Which?, the UK’s consumer champion, has revealed a list of companies responsible for the biggest let-downs of the year in its inaugural “Shoddies” awards.
To be nominated for a Shoddy, firms had to fall short on one of the following criteria: failing an industry standard, potentially breaking the law, causing consumer harm or confusion or regularly underperforming in the consumer champion’s customer surveys or lab tests.
Experts then nominate contenders from their testing, customer surveys, and investigations from the last year, with a judging panel from across the organisation.
The awards aim to challenge businesses to up their game. Here are this year’s selection:
Facebook: Fake review trading groups
Every year since 2018, Which? has uncovered groups trading in fake reviews on Facebook. This is despite Facebook making commitments to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to better identify, investigate and respond to the trading of fake reviews.
The consumer champion estimates that the groups it has reported to the platform total 1.5 million members. Which? has repeatedly shared its findings with Facebook, but as recently as April this year, found a further 14 groups trading in reviews for Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG) and Trustpilot (TRST.L), sharing more than 62,000 members between them.
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Telecoms providers with record mid-contract price hikes
All telecommunications providers with above inflation mid-contract price hikes have been awarded a Shoddy this year.
Many customers of broadband and mobile providers – such as BT (BT-A.L), EE, Plusnet, Shell Energy Broadband, TalkTalk, Three and Vodafone (VOD.L) – have to agree to the cost of their deal rising in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – plus an extra 3% to 3.9% – every spring.
This year, this typically led to price hikes of 14.4%
Even worse, some mobile providers, such as EE and Three, apply their price increase to both the handset and airtime elements of contracts, so customers pay even more for their phones. Virgin Media and O2 also use the outdated Retail Price Index (RPI), Which? said.
“Customers locked into these contracts face an impossible choice between a huge increase to their monthly bill, or paying hefty exit fees to switch to a cheaper deal,” it said.
Wizz Air: The UK’s worst airline
Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) received a Shoddy for falling short in the annual airlines survey – getting a score of just 48% in 2022. This made it the worst airline serving the UK.
Which? also looked at county court judgments for six airlines in March this year – the five biggest in the UK and Wizz Air – and, despite being the smallest in terms of passenger numbers, Wizz Air accounted for almost half – it was recorded as owing £2.2m to customers.
These are cases where the airline has done such a bad job at paying passengers compensation or other sums of money they are owed that they are left with no choice but to apply to the courts.
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Tesco: Unclear Clubcard pricing
Tesco (TSCO.L) received a Shoddy for failing to display unit pricing on its Clubcard offers. Unit pricing – the price per 100g or 100ml, for example – helps shoppers to compare the prices of different products and make informed decisions about what to buy, which is particularly important during the cost of living crisis.
Which? believes that Tesco’s failure to include unit pricing on its Clubcard offers could be a misleading practice under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). Tesco said its pricing practices have been checked and endorsed by Trading Standards.
After Which? reported Tesco to the CMA amid concerns the practice was potentially illegal, the supermarket announced plans to add unit pricing to Clubcard offers, starting in the new year.
Alfa Romeo: Unreliable motors
Alfa Romeo earned a Shoddy for performing poorly in Which?’s annual survey of more than 49,000 car owners. It received just one star for brand reliability across the three age groups of cars.
Four in 10 (39%) Alfa Romeo's aged 0-4 years old had a fault in the 12 months covered by last year’s survey, and around one in eight (14%) of cars broke down.
For those in the 5-9 year-old group, around four in 10 (43%) faced at least one fault, and with older 10-15-year-old models, over half (53%) suffered a fault and one in five (17%) had at least one breakdown.
Hisense/Panasonic/Philips/Sony: TVs without accessibility features
Screen readers are essential for blind or partially sighted consumers who want to enjoy television programmes. However, across the TV brands Which? tested in 2022, Hisense did not include a screen reader, while Panasonic, Philips and Sony only had screen readers on their higher-end models – earning them all a Shoddy for their lack of accessibility.
LG and Samsung have shown that it is possible to have accessibility features across an entire line-up of TVs, so there is no excuse for these other big brands not to step up and deliver too.
Ele Clark, Which? Retail Editor, said: “Our inaugural Shoddies aim to push firms to do better, by highlighting the products, services and business practices that have fallen short and let consumers down over the last year.
“During an unrelenting cost of living crisis, we should all be able to expect high-quality products and services for our money. All the companies named and shamed in this year’s Shoddies need to up their game and offer consumers the value for money and services they deserve.”
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