sign-up" fee.
CHOICE said Kogan had a deceptive website design, which pre-selected a free shipping option for all customers but also "sneakily" signed them up to the Kogan First membership trial. When the two-week trial ended, those who'd signed up — intentionally or inadvertently — were committed to paying a $99 fee.
"When CHOICE conducted a mystery shop of Kogan with 19 shoppers, six accidentally signed up for Kogan First, and none of them knew how much they had agreed to pay after the trial ended," Kirkland said.
A Kogan spokesperson told CHOICE customers were “able to cancel their membership at any time within the 14-day trial period and are emailed reminders at the start and the end of their free 14-day trial membership”.
Kogan also said it had been refunding the $99 to customers who wanted to cancel after the trial was over.
Xbox Mini Fridge
The saying "it does what it says on the box" apparently isn't true when it comes to this product, which won a Shonky Award "for being a 'fridge' that doesn't make things cold".
Microsoft's Xbox Mini Fridge took 24 hours to bring eight drink cans to 21 degrees in CHOICE's 32-degree test chamber. "For context, 21 degrees is warmer than tap water," Kirkland said.
If failing to cool anything wasn't bad enough, the product used around the same amount of electricity as a standard full-sized fridge, and pooled an "alarming" amount of moisture in CHOICE's testing.
How are Shonky Awards graded?
Shonkys are awarded in nine key areas: failing a standard, poor performance on CHOICE tests, hidden charges, lack of transparency, false or broken promises, leaving consumers worse off, consumer confusion, poor value for money, and customer frustration or "just plain outrage".
Yahoo Finance has contacted all award winners for comment.